“That was an easy read!”
is the sentiment you want the reader to have when they conclude your screenplay.
No matter how good your story is you want your screenplay to be that easy read where your visuals, emotions and characters jump off the page and engage the reader with an enjoyable ride.
Here’s 3 tricks to make your script jump off the page.
1. Character Personality Introduction.
When introducing a character don’t just state their age and costume, though those are essential, also describe an aspect of their personality.
Katlyn Zarouff (21) strides into the cocktail party, a full length black dress hugs her perfect curves, her aloofness induces further intrigue, what few realise but will learn at their own peril, she’s a volcano covered in ice.
Jordan Curac (34) a poster boy for PTSD, slumped on the bar, whisky in hand, ripped shirt hanging from his slight frame. The regular drunks all avert their eyes, lest they end up like the bouncer lying dazed on the ground next to Curac.
Frank Sodika (56), a detective who has been around the block more than once, wears his brown leather jacket loosely, in fact all his clothes are slovenly, it’s an act to disarm for he’s no slump and nothing eludes his eyes or mind for long.
2. Evocative Descriptions.
Though a screenplay isn’t a novel, what they do share in common is both read better when the descriptions are evocative and create an image and a feeling in the readers mind.
Julie sits in a chair, the couch next to her is slashed, she holds a knife in her right hand and stares into the distance. A key unlocks the front door. she blinks but doesn’t otherwise move.
Julie, sits bolt upright, her white knuckled hand grips a giant kitchen knife. Strewn around the room from frenzied slashing is the couch stuffing. A key in the front door breaks the silence. Julie blinks, her only movement.
Another trick is to give simple actions such as ‘he stands’ an evocative description.
He shoots up
He slowly rises
His whole frame shakes as he struggles from the seat
He attempts to stand
He towers up
He pauses half way, as if an idea struck him
He slides back the seat with grace
He explodes to his feet
3. Chunk Dialogue.
Screenwriters fall in love with their dialogue quickly and often rely on it to carry the story. It is rare that a screenplay ‘has too little dialogue’, in fact the opposite is almost always true.
There are some great writers famous for long speeches of eloquence, power, wit or searing observation but for the most part screenplays rely on minimal dialogue and short bursts back and forward.
Nothing drags a screenplay down, distracts or bores a reader quicker, than wall to wall dialogue page after page after page.
There is room for longer speeches in your screenplay but that is the exception not the rule. Your longer speeches will stand out in contrast if the rest if your dialogue is clipped, tight and concise.
A trick with managing longer speeches is to break them up with one line action descriptions in between.
These tricks are window dressing to improve the expression of your story but they won’t make up for a weak screenplay or a remedy to any areas that are lacking.
Your screenplay needs to work foremost as an engaging story and these techniques are the icing on the cake to help it jump off the page.
In short: Story first, expression second!
I’ve written many times before but will reiterate, reading screenplays is a great way to learn how to improve your writing by observing how successful writers express their stories on paper.
Read a few professionally produced screenplays and see what tricks engage you and how they jump off the page.