Show Don't Tell

By Ben Glassen


Ask 100 amateur scriptwriters if they have problems with their script being too long. I guarantee you that you will then sit through 99 woefully dreadful tales of that “one script” that didn’t really get started until about the thirty-fifth page. They will swear that everything they have is essential and there is no fat for the trimming. This is a statement of fear, a fear of ACTION!

Many new scriptwriters are obsessed with this notion that great dialogue is what makes an award winning film. “The dialogue was poetic. It was deep. It had wit. It was perfect. That's why it won.” This is a very shortsighted, but expected, rookie mistake. Not only does dialogue take up an ungodly amount of space on a page, it can also take away from the ultimate merit of your film.

Dialogue is essential but it is paramount to remember that in most cases it is merely explanation. You are telling instead of showing. Anyone can tell but it takes a good writer to show. If I were to come up to you with a blank face and simply tell you, “I am upset” you would most likely say, “Alright mate. You seem fine.” You would then immediately forget about it and move on with you’re life. However, if I were to sulk over to you with disheveled hair, bags under my red teary eyes, and barely hinge my head up to look at you with a hopeless drone you would instantaneously empathizes with me and understand my basic, yet very deep, human emotion. I haven’t said a word and you get it. But more importantly the audience will get it.

You’re main goal as a scriptwriter is to engage your audience. People do not go to the cinema to be told great truths, they go to discover and experience them on their own. You must challenge your audience because they have gone out of their way to watch your film and want to participate in this special event. So, it is up to you to show them emotion and have them interpret it in their own unique way.

Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking Now, lets return to the immense amount of page space action and showing can save you. If we delve deeper into our previous scenario of the upset man we can see the distinct difference in page space between our two styles. In the telling scenario the character would need to explain in detail how his girlfriend didn’t want to marry him because all he does is drink, watch Arsenal, and never wants to go dancing. This would take up very valuable space explaining trivial details. In the showing scenario our disheveled protagonist would simply have to pull out a ring box with the diamond ring still in it, shake his head, and begin to weep. That’s it. One or two lines and the audience immediately relates and feels for your character. They understand without any explanation on your part and you use maybe 85% less page space. You’re happy, the producers and director are happy, but most importantly the audience is happy.

Wrong or Write...

There you have it. If you decide to show instead of tell then I don’t need to tell you how good your show will be. 

Write Soon,

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About The Author

Ben GlassenBen is a second year University student at Ithaca College in New York.

While studying in London he is an Intern here at Raindance. Ben has written for film, television, and theatre hoping to one day be a professional scriptwriter.

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Show Dont Tell