When you break down the core aspects of a screenplay you have scene headings (INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – DAY), dialogue (“I’m walking here!”) and what is called scene description, action or narrative. It’s the little blurb that sets up the scene and explains what’s going on in between the dialogue. Today we’ll look at examples of descriptive writing as it applies to introducing a character in a screenplay. Notice the economy of the writing.
ERIN BROCKOVICH. How to describe her? A beauty queen would come to mind — which, in fact, she was. Tall in a mini skirt, legs crossed, tight top, beautiful – but clearly from a social class and geographical orientation whose standards for displaying beauty are not based on subtlety.
Jack is American, a lanky drifter with his hair a little long for the standards of the times. He is also unshaven, and his clothes are rumpled from sleeping in them. He is an artist, and has adopted the bohemian style of the art scene in Paris. He is also very self-possessed and sure-footed for 20, having lived on his own since 15.
At the head of the party is an American, INDIANA JONES. He wears a short leather jacket, a flapped holster, and a brimmed felt hat with a weird feather stuck in the band.
Driving the car is SALLY ALBRIGHT. She’s 21 years old. She’s very pretty although not necessarily in an obvious way.
When Harry Met Sally
JUNO MacGUFF stands on a placid street in a nondescript subdivision, facing the curb. It’s FALL. Juno is sixteen years old, an artfully bedraggled burnout kid.
Flip through any produced screenplay and notice that character introductions are usually just one to three sentences in length.(Something novels sometimes take pages to do.) Screenwriting is simple and complex all at the same time.
And by the way, academic types would argue that Cameron shouldn’t write “his clothes are rumpled from sleeping in them” because that is cheating. You are not supposed to write what can’t be understood visually. (The viewer won’t really know why Jack’s clothes are rumpled unless he says, “Man, my clothes are so rumpled because I slept in them last night.”) But this rule is violated all the time. Successful writers often sneak in little things to help the reader out. Remember you’re trying to get a jaded reader excited about your script and sometimes they need a little help.