This rerun post was the start of my Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing Series. It first appeared on February 11, 2009
Screenwriters are often advised to “Show, don’t tell” and I’m a big believer in that advice. Film is a visual medium, and it’s always best to take advantage of that rather than simply spelling something out through dialogue. Still, when doing this, show some imagination in your “showing.” If you come up with the same visual cue as a hundred other screenwriters, you run the risk of the reader reacting “Not again!”
I wish I had kept a running tally of how many times I’ve seen some version of the following scene. It usually happens in a romantic comedy, though often it pops up in dramas centered on relationships. Usually, the core romance has landed on the rocks at the end of Act Two, thus forcing the protagonist to fight to save the relationship in Act Three. The penultimate scene typically plays out one of two ways – the characters confront each other and the relationship is either explicitly mended, or there’s an emotional catharsis that ends ambiguously. Are the couple still together or aren’t they?
And then comes “the scene.” Four times out of five it will be a montage without dialogue, and almost always is set “One Year Later.” Carefully, each character is revealed in this coda, culminating with….
Come on now, dear reader… surely I’ve given enough set up for you to guess?
… the woman of the couple. And guess what?
Please, people. This isn’t hard. Speak up, now.
That’s right! She’s pregnant! The guy and the girl are going to live happily ever after and the proof is in the belly! And the scene is totally showing, not telling! Isn’t that cool?
To be blunt, not really. Too often I’ve seen writers use this as an out to show that the couple’s together without doing any of the work to really make it feel like the couple is together. It’s a cheap “out.” I admire what the writers are going for, but the next time you have the urge to end your movie this way, take another day or two and see if there’s a more original way of showing the couple is going to turn out all right.