You’ve thought about your characters. You’ve defined them. You’ve written biographies and histories. They’re 3-dimensional, living beings in your head. All that’s left to do is introduce them to your reader by making them jump off the page. How do we do that?

First Impressions

Just like real life, when we meet someone in a movie we instantly form a first impression. As the writer, you get to choose what that impression will be.

As the writer, you want your reader to instantly grasp the defining qualities of your main character. How your character walks into the world of your…


Frantic (1988)

One Good Scene Deserves Another

While we’re on the topic of scene work, let’s examine what makes a scene pop in a screenplay.

What are the essential tasks of a scene in a screenplay? They must do two essential things. Move the story forward and keep the audience engaged.

One Job at a Time

A scene is the hardest working member of your screenplay team. It has the most things to do at once. Along with plot and story, a scene reveals character and theme. It holds a reader’s interest with story questions. It conveys tone and mood.

In order…


Beginning, Middle and End

In a screenplay, just like your plot, a well-structured scene will have a beginning, middle and end.

Beginning

You must establish who the protagonist of the scene is and what they want. Except for the first time we meet a character, this is done BEFORE the scene starts. This is what we know about the character from the previous scenes, and specifically the very last scene that character was in.

Middle

There needs to be a complication. Otherwise, there is no scene. The protagonist wants something. And there is someone or something that won’t let them…


The end of punctuation: full stop.

This will complete our examination of how to use punctuation to create vivid imagery in your narrative description and how to imply camera angles and pacing edits without revealing that’s what you are doing.

If there’s anything I’ve missed, send me a note. I’ll be happy to answer your questions. In the meantime, here we go!

Caps, underlines and italics

Capital letters, underlines and italics are different ways to call attention to a specific idea in your dialogue or narration. They are similar to exclamation points, with one added benefit: specificity.

In dialogue, caps…


Backwards and forwards

As we continue our exploration of how to use punctuation in the narrative description of a screenplay, don’t forget the example we’re looking using. It’s from the first page of Shane Black’s 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang:

The girl starts to SCREAM.

SHRIEKING. Writhing in agony. Tears streaming. Harold stares dumbly. The kid with the saw, horrified –

Chaos. ADULTS converge on the scene. The girl is twitching. In shock, her DAD leaps to the stage. Grips the lid, HEAVES OPEN THE BOX. Eyes wide, staring –

Exclamations points

Exclamation points are often used in…


The power of punctuation

Each punctuation mark has its own meaning. It defines how we read a sentence, where we pause, and what inflection we impose on the words. They also have informal corresponding implications when writing visual description in a screenplay.

As we get into the dots, dashes, slants and curves, there’s a lot of information to impart. To make it easier to grasp, I’m going to break this section into three parts.

Point of reference

As an example, let’s use an excerpt from one of the most respected writers in Hollywood, Shane Black. Shane is a screenwriter, director…


One of the secrets that all great screenwriters understand is how to direct through punctuation.

Direct without directing

Instead of camera angles or the royal “we,” as a screenwriter you can force your reader to see the movie you want them to see by simply using the tools at your disposal: punctuation and grammar.

Write your movie the way it should be seen

Describe the action on screen in a way that focuses the reader’s attention on the single most essential element in that moment.

Utilize word choice, intentional grammatical usage, and specific punctuation to convey your ideas.

Grammar never…


M.C. Escher, Bond of Union, 1956, lithograph

Like an M.C. Escher drawing, a good screenplay is an illusion. It uses words on a page to convince readers to see something very different in their minds’ eye.

The way language, grammar, and punctuation are used in a script defines the reader’s experience of that script. When it’s done well, a script is said to have a “voice.” That voice is a distinct style and tone, usually crafted by the writer over years of experience.

So how do you do it?

Find your voice.

When writing narrative and description, it’s important to find your “voice.” …


Writing dialogue is a delicate dance. Too fast and you may jump out of rhythm. Too slow and you may not be keeping up the pace. I had a teacher one time who compared writing dialogue to a mini skirt — long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep things interesting.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when writing dialogue…

Don’t spoon-feed the audience
Don’t give your audience the answers, make them work for it. Rather than characters stating their reasons and conclusions, let your readers figure out the subtext on their own.

Don’t pad the work
Avoid…


When writing a screenplay, dialogue is the most fun to write. You get to pick whatever you want people to say!

It’s also the most difficult thing to get right. So let’s go through to see some tips and tricks to writing dialogue that will really pop.

If you’re struggling to improve your dialogue skills, here are a few potholes you should be sure to avoid.

Make your audience work

The entire point of a screenplay is to cause your reader to exercise their imagination. You want them to invest in your world, put their own creative skin in the…

p.w. alex&er

Film critic turned film schooler turned screenwriter turned free advice giver. Presenting thoughts on Screenwriting, Hollywood, and sometimes Social Marketing.

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