too on the nose, show


Posted on Posted in Screenwriting Tips

I  started to read, yet, another prose narrative (novel). However, had to set it down from the first chapter. There were just too many things wrong about how the writer went on and on and on describing things that “didn’t matter”— it was a no show for me.

Novels are intelligent articles set apart for a talented caucus of writers. Certainly, I must confess though, the way they TELL and not SHOW you how things are is simply exhaustive.

For example,

“Mary’s angelic long blonde hair submissively obeyed the caressing breeze of the east wind – sent forth by the venerable God of beauty, Oshun – dancing about its spiral encircling, confirming her undeniable and incontestable allure which John conceded to with a perpetual and mesmerized grin of gratitude

Come on! Why? That’s why most novels are voluminous! Why not go straight to the point?!

With screenwriting…

…any description that’s not even as detailed as the above example (not to speak of being more detailed) is disqualified. So, yeah, many good writers get turned down. That doesn’t mean their write-up is no good, it simply means that the write-up is no good for a movie.

Let’s go back…

…to our one-page-one-minute mantra. If you keep describing and telling me why this is that, where, then, is the action? How do we meet up with the one-page-one-minute schedule? In movie-writing, you have to SHOW your readers what will be SHOWN on screen! Not TELLING what would be TOLD…oh! I’m sorry…SHOWN on screen! The only TELLING there should be is in the dialogue! If we don’t get the picture in your description, then you’re not SHOWING us well (that’s another level of description).

Show me, don’t tell me.

Tell me, how are we to know that Oshun sent that wind, if it is not shown to us? Why do you have to explain to us that Oshun sent the wind? Also, even if it’s a mystery, let it be as it is, a mystery; not giving away its source early. Another problem now is that writers would then venture into detailed description of the wind, considering it’s a vital mystery. Wind! Damned novelists!

The above example could even be broken into two scenes:

  • the scene where we see Oshun blow her magic wind to the west
  • and the scene where Mary’s hair concedes to the wind, with John grinning.

That’s all. The grammar of screenwriting is as easy as it gets.

For example:

Scene A:  Oshun puffs her magic wind. However she puffs it is none of your business, except the way she does it is vital to the story.

Scene B1: Mary’s hair floats in the magic wind. We know Oshun sent that wind, and we know from previous scenes that her hair is long and blonde. However it dances about in the wind, also, isn’t any of your business, except it’s vital to the story

Scene B2: John’s mesmerized. That descriptive word “mesmerized” covers all the ways, including grinning, that John reacts to Mary’s hair in Oshun’s wind. By all means, leave the demonstrative details to the actors; they know what they’re doing! Except what you’re describing is crucial to the story.


That being said, you, then, might wanna go back and check the relevance of these scenes:

  • Are these acts necessary, even?
  • Aren’t there other ways to show Oshun’s wind caressing Mary’s hair that is more meaningful?
  • Why do we have to see John’s grin as the end result?
  • Why not Mary’s hair becoming magically empowered, thereby having a permanent glow, having being touched by Oshun’s wind as the end result?

You can go on and on and on trying to determine if your description is right, and if, in the end, it’s relevant. This is, yet, another subject on the Art of Screenwriting that makes writing a good movie take as long as a year or more.


You have to keep SHOWING things that happen that relate to other shown things that happen. Not TELLING me things that happen and trying to explain to me why they happened. It’s not an easy task, considering what we learnt in our secondary schools (descriptive writing, et al). The Art of Screenwriting can be a slap on the face to many learned people who decide to now write movie scripts. What it means is for you to drop all the skills you learnt about writing (especially descriptive writing), and pick up new ones.

For me, it has never been an issue. I always go for “lean and mean” (short and concise), which makes me get really burned out reading novels. And they say you can’t be a writer if you don’t read? That’s a topic for another day: READING: A MYTH.

Isedehi Aigbogun, also known as ISD, is a staunch academic, holding a B.A., M.A., and PhD (in view) in English Language.

She’s a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analyst, Consultant, and Film Scriptic.

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