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Screenwriting Tips

Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters



Keep Descriptions Brief and Tight

A frequent issue with most non-pro scripts is unnecessarily long bloated descriptions containing unimportant or insignificant information. If the words are not significant to the story, characters or scenes then don't include them.

I have read countless 6+ lines descriptions of scenes that could and should have been done in a faction of that.

It shouldn't blow your chances (of landing a sale, getting an agent etc) if you do this rarely but what tends to happen is that the non-pro screenwriter doesn't know any better and make these mistakes a lot. Many think it is how they should write and is 'good writing'.

Prodco and agency readers are very busy people. They don't want to read verbose description full of unnecessary detail when 1-2 lines would suffice. Such prose is a sign of non-pro and your script will likely get binned.

Keep your descriptions tight - if the detail is superfluous then don't include it.

Always remember: screenwriting is not novel writing.

Example

An example from a non-pro script taken from the web (not submitted to us):

INT. LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

Amanda retrieves Rick's work laptop bag. She pulls out the laptop, places it on the dining table and switches it on.

A password screen showing the 'Helios Defence Systems' logo and the username 'Dr Rick Bennett' appears. Amanda runs an app called TeamViewer (a real iPhone app that allows you to control a PC from your iPhone, using wireless Bluetooth). A control box on Rick's laptop appears: 'Remote access to this PC has been requested by TeamViewer. Grant access?' She clicks on the Yes button. She then runs a password-control-bypassing app on her iPhone. The laptop's password control screen is suddenly replaced with the blue command shell screen. A screen or two full of system commands are then auto-executed. Ending with the onscreen text 'Bypassing password control... Booting desktop...'

Rick's desktop screen appears on his laptop (and on Amanda's TeamViewer window on her iPhone). Amanda runs another iPhone app that grabs all the recently changed files on Rick's laptop and transfers them to her iPhone via Bluetooth (wireless link). A message box stating 'Transferring recently updated files via Bluetooth: syncing' comes onscreen on Rick's laptop and Amanda's TeamViewer window on her iPhone.

The above is far too much detail - it's also written in passive voice (see: Stay in Present Tense and Active Voice). You could probably get away with it as a one off verbose occurrence - ideally later in the script, not early. However, frequent use of such elaborate detailing of information that is not crucial to the screenplay, will most likely lead to your script being discarded.

AFF Screenplay Competition Director talks about verbose descriptions

In a recent interview, Matt Dy, the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition Director, said this about verbose descriptions:

MATT DY: ...Also, a lot of first-time screenwriters will direct too much in their scripts and include long blocks of scene descriptions. Screenplays are considered the blueprint for a film but it still needs to leave room for the director’s vision.

The Nicholl Fellowship advises on verbose descriptions

The Academy's Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting has a wealth of excellent screenwriting advice on its website and Facebook page including:

...A different problem arises for some otherwise entirely capable writers in English - they overwrite their description and dialogue. Poetic and literary language has a place, but it's not typically in screenplays. Readers and judges often react negatively to florid, overwritten description that serves to slow the story rather than to propel it forward.

Action and Sci-Fi screenplays

Non-pro action and Sci-Fi screenwriters fall into this trap with alarming frequency.

I fully understand you're passionate about your scripts, its subject area and are keen to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge of it. However your writing needs to be kept tight - to understand your script I don't need to know the inner workings of a nuclear device, I just need to know it's a nuclear device.

Many non-pro screenwriters go into huge detail regarding the weapons or hardware in use - it's often totally unnecessary. I don't need to know it's a Barrett Model 82A1 bolt action sniper rifle that can fire a fifty caliber round at 853 m/s to a range of 1,800 meters. I simply need to know it's a sniper rifle.

Don't get me wrong, I love action and Sci-Fi movies and I relish the tech but we're here to make your scripts better, give you a chance of landing an agent or selling your spec script. That's simply not going to happen if your scripts are filled with unnecessary detail insignificant to the story. So include your tech but do so with very tight writing - keep your descriptions of it very short.

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Related articles on this site

Open in same window

Screenwriting is Not Novel Writing

Stay in Present Tense and Active Voice

Don't include Unnecessary Detail

Slug Lines

External links

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AFF Interview: Greg Beal, Franklin Leonard and Matt Dy

Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition

Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting - Facebook page