Here again is our weekly column of screenwriting tips, which is hopefully helping you get ready to kick butt. If you prefer your screenwriting advice in video form, you can now also find us on:
Today, let’s talk about…
Learning how to be critical of your own writing is paramount. Screenplays are not novels. You do not have the luxury of endless pages to expound upon minutiae. James Bond novelist Ian Fleming’s books were famous for their incredible detail. He could go on for pages and pages about heraldry or the history of the illegal diamond trade, etc. Remarkably, this is gripping reading because it really informs the reader and makes you feel like you are there in the world of the story. Try to do that in a screenplay? Death.
Again: screenplays are judged on their terseness and brevity. How few words can you use to say something? Are there redundancies in your scene description? Do you tell us the location in your slug line, then reiterate it in your description? Are you using complete, grammatical sentences all the time, when a fragment will do? Remember: fragments are okay in screenplays. It’s not a thesis paper.
Are you writing things in your description which either cannot be seen or known by the viewers of the movie? For example:
ELLA (28) entered. She was afraid to face her parents because she didn’t get the internship at the hospital.
DON’T DO THAT!
We’re assuming Ella isn’t wearing a sign that states “I didn’t get the internship.” If it’s important to the story (and for the character to tell her parents) then this will come out in dialogue.
How is the audience supposed to know that Ella is “afraid”? Let’s stick with verbs. What does the audience see? Does she pull her hair, pick her cuticles, hug herself or study her toes? Flinch when she’s addressed by name? What do we see that might give us the idea that she’s “afraid”?
Also, don’t use a boring verb like “enter.” Let’s be brief but descriptive. Does Ella stride or stalk? Stomp or clomp? Stroll or slouch? Or perhaps even something less alliterative?
This is the part where we need to be ruthless with ourselves. It doesn’t matter how well written and literate a sentence is. If it doesn’t serve a purpose and is as concise as it can be, it needs to be excised.
Everything needs to be conveyed visually or through dialogue to the audience, or else simply cut.
As you already know, we’re always here for questions (and the answers are free).