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Improve Your Screenplay Scene Description in 10 Min With This Method

Learn How to Immediately Improve Your Writing Style by Comparing Amateur Scene Description to the Pros

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by Script Reader Pro in Writing Style
July 30, 2010 89 comments
screenplay scene description

Screenplay Scene Description: Why It’s So Important

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 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. To make them see exactly what the writer wants them to see.

Clear, interesting, precise, vivid images help the reader fall deeper into the heart of the story. They draw them in by piquing their interest and making them feel they are part of a unique 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 for a rewrite.

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

Screenplay Scene Description: Amateur vs. Pro Versions

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.

Whiplash (Amateur Version)

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

screenplay scene description

Whiplash (Pro Version)

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

screenplay scene

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 headspace. It 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. But 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. It’s 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. 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.

screenplay scene description

Sideways (Amateur Version)

A less skilled writer might start the following scene in which Miles and Jack eat breakfast in a diner, something like this:

screenplay scene description

Sideways (Pro Version)

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

screenplay scene

Notice how strong the image in the first line about the two plates of floating food is—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.” These phrases immediately give the reader a great little thumbnail sketch of the state these guys are in.

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 kinds 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 percent 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 (Amateur Version)

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

The Virgin Suicides (Pro Version)

Instead, Sofia Coppola wrote the scene like this:

screenplay scene

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

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, 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.

Screenplay Scene Description: Conclusion

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 contains these scripts and many more for you to get started.

screenplay scene description

Liked This Post? Read More on Screenplay Scene Description and How to Improve Your Writing Style…

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How to Write a Screenplay: The Secret to Elevating It Above the Ordinary

Script Dialogue: If Your Characters Are Just Talking You’re Doing It Wrong

[Photo credits: Pexels]

89 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:

      https://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!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad you like it. Thanks, Abby!

  6. Sonny says:

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    I cant wait to learn fɑr morе from үou.
    Peace. Over and out.

  7. William G says:

    Great examples. Thanks SRP.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, William!

  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.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Agreed 🙂

  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.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Ruby.

  13. Jacques says:

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

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck with the script!

  14. Oli Banhart says:

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

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Looking forward to working with you, Oli.

  15. April says:

    Cool, thank you SRP <3

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, April!

  16. Eli Davis says:

    This helps so much.

  17. Lyle Peters says:

    So glad I found this site. Thanks SRP!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We’re glad you found us too. 🙂

  18. Thomas says:

    Love these examples – thanks guys.

  19. Gavin says:

    Awesome scripts and examples. Thank you script reader pro

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Gavin!

  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?

  24. Josh White says:

    Very nice.

  25. Mary B says:

    Thanks for the amature Vs pro.
    Definitely helps to know direction.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Mary – glad it helped.

  26. Tunechi Philips says:

    This was really heloful. Now I know where I belong as a screen writer and how to adjust. One question, must I describe the scene entirely in my opening or just go straight to the characters description in the action line. Thanks

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback! There are no rules when it comes to this kind of thing. It all depends on what’s happening in the scene and how you want to present it, but it should probably vary from scene to scene depending on the circumstances.

  27. Anthony says:

    Can you do an example from the movie A Star is Born scene?

  28. Rawdrick says:

    This is Amazing. This should help my writing skill in a lot of ways… Thanks

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback – we really appreciate it!

  29. Mia says:

    This is the first time I’ve seen a website break down scenes like this. Very helpful. Thank you.

  30. TIMOTHY ROLLER says:

    This is an intresting comparison with good points, but this seems like your comparing a shooting script with a spec

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We’re comparing a pro writing style to a mediocre one. You’re right, though, there are also sometimes additional differences between shooting scripts and specs, such as formatting.

  31. Gary says:

    I just forwarded this to a writer friend of mine. Words like these needs to be spread!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Gary!

  32. Archie says:

    Thanks for post this amazing. I’m a long time reader but ive never commented till now. Thanks again for the awesome post on writing a screenplay scene.

  33. Katia Dobbins says:

    This weekend I am doing a MAJOR rewrite and this post has helped me A LOT. Thanks.

  34. Liza says:

    Thanks for the great post

  35. Farhan says:

    Love the site– extremely useful to my understanding of scenework.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad to hear it, thanks, Farhan!

  36. Benjamin says:

    Thank you for the good writeup. How can I speak to one of your readers?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Benjamin. You can purchase a Skype Call here.

  37. Angelica says:

    How do I write a scene with multiple characters. Like 8 or more?

  38. Bliss says:

    I often describe each personality when they appear in the scene is that right or should I just explain everything from. The staring of the whole thing

  39. Karen Crider says:

    Specificity. Pass it on.

  40. Cathryn Kelley Smith says:

    Excellent.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Cathryn!

  41. Scott Clark says:

    I’m writing a movie and this post will def help me with it. Thanx a lot guys!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck with it, Scott!

  42. Janet says:

    Another excellent article, especially relevant for me! I need more compelling, emotional scene description, and this really focuses me on track. Thanks again SRP, you ROCK!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Janet, so glad you found it helpful!

  43. Hershel Ochakovsky says:

    Saved to bookmarks!! A wealth of screenwriting info here and a big THANK YOU.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Welcome aboard, Hershel!

  44. Khalil Joaquin says:

    This was a big help especially with giving the examples. A thesaurus is a great tour during rewrites !

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Khalil, good luck with the rewrites!

  45. Freddy says:

    Wonderful screenwriting site. And obviously, thank you to your sweat!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Freddy!

  46. pandeus82 says:

    Thank god I discovered this. WIll improve my writing no end.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad you found us!

  47. Maxx says:

    Hey can this website please help me with its Email?

  48. William Whiteford says:

    Thank you.
    Very instructive!
    Your comparative method is the best – exempla trahunt.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, William.

  49. Thomas Breitmann says:

    Ӏ’ɗ like to find out more about this description edits? I’ԁ want to find out some additional information.

  50. E. LAWRENCE SHEARER says:

    The insight you have provided at Script read pro is invaluable to my Development as a screenwriter. your downloadable content is second to none. I look forward to working with your dedicated team of writers in the near future.
    thank you for your commitment to the craft

    E. Lawrence Shearer

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds great – we look forward to it and thanks for the shout out 🙂

  51. Tala says:

    Thanke u for great article.
    Can u help me find a website or something about short screen play.
    I want to read some great short screen play?
    Can u help me?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Have you seen this post on how to use short movie scripts to break in?

  52. Jahangir Shadan says:

    Your way of explaining is very good and easy.
    Thank You!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks a lot, Jahangir!

  53. Hailey says:

    Oh my God, this helped me so much. I was extremely stuck on a scene and started applying this. Helped me figure out exactly where I needed to go next. Plus, it sounds much better. Bad news though, now I want to edit the rest of the 80+ pages I’ve already written. Haha! Thanks for the advice!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad it helped! Good luck with the edit.

  54. Doug K says:

    The first “pro” scene description, from “Whiplash”. I suggest you replace “walks” with a more descriptive verb and whenever possible, exclude adverbs. If you can’t exclude them, worst case scenario use the flat version of the adverb.
    And if you don’t believe me, Google it! 🙂

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      True, but the pro version is taken from the actual Whiplash script.

  55. Deb M says:

    In the screenwriting classes I’ve taken, we were told to avoid telling the camera how to shoot the scene. I remember one teacher saying, “If you’re going to include camera angles, then direct the script yourself. Let the director determine how a scene is shot. You’re providing the information and he or she will take it from there.” My “job”, if you will, is to describe the characters, the setting, the mood, but leave the “wide” or “close-up” (etc) to the director. The only reason you’d put those in is if you’re shooting your script. Is that not true? How much becomes too much, then?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We recommend only using camera angles occasionally if you want to use them. If they’re on every page or every other page, then they can get wearisome, but a judicial use of camera angles can be a great way of helping the reader visualize the scene.

  56. Michelle Faulk says:

    Some of the pro examples come across as amateurish. He can do this : Just waiting for him? That doesn’t sound like something that should be written into a screenplay. I avoid writing such phrases because they don’t come across as ‘showing’ but ‘telling’.

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