Question about descriptions

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  • Question about descriptions

    Hey guys, I'm just starting to write, trying out different things, and I was wondering. Is it better to describe something in detail, be precise or to "tell the reader" what kind of "feeling"/"atmosphere" should something/someone evoke. I'm asking this because, for instance, if I describe a building or a house in detail, maybe the director won't like it that way, or the producer or maybe they can't find something like that during the production (obviously I'm a few years and a few screenplays away from a possibility to have a problem like that but still). And I won't write Sci-Fi or anything like that, at least not anytime soon so anything I write will contain well known "elements".

    So once again, the question is when I describe, for example a house, should I go in to the details of what kind of walls, roofs, gates, it has or should I just describe the "feeling" of it, as in "majestic/poorly constructed" something like that. From the screenplays I read I noticed that most of the heavy describing is done by screenwriters who also direct ( Michael Mann for example) but I'm just not sure what to do. Is there a proper way or it all depends from writer to writer or....

    Thanks guys.
    twitter.com/skarter

  • #2
    Re: Question about descriptions.

    Use as few words as possible to describe only the required action and make sure it flows quickly.

    Short sentences, no more than two actions occurring per sentence. No more than 3 or 4 lines per paragraph.

    As for describing people or objects; in early drafts I over describe stuff, then go back and trim the fat later.

    I try (it's easy to get carried away) to remember: short and concise.

    I've written and directed a couple of short films - and like you mention, I added a lot more in the script than was needed.

    A friend recently handed me a short script (he's a director) and asked me to help him ready it for production.

    Seriously - and looking back now I don't know how the @#() I did the same thing - it was very hard to read. The story and characters etc were great. But I had to decipher them from massive descriptives, such as light reflecting off corners of car gloss and minuscule beads of sweat dripping down someone's forehead, not to mention internal thoughts of the characters etc.

    Short and concise.

    Good Luck

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Question about descriptions.

      That's what I was thinking, thank you for your advice, appreciate the reply.
      twitter.com/skarter

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Question about descriptions.

        Why would you describe a "well known element" to a reader?

        Do you need to describe what the "walls, roofs, gates" of a house look like? Does it matter to the story? Is this a haunted house, for instance? Are there corpses behind the walls? Will someone later be thrown from the roof and impaled on the gate?

        If it doesn't matter to the reader's understanding of the story/characters, please have mercy on your reader, and don't write it down.

        There are plenty of awesome jobs within the film industry where you can actually design houses and make these kinds of decisions, by the way.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Question about descriptions.

          General descriptions only, unless something is important.

          So I'd describe an old, run down house as "Old, run down house". Like Checkov's Gun, if I mention it has a garage or a swimming pool it's because the garage or swimming pool will be important later in the story. If they don't come into play, don't mention them. If the house needs to be large, mention it. If it needs to be by itself with no other houses around, mention it.
          You can give the odd detail IMHO if it helps describe something that is important. A house that was foreclosed and abandoned a month ago will look very different to one that was abandoned six years ago, so a bit of description is called for, if the distinction is important to the story.

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          • #6
            Re: Question about descriptions

            I think you can afford one extra word, maybe two, to snap the visual into sharper focus for the reader.

            Old, rundown Victorian house.

            Old, rundown beach house.

            Old, rundown clapboard cottage.

            Old, rundown brick townhouse.

            Old, rundown tenement house.

            Old, rundown fieldstone mansion.

            Old, rundown castle.

            Yes - economy of words is preferred but running to the extreme opposite and using vague writing isn't a solution.
            Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Question about descriptions

              If you read 50 scripts, including ones by writers deemed masters of their craft, you would know the answer to this.

              http://www.simplyscripts.com/oscar_winners.html

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Question about descriptions

                Originally posted by Hamboogul View Post
                If you read 50 scripts, including ones by writers deemed masters of their craft, you would know the answer to this.

                http://www.simplyscripts.com/oscar_winners.html
                This is what I was going to say.

                Your post implies that you've read a few scripts. Why would you take what anybody has to say in this forum - even me! - over what you can glean from reading a whole mess of scripts?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Question about descriptions

                  yes, but reading a whole bunch of scripts, or whatever to learn or define a basic script movement isn't going to help you worth **** either...

                  until to learn how to basically tell a story from beginning to end ... u ain't never gonna figure out the focus of what really matters in story-telling. And that's- a story to tell', with likable characters - fighting against known characters or unknown, while striving to complete a foregone conclusion, or just shooting the **** 'til something happens... in each instance, only character can take you along the path and bring you to a conclusion.

                  wks

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Question about descriptions

                    Originally posted by sstefanovic View Post
                    Hey guys, I'm just starting to write, trying out different things, and I was wondering. Is it better to describe something in detail, be precise or to "tell the reader" what kind of "feeling"/"atmosphere" should something/someone evoke. I'm asking this because, for instance, if I describe a building or a house in detail, maybe the director won't like it that way, or the producer or maybe they can't find something like that during the production (obviously I'm a few years and a few screenplays away from a possibility to have a problem like that but still). And I won't write Sci-Fi or anything like that, at least not anytime soon so anything I write will contain well known "elements".

                    So once again, the question is when I describe, for example a house, should I go in to the details of what kind of walls, roofs, gates, it has or should I just describe the "feeling" of it, as in "majestic/poorly constructed" something like that. From the screenplays I read I noticed that most of the heavy describing is done by screenwriters who also direct ( Michael Mann for example) but I'm just not sure what to do. Is there a proper way or it all depends from writer to writer or....

                    Thanks guys.
                    To get a feel for it you could begin by looking over lots of scripts in the genre(s) which interest you.
                    Forthcoming: The Annual, "I JUST GOT DUMPED" Valentine's Short Screenplay Writing Competition. Keep an eye on Writing Exercises.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Question about descriptions

                      Originally posted by wks2001 View Post
                      yes, but reading a whole bunch of scripts, or whatever to learn or define a basic script movement isn't going to help you worth **** either...

                      until to learn how to basically tell a story from beginning to end ... u ain't never gonna figure out the focus of what really matters in story-telling. And that's- a story to tell', with likable characters - fighting against known characters or unknown, while striving to complete a foregone conclusion, or just shooting the **** 'til something happens... in each instance, only character can take you along the path and bring you to a conclusion.

                      wks
                      I disagree. You will learn a lot about what is appropriate for action descriptions through reading other scripts. The industry adapts and so should you.

                      I can read a book about the rules of Texas Hold'em and learn about EV, true outs, position, and theories all of which are unknown to new players. But the impact of the theories and it's application can only be realized through observing a real game and playing. It's the same with writing. All these books tell you structure, how to create a great character/universe/villain etc. Then you have to see it by reading other scripts. You see what other writers did and think to yourself "Oh I see why that worked, I read about it/saw it somewhere else too" And of course you have to write and get feedback.

                      Reading scripts does more for people than you give credit.
                      Thank you for reading my opinion.

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