Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Thousand Words

Pictures do so much more than words.

While I’ll always support “le mot juste”, I do love a good visual.

There’s that old maxim, “Show, don’t tell” and that’s tied into the same idea. Telling us the main character is tired is not as effective as describing red eyes with bags under them, ruffled hair, pallid skin and a body moving slowly, as if about to fall asleep.

Also visual gags are more funny sometimes than wordy gags.

Shorter is better.

This is actually very important in plays, and even more important in screenplays. Even though plays do have more words and dialogue, so much can and should be conveyed through stage pictures and the gestures of the actors. Also, audiences receive a lot of information via the set, costumes and lighting design. For instance, in Beckett’s Happy Days, we have a woman buried in a pile up to her waist and chatting merrily as can be with her husband, sitting in a chair nearby. Not much more needs to be said there to add to that picture, even though Beckett continues to pile on more and more meaning (no pun intended…okay a little…).

I’m learning this lesson as I work on the office Holiday Play. As some know, I work in a major non-profit with a lot of smart people. MDs. PhD.s. Scientists. Doctors. All kinds of intelligence in the room, usually. Smart people are not necessarily good at writing jokes. Also, references to science articles and organizations are not necessarily the stuff of comedy.

So there are some challenges there.

Basically I’d really like to insert some fart jokes. Or some blue humor. Anything.

But I can’t.

I work around it by inserting jokes with gags that set up the punchline delivered in the form of a picture (projected via PowerPoint). Our show is modeled after The Daily Show and they do this quite effectively. I won’t go into the tedious details of analyzing why it’s funny, but needless to say we’re able to cut a joke down from a paragraph to one line because the picture tells the whole story.

Something to remember when writing your scripts. If I can show this in some visual way, how do I do that? How can I cut the words down?


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I only have till tomorrow to make some props…like a fake ransom note and some sock puppets.

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