Is Your Screenplay a Great Reading Experience?
Really, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to write a screenplay, but there definitely are more sellable ways to write one. One issue that comes to mind specifically is how to ensure an effective, moving, and entertaining reading experience. Some schools of thought insist on leaving out as much detail as possible, still others insist on being very, very precise. So, should you include adjectives and adverbs aplenty in your descriptions, or leave it up to the filmmakers to make those decisions? How exactly should your screenplay read, anyway?
Now, a lot of this depends on who is going to read your script -- perhaps that's the first question that you need to ask yourself. Are you writing a screenplay for a film you and your friends are making? Is it for a low-budget, no muss, no fuss kind of deal? Are you trying to sell it to a company?
It goes without saying that if you're writing a script for a movie you're making yourself, you could write whatever you please -- it could be in hieroglyphics if you really wanted. But specifically, if you're wanting to sell it, there are some things that need to be taken into account, some of which Jurgen Wolff touches on this in an article for Raindance Film Festival, in which he says that screenplays are more than just a "blueprint."
He explains that the "first goal of your script is to be a great reading experience," so being vague might sound like you're doing the filmmakers a favor, but it's important to remember that before the filmmakers come on board, a reader has to like it first. And according to Wolff, and I happen to agree, no one likes to read a blueprint.
However, there's a fine line between sweeping your reader away into a beautiful narrative world, and completely overdoing it with adjectives and dreaded adverbs. Wolff gives two examples:
Howard is a so fat he finds it difficult to walk.
Howard wheezes with the effort of carrying his weight. Every ten steps he has stop and lean against the nearest wall.
The first forces the reader to create the story world on their own -- essentially filling in the holes you left in your description. The second is better, according to Wolff, not just because it's more descriptive, but because it enlists multiple senses of the reader.
The more you can bring in not only what things look like but also their smell, their feel, their taste, the more real they become to the reader.
However, descriptions can definitely be overdone as well as useless. Wolff says one adjective is enough when describing something, and it might also be a good idea to check what you've written and ask yourself if you've either described or characterized the action. For example, is your character "working on his lawn meticulously" or "measuring each shrub and shred of grass with a tape measure?" Wolff shares a quote from playwright/short story author Anton Chekhov, "Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass."
What do you think? What methods do you use to pull your readers in?
[Script image by Flickr member Joe in DC]