Sunday, July 19, 2009

When It's Okay To Show Your Tell

No, I'm not talking about poker...I'm talking about writing.

Show don't tell. We've all heard that mantra's Screenwriting Advice 101. Showing brings your characters to life. It lets your reader see and discover your story instead of simply being told or explained it. Well-made engaging films advance through action...lessor films describe or tell the film to the viewer. But when it comes to your first draft and especially if you are just starting out writing screenplays, I've decided it's okay to tell it once first before you get around to the showing.

I just finished story editing two newbie feature scripts that showed their tell in a big way. And I was initially very critical of the work...frustrated by bland description like: Joe walked into the room. He was a skinny man. Or screen direction that explained what the characters were thinking like: Beth looked over at the man who bumped her. It was obvious she didn't like him and wanted to get back at him. Or dialogue that stated the obvious: "We need to get out of here. Hey! There's some stairs, let's go up them." followed by the screen direction - Joe and Beth walked over to the stairs and proceeded to go up them.

I found myself getting more and more annoyed, constantly rewriting in the margins...until I remembered that this was their first draft, and the writers were simply trying to get a story with a beginning middle and end onto the page...poop it out as it were, without getting bogged down figuring out how to show it effectively and efficiently.

I relaxed. And my notes became more about guiding the rewrites instead of just criticizing their tell. Now it's back in their court...hopefully they'll show me a winning hand with the next pass.


Christina said...

First drafts I give myself a pass on details like efficient/pretty action description. You have to, or it'd take twice as long to get past the first draft.

Brandon Laraby said...

Yeah, I've learned not to sweat the first draft - as it were - 'cause it's really like dumping that lump of clay onto the table.

Second draft is where you actually get around to molding it.

I used to try and make my first drafts 'perfect'... and then I'd wonder why it'd take me 3 months to get the first draft out the door.

Now I just try to enjoy the process as much as I can knowing that it's literally just the starting point.

ron oliver said...

You're a better man than I am, William!!!! I'd have taken a shotgun to the whole writing department by the time i made it to the end of act one!

DMc said...

Actually these days the weapon of choice for that is a scythe.