When I sit down to write a screenplay, I'm doing it because I feel like the story is bursting to get out of me. I am so eager to take the audience on a journey that I am bursting by the time I get to the keyboard.

And then the hard part comes... I have to write really cool action lines.

I have always been pretty good at dialogue and pitching, but when it comes to sitting down to write the story, I need some help.

Today, I want to take some of the lessons I've learned over the course of my career and impart them onto you.

Let's dive in.

What Are Action Lines in a Screenplay? 

Action lines in a screenplay describe the visual elements of a scene, including settings, characters, and their movements. They are written in the present tense, using active voice and strong verbs to create a vivid picture for the reader.

How to Write Action Lines in a Screenplay

As I get into writing individual scenes in a screenplay, I go in with the knowledge that I am in charge of the point of view of the audience. They don't automatically see what's in your brain or even feel the emotions of the story naturally, so you have to guide them every step of the way.

So when I begin the story, I don't just do a story outline, but I also add the emotions I want people to feel in every scene. That way, I can sit and write to those emotions and track them more over the course of the story.

So if I'm going into a scene, I look at the action that needs to happen, along with the emotions that need to be felt. That way, I am clueing the reader int othe kinds of feelings they'll have, alongside visuals that support those feelings.

Now, this is where I break a key screenwriting "rule" you've probably heard: show don't tell.

Show Don't Tell

"Show, Don't Tell" in screenwriting is a fundamental principle that suggests it's more effective to convey information and emotion through a character's actions, expressions, and the film's visuals, rather than through expository dialogue or narration.

But sometimes, you need to write those emotions. If It's a scary scene, I will write that a character feels terrified walking int oa dark room, and give them an action, like quivering or maybe trembling as they move forward.

These clarifications and support not only help the reader, but they help me stay on track, and make sure I am support the character arc I'm writing.

More Tips for Writing Action Lines in a Screenplay 

When it comes to writing action lines, I find that less is more. I really just want to put the reader's mind in the right place and get them feeling the right emotion.

Remember, you're telling a story, so bring them into the world and tell them what's going on around them, and then let the other elements of screenwriting take over.

  • Keep it concise: Use as few words as possible to convey the necessary information. Avoid excessive description or unnecessary details.
  • Focus on visuals: Describe what the audience will see on screen. Avoid describing internal thoughts or emotions.
  • Use strong verbs: Choose verbs that are active and evocative. Avoid passive voice or weak verbs.
  • Be specific: Use concrete nouns and adjectives to create a clear picture in the reader's mind.
  • Break up long paragraphs: Action lines should be broken into short paragraphs, typically no more than three to four lines each.
  • Avoid camera directions: Don't tell the director how to shoot the scene. Focus on describing the action itself.
  • Read it aloud: Read your action lines aloud to ensure they flow smoothly and sound natural.

By following these tips, you can write action lines that are clear, concise, and engaging. The goal of action lines is to create a visual blueprint for the director and the rest of the filmmaking team.

Let me know what you think in the comments.