On Language in Scripts – Scenes and Narrative (Part 2)


On the first page…

From the very first moment, you – the writer — are responsible for what will appear in the frame of the picture of your film and in the imagination of your reader.

Starting right after the words “Fade In,” you begin to create a world in which your story exists.  From the very first “Int” or Ext” in your first slug line, the reader is deciphering the clues of your script to create an impression of your universe in his or her head.

A screenplay is not a place to hear yourself write.

Your narrative description should be clever.  It should have some “zazz.”  It should be compelling, with wit and life and spirit.  But it should never strive to dazzle the reader in and of itself.

You only have one chance to make an impression.

Unlike like a novel, but like a movie, the ideas and images in a script come at your reader fast.  As the plot moves forward, you need your reader to ingest the information quickly and clearly so that they can focus on what’s coming next rather than on what they just read or learned.

Description must be clear.

Your description is information.  It should be essential to the reader’s experience and understanding of the your story.  To have the utmost effect, it should be clear, straightforward and efficient.  It should never be so flowery or clever that it calls attention to itself.  Why…?  Because when it does, the reader is no longer thinking about your story; s/he is now thinking about the words on the page – which is now what you want!

Good screenwriting requires effort. 

Efficient writing is not easy.  Paring down the words we use to describe something takes ruthless cutting.  Letting go our phrases that we think make us cute and clever is a challenge.  To write effective description often requires cutting your best writing.

Description should be short.

Images should be sharp.  They should make sense.  They should be easily ingested.  As a reader travels down a page, s/he should feel compelled to keep reading.  To know what comes next.

To create this kind of active reading, there should be nothing in a script but what is absolutely essential.  Anything that distracts the reader and makes him or her pause to consider what the description means is a distraction you can’t afford

To achieve this kind of pace, you need to be brutal when evaluating your work.  Cut out everything, almost to a fault, until it’s just that: only what is going on in the frame. When you think you’ve gone too far, you’re probably only getting close.

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