Typing Faster

December 1, 2009

How to Write Good Scene Description

Filed under: Craft — petertypingfaster @ 10:37 am

Writing good description can be tough. A lot of young screenwriters make the mistake of treating their screenplay like a novel, with paragraphs on paragraphs of scene description. Doesn’t even matter if it’s well written novelistic description. A screenplay is a screenplay, and the requirements are different.

So what approach should one take if they want to write good scene description? Go Into Story offers up some good advice.

Screenwriters confront a challenge with scene description. On the one hand, movies are primarily a visual medium and it is scene description that conveys a script’s visuals and action. On the other hand, script readers will, if pressed, scan scene description and focus on dialogue. Why? Dialogue has narrower margins and, thus, can be read faster – a big deal if you’re a reader under a deadline to turn in coverage and/or you’ve got several scripts in your to-read stack. And you can pretty much track what’s going on just by reading dialogue.

So a conundrum: Scene description is critical in conveying a movie’s visuals and action, yet a script reader will often carry a conscious (or unconscious) prejudice against paying close attention to it.

Which results in a few principles re writing scene description:

  • No more than five lines per paragraph of scene description [better yet, 3 lines]
  • Think of scene description more as poetry than prose
  • You do not need to use complete sentences in scene description
  • Use visual descriptors
  • Use strong verbs
  • Aim to create a visceral sense of place, mood, and feel

Here’s a mantra that pretty much sums it up: “Minimum words, maximum impact.”

It’s a good mantra to write by, and one I’m definitely going to try to implement in my own writing.


1 Comment »

  1. Thanks Peter, great post! For me it’s often my need for full, complete sentences that kill my momentum – ’cause then I start to get all wordsmith-y and such, usually my second pass is all about taking those descriptions and making them say the same thing in 3 sentences or less.

    Comment by Brandon — December 4, 2009 @ 8:35 am

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