telling and showing

Yesterday we completed a small exercise in class that I enjoyed a lot. We were given random clippings from a newspaper and asked to compose an entire plot for a film, complete with logline, in 15 minutes.

I was lucky to get a decent story, so I was able to construct the outline for a film, set in Ireland, using the facts in the article as a jumping-off point. I suspect my daily writing exercise is flexing my imagination muscles. As always I’m astonished at the creativity of my fellow students, and their talent–considering the material we were given, most people came up with inventive ideas.

In relation to my daily stab at inspiration: I found it harder to generate material from the pictures of women. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I identify stronger with men. Perhaps the women were just closer to me (gender-wise anyway) and I found it difficult to project into their place. The struggle was interesting.

I’ve been thinking about the writing maxim: “show don’t tell”. Most fiction can benefit from its application, but in screenwriting it is one of the best pieces of advice to remember.

It’s a hard one to apply to my pieces since each one is written in different first persons. They are the essence of telling: as if they were monologues on a stage, or recorded for radio. This presents difficulties when trying to achieve an authentic voice in a few sentences, without it lapsing into a boring narration of events.

Most people don’t say what they think. And are often inconsistent in informal conversation. The masks we assume for different situations are apparent in what we say, and what we don’t say. Trying to capture the “show don’t tell” maxim while telling is tough.

I can’t say I’ve applied these considerations successfully to my pieces, but I’m doing my best.