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Screenplay Scene Description: Amateur Writers vs. Pro Writers

How To Improve Your Writing Style By Comparing It To The Pros

 

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by Script Reader Pro in How To Write A Screenplay
July 30, 2010 26 comments
screenplay agent

Often screenwriters are so busy grappling with the dynamics of their story, what their protagonist wants, what pages their act breaks are falling on, etc. they forget to address the most immediate indicator of talent — writing style.

Great screenplay scene description, however, immediately communicates to your reader that your writing is at a certain level. That you haven’t just woken up one day and thought “I’m going to write a script and sell it for one million dollars!” 

From the very first sentence, a reader is able to place where a writer is in terms of ability. So what you need to do is show right away that you’re someone who’s studied the craft and knows how to write first class scene description.

But before we get started with the amateur vs. pro screenwriters’ writing styles…

Just What Makes Great Screenplay Scene Description? 

One of the main aspects of great script description is its ability to put clear images in the reader’s mind of exactly what the writer wants them to see.

Clear, interesting, precise, vivid images help the reader fall deeper into the heart of the story. It draws them in by piquing their interest and making them feel they are part of a unique world — an interesting, rich and visually arresting world.

Why risk telling your story using a bland, uninspired writing style and boring your reader, when you could put a little more effort in, keep them entertained and involved in your story?

In fact, there’s so much competition out there, you don’t really have a choice. Many production companies have two recommendation boxes at the end of every coverage report — one for the script and the other for the writer.

By this they mean execution and style. So, even if your story isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, but possesses a rocking writing style, you could still get hired to do re-write assignments.

So, let’s get started with comparing some examples of amateur and pro screenplay scene descriptions.

Screenplay Scene Description: Amateur vs. Pro

Seeing average and excellent example of scene descriptions in a script, side by side can really help writers see the difference between them, and where they’re going wrong. We thought we’d kick off with an example from one of our favorite films…

WHIPLASH

screenplay scene description

VERSION #1: AMATEUR SCREENPLAY SCENE DESCRIPTION  

First up, here’s how a newbie writer might set up this scene in Whiplash in which Andrew gets a cymbal thrown at his head by psychotic teacher, Fletcher.

screenplay scene description

VERSION #2: PRO SCREENPLAY SCENE DESCRIPTION

Let’s take a look at what Damien Chazelle wrote:

screenplay scene description

What’s the main difference between these two descriptions of the same scene? The first just feels lazy, like not much thought has been put into it. The writer is not overly concerned about creating emotion on the page and making us feel what Andrew’s feeling.

The second, on the other hand, goes to great length to put us in Andrew’s head space and takes its time building up the mood and tension before Fletcher enters the scene.

In Chazelle’s version, Andrew walks in, slowly. Eyes the DRUMS. This brings to our attention straight away just how nervous Andrew is, without stating it explicitly. It’s all there in the choice of words. We can see him eye the drums and know exactly what he’s thinking.

Similarly, the choice of the word “throne” reinforces the idea that drumming is everything to Andrew — a precious commodity that he must conquer or die trying, just like kings of old.

Some so-called screenwriting gurus will tell you never to use camera angles, and while it’s true you shouldn’t overuse them, a judicious line like “WE MOVE IN CLOSER ON HIM” can really help give the impression that we’re watching a movie. It puts in our mind how the camera moves slowly toward him, accentuating the tension, which can only be a good thing.

SIDEWAYS

screenplay scene description
VERSION #1: AMATEUR SCREENPLAY SCENE DESCRIPTION

A less skilled writer would start the following scene in which Miles and Jack eat breakfast in a diner near the beginning of their trip, something like this:

screenplay scene description

VERSION #2: PRO SCREENPLAY SCENE DESCRIPTION

Instead, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor started the scene like this:

screenplay scene description

Notice how strong an image the first line about the two plates of floating food is, and how it draws your attention straight away to the object of Jack’s lust. Zeroing in on specifics in your description of a scene can be a great way of kicking it off. It’s a very cinematic technique which gives the impression of watching the film.

Next, Jack and Miles are described as “disheveled and unshaven” — phrases that immediately give the reader a great little thumbnail sketch of the state they’re in from the previous night.

Likewise, the waitress is described as “young and innocently sexy.” The word “Innocently” accentuating her youth, rather than just saying she’s “sexy.” Always try to include these kind of short character sketches in your screenplay’s scene description.

Finally always try to avoid clichés. The phrase “eyes widen” is one that appears in 90% of spec scripts. Not only that but it doesn’t quite bring to mind Jack’s lust in the way “leers” does.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES

screenplay scene description

VERSION #1: AMATEUR SCREENPLAY SCENE DESCRIPTION

Again, we’re going to write an “uninspired” version of the screenplay scene description, followed by the actual description in the screenplay. A less skilled writer might open the following scene like this:

screenplay scene description

VERSION #2: PRO SCREENPLAY SCENE DESCRIPTION

Instead, Sofia Coppola wrote the scene like this:

screenplay scene description

As in the Sideways example, in this piece of script scene description, Coppola “directs” the viewer with her sentences.

The description starts with “The neighborhood boys are gathered around PAUL BALDINO.”

This implies a WIDE SHOT of the boys listening to Paul. Then, we focus on Paul himself with his thumbnail character sketch. Then there’s a CLOSE UP of his pinky ring catching the sunlight as he talks. Finally, we are back on the boys as they continue to listen.

Also, notice her choice of words. The line “Paul, who at 14, is a junior version of his gangster father, with dark pit-bull circles under his eyes, and wide hips,” brilliantly sums up his character in an instant.

With the allusion to his “gangster father” we know exactly where this kid’s coming from. And notice Coppola’s choice of words when describing the boys. “Gathered” suggests attentiveness, and in the final line, with the word “intensely” we can practically see their faces full of concentration.

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We hope this has been helpful and that it has inspired your own screenplay scene description. And remember: one of THE best ways to improve your screenplay scene description is to simply read screenplays. As many as you can.

We have a post here of 50 Of The Best Scripts To Download And Read In Every Genre which contain these scripts and many more for you to get started.

Best Screenplays To Read

26 Comments
  1. Saajid Sahib Singh says:

    These were really good suggestions for a first timer. In a way any suggestion is good for a first timer so not a big compliment but thanks anyways. Can you suggest me some good screenplays to read and if possible can you fill the WHERE department of the question also. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks Saajid. Yes you can check out some great scripts from each major genre here:

      http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/movie-scripts-2/

  2. Josh says:

    Hello.
    Firstly, this was extremely helpful to me as I am an amateur screenwriter writing my first screenplay, and I was stumped until I reviewed some of your posts. I do, however, have one question: What exactly does the term “WIDER” mean? My guess was that it was a wider camera angle covering basically the entire scene rather than focusing on any specific part of the scene or characters, but I wanted to be sure.
    Thanks.

    1. SRP says:

      “WIDER” or “WIDE” simply refers to a wide shot. Often screenwriters will start a scene “CLOSE” on something or someone and then write “WIDE” to put in the reader’s mind we’ve pulled back from the close up to take in the entire frame. Hope this helps.

  3. Lindsey says:

    Very interesting – thanks for these examples, they really help.

  4. Samuel says:

    Please help me. Am writing a film I find interesting. I LOVE these examples. Thanks. But am an Oliver Twist right now and need more. My film is lengthy.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Samuel – more posts like this are coming soon!

  5. Abby says:

    Really loving this content. Thanks for the info script reader PRO!

  6. Sonny says:

    Fantɑѕtic scriptwriting info from you, man.
    I cant wait to learn fɑr morе from үou.
    Peace. Over and out.

  7. William G says:

    Great examples. Thanks SRP.

  8. Chana says:

    I have noticed that you don’t inlcude scenes from post modern feminist screenwriters?

  9. Frankie Hill says:

    The Virgin Suicides is the best Sofia Coppola movie.

  10. Class Act says:

    Brilliant. Thanks this helps so much.

  11. Amy says:

    Ⅾo you have any script reader jobs going? I have a lot of experience and can send you a sample.

  12. Ruby says:

    Awesome. Really enjoyed reading these.

  13. Jacques says:

    AI have got much clear idea about scene writing from this piecе. Thanks YOU!

  14. Oli Banhart says:

    Will be sending you my script for analysis. I need work on my scene description for sure.

  15. April says:

    Cool, thank you SRP <3

  16. Eli Davis says:

    This helps so much.

  17. Lyle Peters says:

    So glad I found this site. Thanks SRP!

  18. Thomas says:

    Love these examples – thanks guys.

  19. Gavin says:

    Awesome scripts and examples. Thank you script reader pro

  20. Aleisha Nhiri says:

    I think this is ok but could also show more interesting films. Bollywood has some very good one.

  21. Mette Ronberg says:

    This is cool! Thanks script reader.

  22. Fred Samuels says:

    This makes sense. I can’t wait to be applying these scene tips.

  23. Fancy That says:

    Where I can I find the script to Virgin Suicudes?

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