How to Use Other Script Elements to Tell the Story
Episode #8 of the course Getting started screenwriting by Jurgen Wolff
So far, we’ve looked at how to create strong stories, scenes, characters, and dialogue. This lesson reveals three additional elements that can help you craft an outstanding screenplay.
How to Write a Description of the Action
Scenes include a description of the action written in the present tense. For the example below, let’s assume that from the scenes before this, we know that Leo and Martha are an old married couple.
INT. LEO’S AND MARTHA’S LIVING ROOM — DAY (DAWN)
Leo sits in his easy chair in his pajamas. He’s going through the papers in a battered file box. When Martha shuffles in wearing her dressing gown and old bunny slippers, she’s surprised to see him. He quickly puts down the box.
That short description tells us quite a lot. The scene heading tells us where and when the action is taking place. Describing their clothing helps the reader form a mental picture. Martha’s look of surprise suggests that something unusual is taking place, and Leo’s quick reaction when he sees his wife makes us wonder what he was doing with the box and whether he’s trying to hide it from his wife.
Unlike novels, screenplays don’t allow you much space for description. Therefore, concise language that’s not flowery and doesn’t contain unimportant details is best. Do use a few specific details that help reveal character and verbs that help the reader picture the action—for example, that Martha “shuffles in” rather than just “walks in.”
How to Use Locations
Where you set the action can be an important part of telling the story or can reveal something about a character.
A woman is going to break up with her boyfriend. What does it suggest about her if she does it at his workplace, in front of his colleagues? What if she does it by whispering to him while they’re watching a play—Romeo and Juliet? What if she writes it on his mirror and leaves before he wakes up?
Try to avoid setting too many scenes in boring locations like coffee shops or living rooms. But don’t set a scene in a weird location just to be different; find a reason why the scene could take place there.
How to Use Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition refers to the effect you get from the combination of the ending of one scene and the beginning of the next. The audience will assume there is a connection. For example, if one scene ends with an argument between two men, and the next scene begins with one of them looking at guns in a gun shop, the audience will assume he’s going to buy a guy to shoot the other man.
You can use this to convey information to your audience without dialogue. You can also use it to mislead them, especially in a comedy. One overused example is a character saying, “I absolutely will not do that!” at the end of a scene, and the beginning of the next scene shows him doing whatever they said they would never do.
Juxtaposition can also create a powerful emotional effect. Sometimes a drama will have us laughing at the end of one scene, only to hit us with something very dramatic at the start of the next one. For example, a couple leaves a party, joking and waving to their hosts as they get into their car. The next scene shows them in the car, the driver presses the ignition button—and the car blows up.
You can also use the juxtaposition of a location and what happens there. If a man is walking past a school yard full of kids when he gets a phone call from his wife letting him know that she has miscarried, that location adds more impact to the scene.
In this lesson, you’ve added to the tools you can use to create an outstanding screenplay. In the next lesson, you’ll find out how to combine all the components of a screenplay into its unique format.
Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
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