Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Write Action in a Script

Screenplays should be quick, snappy reads with moments of “oohs” and “awws” that grab the reader’s attention. Something that I find myself struggling with, especially in first drafts, is describing the action of what’s going on. Too often I can go overboard, and overly describe what’s happening. I find myself painting the picture of what you’re seeing, and while that works in prose, in screenwriting, it’s just slowing down your readability.

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So if you’re like me and find yourself struggling with the snappy quickness of the descriptions in your script here are five tips to help you speed things up!

Write Action in a Screenplay

How to Write Action in SoCreate

In SoCreate, use the Action stream item to add action to your story.

Within SoCreate Writer, find the “Add Action” button in the Tools Toolbar to the right of your screen. Click this, and a blank Action stream item will appear immediately beneath wherever you left your focus indicator (the green bar to the left of each stream item that indicates where you’re at in your story).

Within the Action stream item, start typing a description of what action is taking place in your story. Click anywhere outside the Action stream item to save the description.

Watch the quick tutorial below to see how to add action in SoCreate.

5 Tips for Writing Action Descriptions in a Screenplay

  1. The Timing Should Match

    A great piece of advice someone once gave me is to make the amount of time it takes to read something match the amount of time it would take to watch it play out on the screen. 


A screen capture showing an example of how not to write action description

Should really be...

A screen capture showing an example of how to write action in a screenplay

If you choose to export your SoCreate story to a traditional screenplay, this action description would look like this:

Script Snippet

EXT. Lester Holler, West Virginia - 1925 - Night

Two pairs of feet rush through tall grass. Their steps echo in the night.

Trim some of the fat off that description. Whatever you think is the most important part of the action is what should remain. You notice, I still kept some of my fun descriptions to give it some flavor, the key is don’t do too much. Nobody likes an overly seasoned meal. 

  1. Less is Best

    As an exercise, it can be helpful to think, “how can I describe this in the least amount of words possible?” 

    I’ve heard of rules, such as all paragraphs of action description should be around three lines or less. While that can be a good rule of thumb for some, I think it’s more helpful to focus on describing what’s happening in the most concise way possible.

    I don’t like the three lines or less thing because I wouldn’t want anyone to leave out an important part of the description just because they felt like they needed to cut down on what they’re saying to meet that limit.

  2. Write with the visuals in mind!

    Now, this is how we end up with my long, painted descriptions. In reality, we all need to do exactly the opposite of what bogs down my early drafts. 

    Do use: short sentences, brief descriptions, fragments of sentences

    Don’t use: long artfully crafted descriptions, run-on sentences telling us every detail

    Use words that trigger visuals. Break out the thesaurus and find some alternative verbs to the ones that might be your immediate go to’s, for example instead of “walks” try “strides,” “roams,” or “saunters.” 

  3. Don’t be afraid to go bold

    When you’ve got a descriptive word that’s doing a lot of the work in a sentence, for instance, say that you’re talking about the “roar of a cannon” don’t be afraid to bold that word. Emphasize roar, literally make it bold, make it jump out at the reader.

  4. When in doubt, know you’ll edit it down

    You can keep all these things I’ve mentioned in mind, but sometimes when you’re writing, and you feel it flowing through you organically it can be really difficult to focus on obeying rules or standards.

    So if you know that going overboard on describing action is something that you do, then make a whole editing pass dedicated to cleaning it up. 

This is something I’m doing right now with my script. Once I finish writing this article I’m going to go, read through my pilot script and tighten up my action descriptions. Cheers to the other wordy over-writers who, hopefully thanks to this article, are about to do the same! 

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