Screenwriting 101: How To Write Narrative Descriptions In A Screenplay


before we get started I just wanted to

make a quick disclaimer everything I'm

about to go over are not to be

considered as hard and fast rules

there's only one rule in screenwriting

and that is to make sure that your story

is not boring when it comes to

formatting and general guidelines that's

basically all it is is just guidelines

best practices things that people are

used to seeing so with that being said

let's jump into it and discuss some

basic formatting on screenwriting now

that you know how to write a scene

heading let's talk about the description

so once again screenplays and television

scripts are made up of three parts the

same headings the descriptions PKA

action lines and the dialogue so the

narrative description or action lines

are always going to be written in

present tense and that's because when

we're looking at a movie we're looking

at it in present tense we're watching

things as they're actually happening

when you write these out make sure that

you double spaced between the paragraphs

and you don't need didn't debt anything

the idea here is to keep your action

lines nice and lean you want to probably

keep things to about three to four lines

it's not a hard rule but this is a good

way to kind of show brevity remember

we're not writing the novel here and we

want to make sure that the pacing in the

story moves the reader along and

everything's nice and tight big blocks

of text are the quickest way to turn a

reader off and make sure that someone

who doesn't actually make it all the way

through your script as a general rule of

thumb you want to think of each

paragraph per beat of action or image as

a individual camera shot remember we're

not writing the novel so you need to be

very visual whatever you write anything

within these action lines do not write

anything that we cannot physically see

that means if you have a character who

has a certain type of thought or is

feeling a certain way you need to figure

out a way to write that visually so that

we can see what's happening when a

producer or director is reading your

script they don't know how to film

something where John feels sick

that leaves a lot up to interpretation

you need to physically show what

Jonathan's doing that lets the reader

know that he sit is he vomiting is he

turning green or is he sweating very

hard something that shows a visual state

also keep in mind when you're writing

your action lines or the description you

want to do three things you want to make

sure that you are describing your

characters when we first meet them for

the first time you also want to make

sure that you somehow describe the

location so we have a sense of what this

bar or coffee shop is like are there

anything particular that is standing out

that we need to pay attention to that's

critical to the story and you need also

describe everything that's happening

within the particular scene as an action

which is why they call it action lines

now I know I mentioned brevity earlier

in terms of when we write our action

lines out but there's a fine balancing

act here because you need to make things

nice and evocative the action lines are

gonna be what also really engages the

reader so a lot of scripts suffer from

being under written and it's hard for

the reader to kind of clearly visualize

what's going on you want to make sure

that this is written in an engaging way

that it is very clear and it visualizes

everything that's happening and the

person overall has a clear understanding

of what's going on the way you're gonna

really achieve this is by using clever

action verbs you're not gonna use the

typical progressive forms of written

passive voice instead you're going to

use more of an active voice so instead

of writing a basic action beat like

Brian enters the bar

you're gonna spruce it up with a more

creative action verb choice so let's see

something like Brian pimps into the bar

with a Kangol hat or Brian strides into

the bar with confidence you can see how

the last two options show a lot more

character than just someone simply

entering a bar always remember your

thesaurus is your best

so let's take a look at one of my

favorite scripts and movies by the way

which is Logan this is a good example of

some very effective action lines to

write throughout the script in my

opinion keep in mind whenever you're

writing your action lines in your

screenplay you're gonna be doing a few

different things you're gonna be

creating an atmosphere at times you're

also gonna be directing the camera

without giving a whole bunch of

different camera angles and we'll get to

that in a second but you'll also be

conveying the character of your

characters within the story you'll be

conveying the character through their

actions and the things that they do

within the action lines you also be

directing the performances of the actors

as well so you'll be describing the

types of things they do the way they do

it you will get to that right now

so right here we have a good example of

how this script is very visual and

you'll notice again they don't write

anything in their action lines that it

can't be filmed it opens up with a big

shot of a billboard here and then it

kind of goes to again we talked about

this in my previous videos as far as how

to create a scene heading where outside

is a vacant lot the time of day is night

and it's kind of setting the atmosphere

here by letting you know that the

colored light from the billboard

flickers over a bullet-riddled Sun

around 85 US border El Paso Texas so

right off the bat we know that we're not

in the best or safest part of town

beneath the Sun is a long black

limousine to me this kind of symbolizes

or hints at that maybe this is a camera

panning down from the side to this black

limousine so that it right there it's a

good example of

of directing the camera without giving

camera angles so you'll notice that this

is in all caps because the writer wants

your attention to be drawn to this long

black limousine it's important we'll see

why also remember that each action line

represents a camera shot so this line is

a camera shot this is a separate camera

shot this is a camera shot this is a

camera shot so we go from this sign

which has bullet-riddled over it we then

we kind of pan down or cut to a long

black limousine and we go to this next

action line that basically describes a

van again this is an all caps they want

you to pay attention to this a van

passes by blasting music and basically

you know it goes off off screen which we

see here

os means off screen a squeal of tires

off screen so this is another thing this

is representing the sound so normally

you whenever there is sound effects or

anything that we want to kind of happen

that we want it to be noticeable then

we'll put sounds in all caps as well and

os by the way again it mentioned it

means it's it happened off-screen so

basically we're looking at the highway

whole bunch of cars go by this van goes

by then we hear the tire squeal and it

kind of pulls back into frame and we see

that five bangers gang bangers get out

and check the black limo then it goes to

a another shot where you can see where

they're kind of checking the limo doors

looking at the windows is tenant so they

can't see inside now we go to inside the

limo again int means interior this is

the location which is the limo and we

have the time of day instead of having

day or night they put same so again same

means that this is actually happening at

the same time all of this is happening

so this saying that we're about to read

is happening

simultaneously as all of this is

happening so this is basically described

in Logan and it's got a close-up on his

face the reason I say that this is

probably a close-up once again kind of

directing the camera is that they put a

sleeping man's face ratchets into frame

so they've hinted at the fact that this

is possibly a camera close-up shot where

we can see his eyes opening in that

they're red so normally when we describe

a character for the first time it goes

you know they'll be like a very

interesting setup that describes and

shows how you know what the character is

like through possibly things that

they're wearing or their demeanor or

their description physical description

but with this movie everybody knows

Wolverine is at least the fans do so

they're only gonna describe his state in

this particular movie which is he's

typically in shape physical and just

ready to beat anybody's ass at the drop

of a dime but here he's older and he's

clutching the tequila bottle so they're

hinting at the fact that he is out of

shape and not in his best of abilities

so again I won't go through this whole

script but we can kind of see how some

of the things that I've pointed out as

far as like things that are written in

all caps again this is a sign or not a

sound but we see a booted leg steps out

again this is kind of hinting around

that this shot is only focuses focusing

on the the leg that's stepping out of

the limo and it goes on and on but um

this is just a good example wrap the bat

I've kind of showed you several

different things that they've done on

page one that kind of direct the camera

conveys character and also directs the

performances of some of the actors all

right now we know how to create action

lines so if you've watched the previous

video that you also know how

create a scene heading as well the next

thing that we'll be covering is how to

write dialogue