One tool that a lot of writers depend on is overusing their characters’ internal thoughts or ability to straight out say how their characters are feeling. However, on some occasions this element becomes a trap and prevents the writer from using more engaging forms of showing their characters’ feelings. Writing scripts taught me the value of showcasing emotions through actions.
When writing a script, you have certain limits that push you to mull over every little gesture your character makes. You can’t just say that they’re upset. There’s no access to the character’s internal thoughts. No direct way to tell the reader or viewer what’s exactly going on in the mind of the character. You have to make clear who this character is from their reactions to upsetting or happy or any kind of news. How do they externally tell the world that they’re feeling happy? Do they go around giving random people on the street roses from a bouquet they bought in the supermarket that morning? Do they share a smile with every person they encounter in their daily routine? Actions such as those give whoever is reading your script or prose a more complete understanding of the kind of person you’re trying to portray.
Script writing can also help prose writers with dialogue and subtext. Our everyday conversations are ridden with subtext. We usually don’t say what we mean. As dialogue is one of the main ways to get information across in a script, you want to make it rich and meaningful in more than one way. A sign of good dialogue in any writing is conflict. Two characters may be talking about needing to fix their shoes, but they’re really talking about how they need a job because they don’t have enough money. This is subtext, an idea underlying the topic of conversation. As one of my screenwriting teachers said, “When you have a crush on someone, do you go straight to them and tell them, Hi, I think you’re hot. We should hang out? No! You tell them that you like their shirt or their hair.”
Although script writing appears to be a limiting medium in regards to how you’re able to get information across the page, it allows you to explore new ways in which you can present how your characters are feeling as well as the extent to which dialogue can create conflict and advance the story. If you ever feel stuck on a scene, try writing it in script format—you may discover some interesting things about your characters.
Daniela Morales, Lead Prose Editor