The ACTION of your script is where it’s your time to shine as a Writer! This element is the backbone of allowing the reader to better understand what’s happening in the scene and script as a whole, including defining your characters, actions taking place, and locations. It sets the tone for the entirety of your script, and allows your own voice to come through.
Action lines most commonly follow a Scene Heading, or are used between Dialogue breaks to indicate what’s happening as your Characters are speaking. Action is used to describe the moving pieces of your script - it keeps the story moving and allows the reader to visualize what’s happening. Coupled with Dialogue, it’s what drives your story and brings it to life.
In writing your Action description, keep in mind what type of screenplay you’re writing - is it a Romantic Comedy? Thriller? Sitcom? Your writing, word choice, and tone should reflect this.
While there are no hard or fast rules in terms of what your Action should look like or include, there are some typical rules of thumb. However, to confuse matters more, these “rules” can often be conflicting!
For example, brevity is important. Make sure that in writing your descriptive Action you go into detail on the important things, but allow room for the Director to add their own flair on items that aren’t crucial to your vision of the script. Details relevant to your Character that have an impact on their story arc should be included, while the make and model of a tv in one of your scenes doesn’t need to be!
However, you don’t want to be too brief or under-write your script. You need to include enough descriptive Action to allow the reader to become engrossed in the script and truly understand the journey you’re taking them on.
When you’re first introducing a new character, you should capitalize their name when it appears for the first time. In this introduction, consider how you want them to be perceived. What’s their role? What’s their point of view? How has their background affected their story to this point? How should the other characters feel about them? Having a fully developed character will be important beyond the introduction, as you’ll want to ensure that they stay true to your vision as the story progresses.
You can also capitalize sounds that you want to emphasize, although use this sparingly to be more effective.
Action should always be written in the present tense.
You should avoid including camera directions. Using descriptive language, you can allude to the important elements of the story that you’d like the Director to focus on, suggesting how scenes will be shot without explicitly detailing this.
It’s also good to keep your thesaurus close! When describing your characters, actions, or locations, put thought into what words best convey the feeling and atmosphere you want to portray. Let’s consider for a moment, the opening credit scene from Pulp Fiction:
The Scene Heading indicates the scene takes place within the 74’ Chevy. However, the Action tells us it’s gas-guzzling. It’s dirty. These descriptive words make it really simple for the reader or Director to be transported to the exact scene and appreciate what the Writer wants to convey. And consider how instead of simply driving down the street, the characters are barrelling. This sort of evocative word choice is not accidental!
In summary, practice is the key to great Action! The more you work at running through your Action lines in your head or in drafts of your script, the easier it will be for you to formulate your vision through them as you continue writing. It's also a great idea to read through some of the scripts of your own favourite films and tv shows, to understand how they used their writing skills to bring their stories to life.
Next Up >> Characters, Dialogue & Parantheticals