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Get To The Point! (Writing Effective Action Description)

Newer writers have a way of overcomplicating everything.


Most of them are under the impression that every single sentence in their script needs to be some sort of metaphor, hyperbole, or haiku to prove they're good at writing.


Of course, some literary flair here and there can enhance a story or make the reading experience really fun. But when it's every sentence... No one has time to try to decipher a script that's practically written in code.





This, along with several other unnecessary devices new writers cling to, often achieves the opposite intended effect and makes their writing less powerful because it distracts from the most important thing: the story.


Let's take a look at some of the other common reasons a script's action description can be rendered ineffective.


If you've ever gotten the note that your action description could be tighter, these are likely some of the reasons why.


 


TOO MANY DETAILS!


The main culprit of ineffective action description is including several unnecessary details that don't provide the reader with information that is crucial to understand the story.


It’s a waste of everyone’s time to write:



Lengthy, ineffective action description


Yeah, heading into this crucial plot point, I’m really glad I know the exact type of bikini these girls are wearing, the kind of seashells near the crime scene, and for some reason, the writer’s favorite dinosaur.


Screenplay dialogue

In that same vein, some writers will even include information that quite literally cannot be portrayed on screen.


Sometimes I'll read a script that makes me wonder if the writer has ever seen a movie before.


They’re out here describing smells, exact temperatures, softness of shirts… You know, things we can’t sense through the screen when watching a film and serve no purpose being written into the action description of a screenplay.


While all these details prove that the writer has a clear vision for how their story should play out, there's such a limited amount of space on the page to get a point across.


Writing in such detail isn't worth sacrificing

the understandability of your story.



 


TOO MUCH EXPLANATION!


There's also the newer writer who doesn't trust their writing enough to believe anyone could ever understand their story, which leads to lengthy action description that explains every. single. thing.

Trust me... The explanation is rarely necessary.




I once had to complete a rush order line edit for a 160-page script that basically read as:


Overexplaining in action description

Hey, at least they made it easy for me to cut out the unnecessary action by putting it all in parentheses! How thoughtful!


By the time I was done line editing that one, I got it down to around 100 pages without removing any story elements -- just revising the clunky action description.


I can do the same for your script too with the Line Editing services I provide!

but please...... don't send me a rush order for another dense 160-page script 🥲😭



 


TOO MANY WORDS!


Similarly, new writers tend to use far more words than necessary to describe something fairly simple.


For example, a line of action I once read stated:



Using too many words in action description


Uh, you mean she blinks?





Also, why do I need to know she’s blinking?

And only once? I blinked at least twice trying to figure out what that sentence meant. But did we need to know that? NO.

Everyone blinks; what’s so special about this particular, solitary blink?


It takes a reader much longer to understand what's being said when action description is written this way.


Screenplay dialogue

 


The main reason all these styles of writing are ineffective is because they distract from what's most important in a script: the story.


What?! The actual writing isn't important?


Nope. Not nearly as important as the quality of the story.


Think about how many older movies still hold up today. Is it because the animation in SHREK is of the same quality as animated films in 2024? No. It's because the story is in such good shape.


It's the same with the approach to writing a screenplay -- story quality is more important than writing flair.


This is the main thing most people struggle with when writing their first few screenplays. Writers want to show the world they're an amazing writer, but the agent or assistant reading their script just wants a clear hook and a quick read.


In next week's blog post, I'll cover some of the more specific things you can do to tighten your action description, and how to write with the screen in mind to make your script a smoother read.






4 Comments


Guest
Mar 04

Okay those examples made me LOL

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Guest
Mar 03

Looking forward to the next post Mic!

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Guest
Mar 03

I did everyone of these in my first script. Not as bad as the overexplainer though. I hope.

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Mic
Mic
Mar 03
Replying to

believe me, i was just as guilty when i was starting out. it's such a common thing. but still... no one will ever see the first few scripts i wrote (except some of my former teachers who now read this blog lol)



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