It all comes down to this:

I have never seen a screenplay that has benefited from MORE scene description.

Good scene description pushes the story forward and/or reveals character – in as few words as possible. Scene description is not just about DESCRIBING, it’s about doing – because scene description is scene action.

That’s just the way it is.

So remember the whole “less is more” thing? However you write it in the first draft, cut it by HALF in the second draft. At least. And make sure every word of scene description in subsequent drafts is performing a proper function, or cut it. And for God’s sake, check your spelling and grammar. Oh – and kill those widows.

Make every single word count.
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5 Responses to Screenplay Tips # 4: Scene Description

  1. SK says:

    Oh, I have. I've seen scripts where I had no idea what visuals I was supposed to be seeing, because the descriptions had been cut back — presumably as a result of this kind of advice.

    A screenplay shouldn't consist of lines of dialogue floating in space, like a radio play or those Smith & Jones sketches where you only saw their heads. It's a visual medium. It's not just about the dialogue.

    Yes, descriptions should be as short as they can be whilst giving the reader a vivid image — but not a word shorter.

  2. Lucy V says:

    So, make every word of scene description count then.

  3. Tim Clague says:

    It will be interesting to see how the 'my one word' scripts turn out too.

  4. Lucy V says:

    Absolutely – will be fascinating for you. Wish I was helping judge in fact (hint hint for another time, lol).

  5. Jonathan says:

    In reading screenplays, I've been fascinated by how taut some descriptions have been. The difference between Chris Nolan's screenplays for Memento and The Dark Knight are a case in point: the short descriptions in the latter script are so much more visual than the former.

    Less really can be more.

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