• ACTION that is seen on the screen
• DIALOGUE that characters say
ACTION DESCRIPTION TIPS
DON’T DIRECT or ACT — Directors don’t like to be told how to shoot a scene. Besides, a good director might do it better than you suggest. Actors don’t like to be told how to act. So don’t tell them how in your script either.
KILL THE CAMERA — Remove all references to camera movement and angles. Eliminate any “we see” or “we hear” references because we don’t see or hear. Write the action the audience will see on the screen or the words the actors will say. The simplicity of screenwriting is what makes it so hard to do.
USE STRONG LANGUAGE — “Fred is running around crazily” is weak compared to “Fred runs, flailing his arms frantically.” Look for any descriptions that talk about “is” or “being.” It’s weak. Make it colorful! Use simple, colorful, visual language.
Is your story too long? Or does it seem to wander aimlessly? Does it lack impact?
Let’s thin it out without gutting it! Try this:
Strike every “well,” “now,” “listen,” “oh,” etc. that you find in your dialogue. Get to it. Cut to the chase. Cut out the unnecessary clutter in what they say. You can always put it back in if the producer wants it. ACTORS HATE TO BE TOLD HOW TO ACT … and producers hate reading about it.
Look for unnecessary parentheticals (instructions to the actor in parentheses in the dialogue). Hack them out. Use them ONLY when there’s no other way to indicate that a particular line is directed to a specific character out of several in the same scene … or if it cannot be done by carefully selecting the words for a character. Parentheticals are like speed bumps in a script. Avoid them entirely if possible.
Review the action descriptions. ANY “is” or “being” stuff needs to be re-written.
Get good thesaurus and synonym dictionaries and use them. The verb “is” implies a state of being that cannot be photographed. Only action can be put on the screen. Anyone who is thinking … knows about … wants to be … looks like — kill ‘em and re-write ‘em. Action description doesn’t have to be perfect English. This isn’t a novel. It DOES have to be colorful and descriptive so the reader can “see” what you want seen on the screen. Kill ALL of the camera references. DIRECTORS HATE TO BE TOLD HOW TO DIRECT … and producers hate to read about it.
Strike any reference to ANYTHING not seen on the screen, like reminding the reader that “so-and-so was the same guy who…” you get the idea. If it can’t be seen — CUT IT OUT!
Eliminate CUT TO: in your script. It’s already implied when you show a new scene heading anyway.
By now, you should have thinned things out a LOT. Good. You’re down to meat and potatoes, if you’re lucky. You’ve probably concluded by now that the action descriptions aren’t quite getting it. Now the real fun begins.
Try this: SIMPLE, COLORFUL language in your descriptions. Cars don’t just “pull up at the curb” … they also gasp, lurch, grind, shudder, gurgle, clatter and expire at the curb. Get a GOOD thesaurus — USE IT! Also, eliminate big words not commonly used in everyday speech unless it’s part of a character’s persona.
Think in master scenes. It’s okay to write the interior and exterior scenes at one location as one scene. Use a separate action description paragraph to signal a separate shot without explicitly saying so, to let the reader know we went outside, if you started with INT. BAR – NIGHT. It’s a LOT easier to read that way.
If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to incorporate them here for everyone to read and share. Just email me.
While I won’t rewrite your script for you for nothing, I do give free advice.