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Screenwriting Tips

Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters

Don't Include Unnecessary Detail

Most non-pro screenwriters include far too much unnecessary information in their scripts.

Some examples:

Tom goes to the door, unlocks it, turns the handle, enters the flat.

Do we need to know he unlocked the door or turned the handle? No, it's unimportant.

Alice drops her towel in the sand, lies down. She looks at the sea, begins to read a book ('The Beach'), turns the worn pages, looks very engrossed in the story.

The above could be tightened a lot.

Peter sits on a swing chair. He picks up a wine glass, sips, savors the excellent vintage. Adele enters, sits next to him, begins to sip her wine also.

The above includes considerable detail - it's verging on being verbose. Do we really need to know Peter picks up the glass, sips or 'savors the excellent vintage'? It depends - a skilled writer may be trying to lull us into a sense of peace before hitting us with something explosive or dramatic. Or the writer simply feels we need some downtime, after lots of dramatic scenes.

Too much unnecessary detail

Unfortunately many non-pro screenwriters include such unnecessary detail on virtually every page of their 110 page screenplays. It makes for very laborious reading, unnecessarily slows the read for prodco readers - excessive use sours the read.

Scripts with unnecessary and insignificant detail throughout simply don't sell.

It's a common trait of non-pro writers and a frequent bugbear with prodco readers - scripts featuring it heavily tend to get binned quickly.

How to avoid this issue

Only include information that's important to the story, scenes or characters:

Screenwriting is not novel writing

Novel writing tends to be very verbose, very detailed - you can describe scenes and people in exquisitely eloquent detail. If that's your forte, consider novel writing or use it when relevant (i.e. occasionally within a screenplay) and avoid it were not.

For spec screenplays to sell, they typically have to be written very tightly.

Note some professional screenwriters have a somewhat verbose style (not novel verbose though) - Michael Mann (Heat is 157 pages), John Gatins (Flight is 150 pages), Quentin Tarantino et al. They are exceptions to the rule and since they're well established with hundreds of millions of box office revenues behind them, they can pretty much write however they want.

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