Writing Progress Wednesday: How much should I leave to the audience’s imagination?

Now that I’m entering the third act of the screenplay, it’s reached the point when the protagonists meet the main villain of the piece. He’s such an odd fellow with strange powers and an even stranger past that I feel the need to have him explain himself and his nature to them. However, this could be really risky, especially in the third act. One of the notes on a screenplay I wrote for a screenwriting course in college was that the script I wrote was too heavy in the characters talking too much and explaining the situation. I fully understand the concept of “show, not tell” in writing. However, it seems like a strange critique of a screenplay that there’s too much dialogue. Isn’t that why I’m writing a screenplay instead of a novel?

Okay, that’s dealing with a lot of generalities. But the question remains of how to keep my script from getting too “talky.” For that matter, should I even bother having the main antagonist explain himself? I may have what I think to be a pretty interesting backstory for this guy in my head, but could it be more interesting if I leave stuff out? As it is I’m already concerned that my screenplay might be running a bit long and I have to cut stuff out anyway. Then again, I worry that if I don’t write enough I’m just being lazy.

I suppose that the best solution is to write it all out as I originally intended and make the necessary cuts in the editing process. The question still remains, however, what would be the best balance between revealing backstory and leaving stuff up to the reader.

Of course, I could be answering my own question with this blog post. I’m not telling you what the character’s story and nature is because I don’t want to give anything away. But is that really necessary? After all, for all I know this screenplay is going to turn out to be shit and won’t ever see the big screen. Why not give it away? Even if it does get made into a movie it will be so long from now that anybody reading this probably won’t remember.

Alright, here goes, then. I guess I should say “SPOILERS” first. The main antagonist in this story is a man who was a ruthless, successful and powerful arms dealer in Ancient Rome. (I’m not sure if that part’s entirely believable but it can be changed without affecting the overall backstory.) He discovers the secret to immortality through occult activities, which causes him to become one of the most powerful people on the planet for thousands of years without the public at large knowing about him. However, he can only appear in spurts throughout time. The way to bring him back is through an ancient ritual practiced by the leaders of occult group The Order of the Shadows (yes, I brought them back yet again). The Roman comes to life as a physical manifestation of their thoughts. The chants that they have to perform form their thoughts into the building blocks of his being. And he can shoot lightening from his fingers and he sits on a throne made of corpses and all sorts of other stuff.

It already creates an interesting debate about the stream of consciousness. Is the Roman that we see today the continuation of the original, or just a copy? If the latter, does that mean his memories just programmed into the next clone? But as I have the story planned, I don’t deal with that much in terms of philosophy. I focus more on the present day story and the entertainment it (should, I hope) create.

So, do I leave it out, or in? Like I said, I still have a lot of writing and editing to do. But there are always questions in the back of my mind as I go.


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