Using Scenes to "Show, Not Tell"

One of the benefits of screenplay writing is that it forces the author to focus on Dialogue and Action, the two critical aspects of the "show, don't tell" theory. This winning formula in screenwriting is also good for writing book scenes.

NO Prattling Allowed
In screenwriting, Dialogue IS Action. In other words, what people say in a scene should move the story forward. Such as conveying information that leads to the villains capture, sharing secrets that lead to fights or kisses, giving directions and orders to troops, even expressing emotion or humor with another character to build a relationship. Useless prattling takes up film and crew time, which is expensive, so it’s cut. Spoken words should move people, move objects, move the reader to understanding what's going on in the story.

Now, Action is more obviously, well, active. But many authors forget to ebb and flow Action appropriately. Worse, they fill the page with completely boring, stilted, or meaningless activities. You must choose which action appropriately shows the story unfolding while being conscious of pacing and intensity to give the reader variety.

Make Action Count
In screenwriting, the only action left on the page is Action that is CRITICAL to the story. Movies typically don’t allow actors to just stand around in a scene--a good script accounts for every moment with just enough action to keep tension going. Like a guy fighting with his wife while trying to make eggs for the 3 kids. Who want the eggs 3 different ways. That's Action that layers tension. It shows struggle, frustration, building odds against him. Again, the action shows, not tells. So the actor doesn’t have to tell “I’m frustrated and feeling overwhelmed” in dialogue (internal or external).

Apply Setting & Description Judiciously
Now, Setting and Description in a scene are important, but they typically are not active. They impress, not move. So, they have their place in creating mood, metaphor, impact of scale (mountains vs. marbles), etc. They offer a place for Action and Dialogue to occur and objects that may contribute to the Action. In other words, if they don’t help the action and dialogue show the story, then they have no place in the scene. Always weigh them against the story according to their appropriate role and importance.

Granted, some movies use Setting as a Character, giving it waaaaaaay more time and intensity on the screen. That's a whole other art form. If you are writing this way, such as in gothic stories or alien worlds, good for you. But you have to make the Setting active. It has to move, have a pulse, cause trouble, cure people. Whatever. It has to act like a Character to be as important a Character.

Let World-Building Intensify Action & Tension
Stories wherein world-building is critical can use Setting and Description to intensify Action. Again, showing, not telling is key here, so using long passages of detailed Settings and Descriptions will plummet pacing. Be sure to incorporate these details within the Action and Dialogue and you will keep your story moving forward.

Good luck, Angels.
Your Editor Devil