You might not know this about me, or even care, but I’ve attempted to write a couple of screenplays and a couple of sit-com pilots. (I know, I know, delusions of grandeur. It’s true. But the Toronto International Film Festival is in town and I got Red Carpet fever) Actually, it’s more of a hobby than anything but it sure takes a lot of work in terms of getting to know how to write in this genre properly. From all the books I have read on screen writing, one message came out loud and clear: when writing for the screen, we need to “Show. Don’t tell”. This is the screen writer’s mantra. I think as educators, elearning developers, and instructional designers, this, in general, should be ours as well.
The screen writer’s job is to use as few expository words as possible to convey as much information through the action and images on the screen. Dialogue or narration that explains too much simply gets in the way of a viewer’s emotional and intellectual engagement of the content. Wordy scripts often create talking-head movies that drag like The English Patient after a big meal. This might be fine for a particular niche of film, but it certainly is not accessible to the majority of people living in this age of attention deficit. We don’t simply have our character say something like “I’m tired and would really like to sit down, take my shoes off, and take a breather.” Instead, we have him slump into a chair like a rag doll, throw off his shoes and breathe a sigh as if he is trying to inflate the room with his own lung air. Each of these actions conveys a sense of how tired he is and, more importantly, what kind of tired he is. It’s richer than words because it engages our brain on more than one level. It draws us in, because we feel that we are part of an unfolding narrative that we can relate to on, not just an intellectual, but an emotional level.
Those of us who create online learning need to “Show. Don’t tell” as well. But how can we do this when we have so much content to cover? Over the next couple of weeks, I will try and look at how we can do a better job of employing this principle and to think visually.