On Language in Scripts – Scenes and Narrative


Dialogue and description.  

Dialogue and description are the two functions the words in your script serve.  How you choose to describe a scene and what you have your characters say are where your reader lives.  They are the two elements that define the experience of your screenplay for the reader.

Writing dialogue and description is writing a screenplay.

Screenplays are not literature. They are directions for people to make motion pictures.
The descriptions not only inform the reader what s/he is seeing.  It informs the Department Heads what they will need to realize your story.

What kinds of locations will be needed?  What kinds of lights?  What kind of sets will need to be built and dressed?  What kinds of cameras, lenses and lighting will be needed?  What kind of actors and in what numbers?  All these questions and more will be implied by how you describe the action of your script.

Dialogue answers the same thing for the actors, producers and directors.  What kind of actors are needed?  What kind of director is needed?  And, to the producers, what will this production coast?  All this is communicated through your characters, their dialogue and the paces you put them through.

You need balance between dialogue and description.

There is a visual component to a screenplay.  Assumptions are made by a reader based merely on the visual impression signaled on every page of your script.

A good script will have a visual texture.

Be conscious of how your screenplay looks. Examine your screenplay and frame your analysis in terms of your story. Do you have too much dialogue? Does talking go on and on beyond what is needed to move the story along? Is your description thick page after page? Some scripts are naturally dialogue heavy, and others have little dialogue.

Evaluate how the audience will experience the film of your screenplay.

In film, silence is as important a tool as sound and dialogue.  Strong choices about when to use dialogue and when to not will have different effects on your audience.  By modulating when you use dialogue and when you create scenes that are silent allows you to create moods and tension that determine the pacing and flow of your story.

When writing a particular scene, consider whether it’s appropriate to show the scene with talking or without.  Does a scene increase tension or release it?  Does it add laughs or amplify emotions?  Have you written the description in a way that implies a certain kind of editing style?  Does your description suggest quick cuts or long, fluid masters?

After completing your first draft, examine how you’ve paced your dialogue and description?  Have you most effectively served the story?  By using a palette of varied styles  that balance and texture a story, you can create a more original, layered, subtle story that will emerge as you rewrite your first draft.

How do you determine what needs to be honed as you rewrite your script?  In the next couple of blogs, we’ll examine narrative and see how we can best use it to convey the ideas in our screenplay.


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