Marketing Bods beavering away in the back rooms of Consumer Cathedrals like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s use the words Basic and Essential to draw the wider slice of the human consumer-pyramid towards products that are vital to the average kitchen cupboard. It’s no different in the world of writing – here then a list of my FIVE BASIC, ESSENTIAL things to get right and to avoid getting wrong in your script writing, for budget-savvy writers who also want to avoid slipping below the Good Writing radar.
1/ SCENE DESCRIPTION – GEOGRAPHY and CONTENT: DESCRIBE WHAT YOU WANT US TO SEE – NO MORE NO LESS
Two things to remember here: don’t under describe your scene but also don’t over describe. Both mistakes on the page cause confusion and irritation in a reader. No-one likes to have to trawl through pages of description to get to the vital information of the scene. But the flip side of that is a tough place to be as well. There is nothing more tedious than having to work out for yourself where characters are at the top of a scene, or what they are doing – what it is, in fact, that we are looking at. So my rule of thumb is this; imagine and visualise for yourself before you put finger tip to keypad or ballpoint to paper where your characters are and what image you want us to see at the top of the scene. It sounds an obvious thing to say, but writing for the small or big screen means you have to use your visual imagination as much as you do your verbal skills to get your story across. Tell the story in pictures as well as words. So what is it you want us to know? Tell us succinctly but with a touch of description to keep the top of the scene alive. Set the scene – literally – paint it in words but chose yours carefully and remember – we need to get a move on here – this is not a novel – so place your characters and prepare for them to move the story on.
2/ CUT TO THE CHASE – KEEP UP THE STORY MOMENTUM – HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR STORY
I know it’s a tough one – but never allow yourself as a writer, to procrastinate. Your characters can, if you demand it, in order to further a plot point or build some tension in the narrative, but you the writer need to ensure you ‘get a wiggle on’ throughout the writing of your script. You are in control of not only the imagery and dialogue, but also the pace and mood of the story. It’s a truism that many writers lack faith in their storylines and worry that if they truly do push the script on they will run out of story before they complete their all important third act. My advice is always to allow the story to build the momentum it will naturally and if the writing begins to stall and the story to wane then more invention is required from you. Do not apply the brakes, thus holding back the plot incrementally scene by scene, do push your foot on the accelerator and give the storyline and your script some welly instead!
3/ CONSTRUCT A SHAPELY SCENE – INTRO/DEVELOP/END
Here’s another cliche but a true one (like most cliches in fact). Each scene must have a beginning, a middle and an end. So many writers forget this basic essential fact when bringing their story together in script form. Introduce your scene, develop it’s particular theme and end it on a definite, clear note. This might be on a visual image, or an expression, or on a parting word; but do end your scene. Do not leave it and your characters hanging. It’s sometimes easier to write the meat of the scene and harder to give it a good opening and ending, but it is essential to get this right in order to keep your overall control of your story intact. Ask yourself some basic questions when beginning to write a scene: ‘what is this scene about? What is the job of this particular scene?’ What must I put in and what can I leave out?’ ‘How do I need to leave this scene in order to push the story along?’ Be tough, be exacting and be clear with both yourself as the writer and with your scenes.
4/ VISUALISE, VISUALISE, VISUALISE
I can not stress enough how important it is for the writer to visualise, to imagine, to literally paint with words both your characters and the world they populate. Television, film, are visual mediums and the vitality and impact of your story on the small or large screen is dependant on your skill as both wordsmiths and visual storytellers. A lot of writing pitfalls can be avoided if your visual imagination is strong. Try literally, to ‘see’ the scenes as you write them and in so doing, create an atmosphere or a feeling using a simple but effective description of a room, or lighting, weather, a colour, an item of furniture, a picture. Couple a strong visual imagination with a skill in writing real, grounded, credible dialogue and your script is virtually writing itself!
5/ ONLY CONNECT – MENTAL EDITING
This is a tough one but if you can do this, my guess is that you may have dallied a while in pitfall number 1 and grazed a knee in pitfall 2 but I think you will have skipped lightly over 3 and 4 with little effort. Again, I make the same point but as you are in the business of writing in a visual medium, it is essential that you try and visualise how each separate component of your story, (in scenes) will cut together, and once positioned, how it will look, how the story will hang together and what the overall style and tone of your script will be. Doing this will ensure you do not fall into another trap (perhaps on a sub-headed list of essential do’s and don’ts!) of allowing yourself too many jump cuts within the narrative. Where a character literally seems to leap from one set/location to another as if they have jumped time between scenes. When cut together, unless these jump cuts are explained in the visualisation of the scene, the script will both read and look disjointed. Try and keep in your head as you write, the pace, the tone and the style of your narrative. The placing of your scenes along your narrative through line is very important. Scenes do not necessarily have to follow a linear pattern of storytelling and choosing to juxtapose one scene in particular with another can add atmosphere and story intrigue which you may not have actually scripted intentionally. Play with the narrative in your mental edit and in so doing, you will be controlling the pace of your story and where you want your audience to relax and where you want to up the pace.