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an excellent example of "show, don't tell"  Rate Topic 
 Posted: Wed Sep 26th, 2012 12:44 am
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse

Joined: Tue Apr 5th, 2011
Location: Seattle, Washington USA
Posts: 112
I'm directing a production of RABBIT HOLE by David Lindsay-Abaire, for Theatre Verity here in Seattle. I tell you what, every playwright should direct. I'm learning a lot from working on this script; it's an excellent piece of writing.

“Show, Don't Tell”

Has anyone ever told you “show, don't tell” about one of your plays? I know I've heard it a lot. It's easy to say, but harder to do.

The Script of RABBIT HOLE

I feel weird about putting in a link to the script, and denying the playwright his script fees... but in any case the publisher gets the bulk of that, right? Anyhow...

How “Show, Don't Tell” Works in Scene One of RABBIT HOLE

Scene one of the play opens with two women in the dining room of a house, one telling the other a funny story about how she hit this belligerent woman in a bar.

How we know what their relationship is

One woman (who we will later realize is called Becca), is folding clothes that look like they belong to a three-year-old boy. The other (Izzy) is helping herself to orange juice from the refrigerator. So we know they're on familiar terms with each other.

On page 3, Izzy asks Becca about a saying of their Mom's. So now we know they're not only comfortable with each other, they're sisters.

All this without one of them saying something clumsy like, “Well, gosh, Sis, here we are in your dining room.”

What's more, as the scene goes on, we hear Becca expressing dismay at what Izzy has done, and we get the sense that she has been trying to straighten out Izzy's behavior for some time. Izzy, on the other hand, is relishing telling the story about the incident in the bar.

How we know that something tragic has happened, and what it probably is

It affects both of them, but Becca more personally

On page 7, Izzy excuses something she's done by saying “Hey, I'm still coping too, Becca. I know it's not the same, but it's still hard. Okay?”

A few lines later, Becca tells Izzy, “you're not allowed to use him.”

It makes Izzy reluctant to tell Becca that she's pregnant

On page 13, Izzy finally, and offhandedly, says she's pregnant. On the next page, Becca asks Izzy why Izzy didn't want to tell her, and Izzy says, “Why do you think?”

And on the page after that, Izzy has a speech that starts with “Look, I'm sure this is really hard for you, for a bunch of reasons.”

When Becca offers Izzy the clothes she's been folding…

Becca says she's giving these clothes to the Goodwill, but might as well save them for Izzy. “A couple years worth of free clothes here.”

… Izzy demurs

Izzy responds to Becca's practical reasons for giving her the clothes, with practical objections of her own. Finally, Izzy says, “It'd be weird, that's all. If it's a boy. To see him running around in Danny's clothes.”

They backpedal

They find reasons that Izzy will get baby clothes from different sources. Becca predicts that Izzy will have a girl, anyway.

Izzy acknowledges that her pregnancy is hard for Becca

The scene ends with these lines:

IZZY. I'm sorry, Bec. If this is hard. I know the timing really sucks.

BECCA. Hey. What can ya do? I'm glad you told me. And I'm really happy for you.

How Did the Playwright Do This?

In a week or so, I'll reverse engineer this scene, try to tease out how the playwright might have decided to write it.

What Do You Think?

How do you think the playwright constructed this scene? What do you think his process was?

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