The end of punctuation: full stop.
This will complete our examination of how to use punctuation to create vivid imagery in your narrative description and how to imply camera angles and pacing edits without revealing that’s what you are doing.
If there’s anything I’ve missed, send me a note. I’ll be happy to answer your questions. In the meantime, here we go — !
Caps, underlines and italics.
Capital letters, underlines and italics are different ways to call attention to a specific idea in your dialogue or narration. They are similar to exclamation points, with one added benefit: specificity.
In dialogue, caps, underlines and italics can be used to identify a single word in a line that should be said with greater emphasis. Caps usually imply a certain increase in volume along with emotional emphasis. Underlines and italics usually imply an increase in emotion without greater volume.
In narrative description, caps can be used in the same fashion. They can emphasize a single word: something unique that needs to be seen or heard. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, THIS is really important!”
Caps can be used to indicate a shift in perspective, as in someone’s POV or “ON TV” or “THROUGH BINOCULARS.”
Caps can also be used to emphasize an entire action by highlighting an entire sentence. It’s a way of saying to the reader: “HEY, THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT SO PAY ATTENTION!”
In narrative description, italics and underlines can be used in the exact same fashion. Of the three, caps are the most direct and noticeable. Underlined words and sentence the second; and italics the least emphatic and urgent.
Know the rules before you break them.
For reasons I’ve previously stated, good grammar and proper usage are important in a script. Bad grammar and improper usage, along with typos, pulls your reader away from your script and causes them to see at the words on the page.
Equally important, these mistakes can cause confusion and misunderstanding, which forces your readers to waste time and energy trying to figure out your intended meaning when they should be putting that energy into imagining your movie in their heads.
Once you know how to use grammar, punctuation and proper sentence structure to its best effect, it’s okay to break the rules. As long as it has the desired effect.
Sentence fragments can have power. Especially in descriptions. Once you’ve established a context for what you’re describing, you can create images more quickly by eliminating words. They can be used in paragraph as if they were a list.
Take our example from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang:
The girl starts to SCREAM.
SHRIEKING. Writhing in agony. Tears streaming. Harold stares dumbly. The kid with the saw, horrified –
Chaos. ADULTS converge on the scene. The girl is twitching. In shock, her DAD leaps to the stage. Grips the lid, HEAVES OPEN THE BOX. Eyes wide, staring –
The firsts paragraph is a single line. A full sentence. It gives us the context.
What follows are single words and sentence fragments. This creates a rhythm. We’re presented with sounds and images. They come quickly. There isn’t enough time to fully understand what or who. There is an intentional disorder, followed by a short, simple sentence that re-establishes the context of what we are seeing.
The paragraph ends with a dash. Just as we think we know what’s going on, the dash indicates an abrupt interruption. Our curiosity is piqued as more information is provided in the next paragraph.
One think you rarely find in Shane’s scripts is pronouns.
Pronouns are used to facilitate ease and familiarity with a subject. However, in a script filled with people, it is easy to lose track of who is doing what to whom.
To avoid confusion, use a character’s name or descriptor to identify him or her. It may feel like you are using more words than necessary, but sometimes a few more words can make a sentence feel shorter when the reader does not have to stop and think about who is doing what.
Find your style.
There are as many ways to write narrative description as there are screenwriters. Your job is to figure out how you want to tell your story.
To find your voice, you need to read other writers’ work. Authors, poets, songwriters and screenwriter all truck in “the art of the economic idea.”
Look at how others convey ideas, images and tone. Find writers whose styles resonate with you. Learn how they do what they do and use that to help you find your own voice.
Shane Black is a master of specific style of narrative description. Other screenwriters have their own.
If you read a lot of spec scripts, you’ll start to see that many professional writers have taken the time to hone their skills. Each has a unique voice that make you feel like you are hearing a story told you by that writer.