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Authors: Andrea McCartney
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Text size: 44 pages
Project 1 Thinking visually
Think about your favourite films. What immediately springs to mind? Most likely you’ll conjure
up an image or a scene. It may be the frog-like Gollum creeping behind Frodo in The Lord of
the Rings, or Baby sprinting towards Johnny Castle in the climactic scene of Dirty Dancing, or Donald Sunderland as the bereaved father reaching towards the small, sinister red figure he thinks is his daughter in Don’t Look Now. If you do remember a line of dialogue, you probably won’t think of it in terms of words on a page; you’ll remember the way the words were spoken by the actor and the expression on their face as they delivered them.
You’ll remember the story in images because film is a visual art form. And yet all films begin
with a script. Words on a page, certainly, but words with a purpose: to create pictures in the
mind that will eventually (depending on the interest of a director, finance and luck!) end up on
You may have come across the phrase ‘show don’t tell’ in relation to storytelling. In writing for
screen it is arguably the single most important phrase to remember as you sit at your computer or notebook. While a novel or short story can take you inside the mind of a character, with the words revealing opinions, dreams, thoughts, psychological insights and feelings, a screenplay has to show what a character is thinking and feeling through images, action and dialogue.
Dialogue, perhaps surprisingly, is only one element of your screenplay. Dialogue can certainly help reveal what a character is thinking and feeling, whether it’s an exchange between two or more characters or a voice-over (a device used in American Beauty and Apocalypse Now, for example). Unless you are Quentin Tarantino, however, you risk losing your audience’s attention with a screenplay overloaded with hefty chunks of dialogue. When you’re writing visually you also need to decide what your character is doing within a given location – and describe the action in your script.