March 5, 2020

How Are Scene Descriptions Written? Let the Coen Brothers Teach You

Two of the best writers today are brothers, the Coens, so what can we learn from emulating the way they write scene descriptions? 

The Coen brothers are some of my favorite filmmakers. They have a distinct style on the page and their movies are all memorable and bold. They take a lot of chances in storytelling and not all of them work out. 

Still, I find them to be fearless, genius, and worthy of copying as you develop your own voice—especially when it comes to writing scene descriptions.

In this video from Revising the Script, we get to dig into how the Coens do it in their own screenplays. Check it out below and let's talk after the jump.  

Learn Scene Descriptions from the Coen Brothers

I think THE BEST way to learn to write scene descriptions and action is to watch a scene from your favorite movie and then write what you see. Then look at how your favorite writers described what happened and see where you match. 

Not only will this exercise get you thinking cinematically and visually, but it shows you how professionals do what you want to do for a living. 

In the video you watched, that's exactly what the author doesrecreates the opening scene of The Big Lebowski

His words on the left, the Coens' on the right. 

If you're an avid reader of the site, you know I am a huge fan of the pared-down version of action writing. There's no need to editorialize or to be sophomoric in your scene descriptions.  

You're writing a movie, not a novel. That means you want the words to describe a scene people see later, not one the audience reads. 

The Coens give you just enough to understand what's happening. They reveal character through their actions. The Dude is a simple man in need of some milk. We don't wax poetic about his philosophies or political leanings.

Not only does that leave room for the performer to bring something to the character, but we get to let them live in our own imaginations. We can see just enough to spark the scene in our own heads. 

Overbearing writing makes reading a screenplay a slog. 

So the next time you sit to write, think about how the Coens do it. 

Give us just enough to absorb us into the story. 

We can't wait to see what you come up with next! 

What's next? Watch: Here's How to End a Movie, Coen Brothers Style...

Let's see how the endings of the Coen brothers' films both subvert and satisfy the traditional requirements of narrative. 

Your Comment



March 5, 2020 at 10:49PM


So, yeah. The Coen's are masters... but the problem here is that, they're the Coen Bros. The average screenwriter can't get away with this much specific description. Joel and Ethan can write this way because Joel and Ethan are going to direct it, everyone knows they're going to direct it, and because they've earned the right to be more descriptive. A new writer can't (or shouldn't) direct on the page nor should you spend so much page space on describing the scene.

March 9, 2020 at 12:39AM


A new writer can't (or shouldn't) direct on the page nor should you spend so much page space on describing the scene.

March 9, 2020 at 9:46PM

We are following up with pieces on how you can best approach a remote work scenario, and we will continue to update on pilots heading into production next week as we know more.

March 13, 2020 at 7:59PM

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