The secret to great screenplay writing is keeping it simple and visual. Words can be your friends as well as your deadliest enemy. Here’s a short tip that will improve your writing with every word you don’t write.
WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT COMMUNICATE!
What is communication? In terms of writing it’s getting an idea in your head and using the written word to move it into someone else’s. The goal of communication is to have the other head get the exact same idea. If it's a screenplay you're writing you want them to SEE it.
Here’s a little image I mocked up so you can SEE what I’m communicating:
When you're writing, what is it that gets in the way of communicating? Ironically, just one thing.
You might think that this is why it's important to have an excellent vocabulary. And you’d be right. Partially. But be careful! In order for you to communicate effectively your reader must know the exact same meanings of every word you use. If not, the precise idea or visual image that you intend to arrive in the other head won't get there. So the more fancy words you use the more you increase the chance of not communicating. Whereas it’s fine to pump lots of metaphors and similes into novels or essays, the last thing you want to do in a screenplay is flower up your writing with vivid metaphors and deep meanings. They're great for poetry when the words alone create the art. But in film they will never reach the screen. In a screenplay you want to write as few words as possible that move the visual image from your mind into the reader's mind. Then move on.
This might be fine in a novel:
John gets up off the chenille sofa and withdraws his silver-plated Glock 9mm, jacks a hollow-point round into the chamber and lets off a well-aimed slug precisely between Molinari’s surprised eyes, sending him crashing to the marble floor with a bone-breaking thud, his dark red blood expanding around him as the life drains from the once powerful Mafioso.
But in a screenplay it’s a bunch of wasted words. This is how you’d communicate it in a screenplay:
John rises and shoots Molinari dead.
Get the picture?
©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved
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