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Show, Don’t Tell

Natalie Ediger, July 2, 2017· Digital Learning

“Show, don’t tell” is probably one of the most important tips when it comes to texts for films.

Do you remember the scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo just lost Gandalf and looks into the camera?

You know right away what’s going on in that little Hobbit’s head. He is sad, insecure and has doubts about the journey he has to make.

Imagine him saying the following now: “I am sad that Gandalf is dead. And the journey I’m going on frightens me.” A pretty bad film experience, isn’t it?

Of course, our explanation videos don’t have the same detailed character development as large-budget productions. Nevertheless, the motto “Show, don’t tell” also applies to us.

I’ll show you an example from one of our current projects, in which we couldn’t live up to this motto during a first story draft.

Take a look at the following scene from the storyboard:

The fact that Off-Voice says “You are the CEO of a small to medium-sized company” to the first picture is more of a rhetorical stylistic device than anything else and therefore perfectly ok – although we can also see it visually. It also gives us more details that we only don’t have from the picture – namely what kind of company it is.

In the second scene, however, the off-voice says exactly what can also be seen in the picture. “Your mission? Collect as many coins as possible”. Better would be: “Your mission? Make as much turnover as possible – of course”. It’s funnier and works better. Why? Because the viewer will immediately make the connection: “Oh, I understand. In this video the coins are the turnover – that’s funny!”

It’s like a joke: If you have to explain it, you probably just told a pretty bad joke.

So remember, if you can show something, you don’t have to tell it.

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