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Show, Don't Tell

Learn the art of using images to tell your story instead of relying too heavily on dialogue.

About the Author

Shabana Ali

Shabana Ali

Multimedia Artist

Montreal, Canada

Toon Boom Animation

Video Transcript

Show, Don't Tell!

So this is a concept that is used in both cinema and animation, as both these mediums are visual storytelling. What this means is that you're mostly describing with images and these images come in the form of shots and scenes and this is as opposed to using a lot of dialogue or narration which obviously should be used but they should be used in balanced amounts.

One of the most common mistakes that new storytellers make is that they end up trying to tell the story to their viewers.

So let's take a look at this part of the storyboard here and I'll show you what I mean. So I'm just going to go to the top and click on panel so that we can see the dialogue and some action those that are associated with the individual panels or scenes. And I'm just going to scroll back a bit. So what's going on here is that there's an astronaut who feels like his function on the ship is pretty useless given their mission and his captain is trying to make him feel better by teasing him and she is telling him not to worry about it and you know he's asking her why and she tries to make a joke by saying "Because you're going to go to sleep in the next two years by going into cytogenesis".

You know she thinks this is pretty funny but as you can see here he does not. So if we go to the dialogue we can see that Terrence which is the name of this astronaut is saying "I don't think that's very funny", but in fact he probably doesn't need to say that at all because just the look on his face that we see here, this kind of grumpy, pouty face tells us he doesn't think that her joke is very funny. So what I'm going to do is just click my cursor on the dialogue frame and delete that because I really think it goes without saying that as soon as she says "You're going to sleep for the next two years", the look on his face says it all.

If we go to the next panel, we see Terrence once again says, "Okay, I've resigned myself, I'm going". Well I don't think he needs to say that he's resigned himself. I think by his posture, this dramatic gesturing, the way he's been cartooned here, the look on his face, everything, it says that he's resigned himself. So all he really needs to say is, "Okay, I'm going". And we get it, we get it he's going because he really feels like there's nothing more he can do.

So all this to say is that when you're starting the storyboard you should really take a look at your script to see if you can pair down any of the dialogue and turn them into gestures or actions that really show rather than tell the viewer how a character feels or what's going on in the story or plot.