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Paula Goldberg Explains Engaging Screenwriting

The director and professor compares interesting vs. bland scripts.
Graphic Courtesy of LitFest Committee

Actor, director and writer Paula Goldberg taught students how to appeal to the viewer through the use of ‘show, not tell’ and a three act structure.

Goldberg began her presentation with a simple lesson: optimism. This optimism was expressed through an image of an elephant and a monkey on a circus trapeze.

No one, Goldberg points out, could be more optimistic than a two ton elephant believing a small monkey could catch it. But the painting has another lesson within it. It depicts a close up of the two animals, but the ground is not visible to the viewer.

As Goldberg points out, the ground could be a foot and as soft as a cushion, or it could be far away and hard as a rock. This point led Goldberg to her next point that in a show, movie or play, not everything should be immediately visible.

She then proceeded to explain the concept of ‘show, not tell’. To illustrate this idea, Goldberg displayed two scripts of the same scene, a wife confronting her cheating husband.

Students helped read aloud the first script, in which all the characters told their feelings directly. Although it included some hilariously blunt and brazen lines, the script coupled with Goldberg’s instructions allowed her to drive home her point that stories should “show, not tell.”

The second script encouraged the audience to unravel the complexities of the characters and infer their motivations. As a result, the audience could be a part of the story, and have the chance to figure out the details for themselves.

Goldberg explained that when watching a horror movie, people rarely want to know the killer five minutes in, nor should the killer be a stranger who only appears holding a bloody knife in the final seconds of the film. Neither of these options gives viewers the opportunity to think though and decipher the story.

In order to prevent these situations, Goldberg suggests mapping out a story according to a classic three act structure. She even gave the students a paper explaining this structure.

Throughout her presentation, Goldberg’s experience as an actor was obvious from her fluent recitation and ease in front of the crowd. Despite having only known her audience for a matter of minutes, she was able to put them at ease and keep them interested.

She kept the audience engaged by asking questions, and students were quick to chime in. In years to come, students should hope that Goldberg returns as a LitFest presenter so that they get the opportunity to learn and laugh alongside her.

About the Contributor
Elaine Engel
Elaine Engel, Reporter
What are you looking forward to on the staff this year? I'm looking forward to the incredible community of people and the constant opportunities to work on projects I’m passionate about What are your favorite TV shows/movies? West Wing, The Trail of the Chicago Seven, and Top Gun: Maverick Where’s the next place on your travel bucket list and why? I would love to travel to Machu Picchu because of the combination of a beautiful view and interesting history