Show, don’t tell and its relationship to empathy in screenwriting.


You can find this article in its entirety HERE


“MYTH: ‘Show, don’t tell’ is literal-Don’t tell me John is sad, show him crying.”

REALITY: ‘Show, don’t tell’ is figurative-Don’t tell me John is sad, show me why he’s sad.”

 -Lisa Cron, Wired For Story.

batman the joker batman the dark knight 1680x945 wallpaper_www.wallpaperno.com_66

Robbing a bank is so easy, even a joker can do it. But screenwriting? That’s no joke.

One of the most difficult things for writers to do is write lean, narrative descriptions that are succinct in conveying their intended meaning to an audience.  We hear the words “trust your readers” without really putting what it means into context, passages often becoming overwritten, vague, non-specific and meaningless as a result.  Much of this comes from an inability to convey specific visual cues to the reader, making them more of a passive observer to a story rather than an active participant to it – but some issues can also be attributed to the overlooked facet of set up and pay off (the cause and effect relationship) of “Show, don’t tell.”  Understanding the virtues of both is necessary if one wants an audience to truly engage with their writing.

In Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From the Very First Sentence, Lisa Cron makes the distinction between the literal and the figurative and how all too often writers choose to do what they believe is correct in showing an emotion as it pertains to the scene.  However, what they fail to do is recognize in the realm of storytelling, everything is about set ups (cause) and pay offs (effect), including emotions.  Showing someone crying over the death of another isn’t enough; we must have an understanding of what the deceased meant to the other in order for us to feel and derive meaning ourselves while watching the scene.   In other words, it’s the set up that provides context for the pay off – and you know the movies that don’t do this effectively because your friend sitting in the next seat will nudge and ask you, “Why’d he do that?

We’ve found a new home!  You can read the rest of this article as well as others HERE.  


About Jim Barker

A multi-award winning sculptor who uses a pen to shape words on a page that leave impressions in the mind.
This entry was posted in Empathy, Story Structure. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Show, don’t tell and its relationship to empathy in screenwriting.

  1. You write with such clarity of thought and articulation. Its always a pleasure to read what you write and always a tremendous surprise that in the end I could actually understand what I read.

    Most current writing on “Story” is essentially, just a mangled take on Aristotle or so analytically overbearing as to be meaningless.

    Write a book man. I’ll buy an autographed copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the kind words! Who knows…if I write enough articles, a “chapter” at a time, I might just have one ready! It certainly is helping me to organize my own thoughts (and prompting me to go back at my own scripts and practice what I preach.)


  2. schillingklaus says:

    I thoroughly disdain “show don’t tell”, and avoid rigorously all works of literature following that injurious commandment and requiring empathy to be read. Therefore, I cannot be persuaded into abandoning my deliberately and shamelessly tell-heavy style.


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