Here at SCRIPT ADVICE I have compiled a hit list of the vital things you should be considering as you dive off that metaphorical screenwriting board into the shifting narrative water below….

Print this off and stick it near you when you are writing. Handy – hopefully and I also intend to make it easier for you to check you are on the right tracks as you dig into those precious first minutes of screen-time.

Television is a visual medium so use this as your most potent tool. Whatever you chose to focus on in the first few seconds of your drama will do a couple of vital things:

1. Set the scene. The first image in scene 1 could be a single, specific shot of an object, or a person, or part of a landscape, but whatever it is, this is the moment you are beginning your story and the journey of your characters starts here. Whether you chose to begin in a subtle, gentle way, or hit us between the eyes, this is where you are nailing the tone that will prevail for the rest of the drama.

2. Begin the narrative. What are you saying here? What do you want your audience to think/know on seeing this image? Are you imparting information or do you want to convey instead a raw emotion, or a begin a connection in the audiences’ mind that you will tap into further down the story line?

Sound can be just as emotive a tool as the visual and in story telling, creative writers should be using both not only to work together, but also as counter points against each other. Don’t use a music track for the sake of it – use the music to add another layer of understanding or experience for the audience. Sometimes hearing the sound that accompanies an action before we see that action and the image that goes with it, is more evocative than seeing the image and sound simultaneously. These are all decisions you need to make in the first seconds of your first scene.

The first words said on the page and therefore the screen, carry a certain and most specific weight in terms of story telling. These are the stepping stones on which the character/s stand before they come to the jump off point of their narrative – which you may have decided is now, in this moment, or you may be holding off for later scenes. How a character speaks and the words you chose to use or omit says everything we need to know about that character; so write from the subtext – what is driving them – rather than the text – what they are doing and make every word count.

When I read a script I am doing two things simultaneously; reading the words but am also ‘seeing’ the imagery you control on the page. This is a double edged attack on the sensibilities of firstly your reader and secondly your audience. Get used to ‘cutting’ in your head – your mind’s eye – as you write the scenes. You will, as you get more practised at this – begin to feel a natural rhythm to the way your scenes unfold. When that rhythm jars, then you know there’s an issue. Make sure your scenes flow – that the pace of each one is not identical to the last and that at all times you have a definite weight to the start of the scene and the end. Also make sure each scene does it’s job – that of pushing both the text and the subtext forward. Do all this, and you will find that the scenes cut well together and that you have created a page turner.

The job of the scene is two fold:
To explain the plot – to push the text forward.
To explore the subtext – to dig into what motivates your characters.

If both the text and the subtext are working together, then your narrative will feel buoyant and your audience will be engaged. You can withhold information, impart an emotion, suggest an under-tow, highlight a piece of action – inform, intrigue and mystify – but you must make sure your scene does something. ‘Holding’ scenes or static going-nowhere scenes, clog up the narrative arteries and must be cut out.

Five elements. Five essentials. Pay attention to these and you won’t go far wrong.

Happy Writing!
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