Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Write Scene Description in a Traditional Screenplay

Ideally, I want to write scene descriptions that are engaging, clear, and conjure visuals from the page. I want the reader to breeze through my script, and have the scene descriptions subtly work to pique their interest, bringing them deeper and deeper into the world of my story.

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These are the qualities I want my scene descriptions to have, but alas, I am a wordy gal. I am, can’t help it. My first drafts are often plagued with long descriptions, and my scene descriptions are no exception. Here are a few tips I use to help get my scene descriptions more in line with what you’ll see in traditional screenplays!

Write Scene Description in a Traditional Screenplay

Don’t underestimate your audience.

Don’t worry too much; the reader wants to buy what you’re selling. If you set a scene in a bedroom, they’re going to imagine a bed, dresser, closet or whatever other bedroom accessories. You don’t have to describe every nook and cranny of a space!

Don’t describe what it looks like; describe what’s happening in it!

Example: 

Script Snippet

Int. Leon's Bedroom - Day

Leon leaps from the bed. He dances around the scattered clothes littering the floor on his way to the bathroom.

Like I said before, as a reader, you’re already picturing the bedroom. This description is doing more than just describing the location: it’s showing us the main character, Leon, waking up in it.

Someone described it to me this way back in college: “Don’t talk about the photo. Talk about the movie!” The photo is the image you have in your mind of where the scene is taking place. The movie is what’s happening in that setting. What’s the action occurring there? Describe that!

Make the scene descriptions work for you.

Take the above example, for instance. It describes the state of the space; it’s messy, which could say something about the character Leon. I describe how Leon’s interacting with the space. He’s leaping, and he’s dancing. All of this is more information about the character.

Whip those scene descriptions into shape and make them do more work than they’re doing in your first drafts. Make them speak to other things like character, mood, and tone!

Get rid of the camera directions.

Don’t direct from the page. It can confuse and slow down the reader as they try to picture what’s happening with the camera. The future director is going to direct however they want, so your camera directions won’t be helping them.

Now I’ll contradict myself! Sometimes camera directions are okay. For example, you need to use a close up to reveal something important. Something along those lines is fine, but err on the side of caution, and keep the camera directions to a low minimum!

Edit for it!

No writer is perfect, I’m not, but if you’re aware of your shortcomings and problem areas, then you can work on them! I know I’m verbose, so now I dedicate a whole editing pass to tightening up my descriptions. Ain’t no shame in being wordy; it’s just about taking that into consideration so that you can work on it, and edit it down to what’s industry standard.

Ideally, everything in your script will work together cohesively to tell the story. You want your scene descriptions to work for you, not to overwhelm the page.

With that, happy writing, and/or editing! Hopefully, these tips help to make those scene descriptions do more than describing the setting in your script.

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