Did you know?
The one craft element Bang2writers struggle with – probably more than anything else, in fact – is (wait for it) …
… Scene description.
WTAF! I hear you say. Surely character and structure are more problematic?? Well yes, I’ll give you that – especially when we’re talking HOLISTICALLY.
But when we’re talking about looking at elements IN ISOLATION – as in literally looking at the page in front of us, in order to try and improve our actual screenwriting craft generally – then it’s scene description all the way that causes the biggest headaches for writers of ANY experience: newbie, seasoned or pro. YES REALLY!
‘Description’ is the wrong word
I’ve long said this to my Bang2writers, but ‘description’ is really THE WRONG WORD when it comes to those pesky prose bits of our screenplays. This wrong belief that we have to DESCRIBE everything in a scene (via what I call ‘set dressing’ when it comes to the things physically in it, or ‘false movement’ with regards to characters’ moving body parts) is literally holding us back!
‘Description’ makes sense as a word for novelists. After all, we DESCRIBE the story world *with* actual words, that’s how books work. Even if we’re listening to an audiobook, 9/10 out that book is probably unabridged and literally READ OUT to us. The novelist might be painting a picture with words – but crucially that picture ends up in the reader’s MIND. *Not* REALITY.
If ‘what we SEE is what we get’ in scripts (and it is), then in real terms we need to think ACTION. Because in contrast to novels, in movies and TV shows, we are literally SEEING characters and events PLAY out in front of our EYES.
This means as screenwriters, we should be thinking NOT of scene ‘description’, but SCENE ACTION when it comes to writing our screenplays.
Lots of screenwriters complain that if they can’t write what’s PHYSICALLY IN the scene in terms of set dressing, or how characters MOVE their body parts (like winking, eyebrow-raising, smiling, loving across the room etc!), then what the hell ARE they supposed to write??
The answer? VISUALS. Le duh!
But okay, okay — HOW to do this? Well, why not check out the very beginning of THIS scene from the examples in a previous B2W article ‘What Script Editors Do AKA 5 Tips To Edit Your Own Screenplay‘ when it comes to visual writing:
Here’s the issues with the above:
Here’s how you *could* make it more visual:
You can see the difference. Here we have imagery that SHOWS US who these characters are, right off the bat. Ryan is getting ready at work, so he’s probably not been home, but he’s humming, so he’s not stressed or worried or running late. This suggests the idea he’s a ladies man … But the fact he has his razor at work and a pressed, clean shirt means he does this sort of thing all the time, so he’s PREPARED.
Similarly, Andy ‘swaggers’ in – this word hints at the notion he’s very sure of himself, plus he’s not surprised to see Ryan doing this in the police bathroom. Also the word ‘superior’ suggests Andy is older than Ryan and probably more experienced. We can then back this up in the way they behave next in the scene and what they say.
In other words, we have visual writing in that last scene excerpt … which gives us SCENE ACTION.
So, stop believing it’s about DESCRIPTION
It’s not! The best screenplays do NOT contain ‘description’ … This leads to ‘set dressing’ with the all extraneous detail that entails, plus ‘false movement’ where actors are moved around in scenes like wooden marionettes. BORING.
So let go of this wrong belief and you will embrace VISUAL WRITING, which means your screenplays will be full of SCENE ACTION. Good luck!