Drafting the Short Screenplay...
Drafting the Short Screenplay: Discovering/Crafting Images
Of course, once the step-outline is done, you need to meet the challenge of rendering the story into scenes. But before discussing how to write effective scenes we need to review one important principle: films consist entirely of the images that you see on the screen. Accordingly, screenwriters need to tell their stories visually - that is, they need to take the internal workings of character and find a way of communicating those workings via something that the audience can see.
Too many young screenwriters make the mistake of trying to convey the interior of their characters through dialogue. Of course, sometimes we need characters to tell us what they are thinking, to explain why they are thinking it, or to give us a peek into their backstories and into the workings of their minds. We call this kind of writing "exposition," because it exposes something to the audience that they can't see.
However, exposition isn't always necessary to getting some feeling "seen." For example, in Because of Mama, we have a young boy who is torn between his desire to play hockey and his need to please his mother by mastering the cello. How do we convey these conflicting feelings? We have a number of options. First, when the boy is walking home from school, he encounters his friend, Vova, who is cleaning up the ice for a later pick-up game. Vova asks him if he's going to play later. The boy responds, "No, I can't." Now, it's clear that we have an opportunity here for our character to reveal his feelings. He could say, "I really want to play, but I can't, because my mother wants me to play the cello, and I'm really torn up about it." But this sort of revelation is heavy-handed. It's also out of character. This boy is a boy who says very little, whose conflict is internal and private. How can we relate the intensity of his conflict to the audience, visually?
We came up with the following solution - which ended up being one of the most charming moments of the film. When the boy gets home and sits down to practice, we see that he is wearing his father's hockey uniform and his own skates. The vision is powerful: he'd rather be playing hockey, but he's being a dutiful son and practicing cello, as he promised his mother. It's a good visual moment, in that it conveys information and wins the audience over. Without fail the audience chuckles warmly. They are "with" our character and his struggles.