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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Writing Detailed Descriptions

This blog post is dedicated to Crafty. You know who you are.

How fine tuned are your powers of description when it comes to objects? The size and shape of a room? The measurement of a cabinet in the other room? When writing descriptive action lines, in general it will not serve your script to say:

Michael and Edward walk to the drawing room for a cigar. The room measured fifteen by twenty feet and had a ten foot ceiling.

In this instance, we would withhold the actual measurements and just infer that the room is large and luxurious - I mean, who has a drawing room, right? That's luxurious right out of the gate.

But sometimes writers do have to be a little more precise. Perhaps you are writing a car chase scene. Or a sequence of scenes that take place in a variety of locations all within on larger location like an amusement park, hospital or shopping mall. Do you feel you can write simply but with precision? Many writers over or under write careful descriptions. You want to shoot for the middle: simple, descriptive and easy to visualize.

Here's a little exercise to work that part of your writing brain:

Describe the room in which you write without turning around to look at it. Where is the desk placed relative to the door? Is there a window? What is the lighting like? Write this description in a paragraph about the size of this one. If it helps, imagine that you are writing a murder scene set in this room; the exact placement of everything will matter very much in this scene.

Describe the outside of your house or apartment building. Where do you live relative to other structures? How are the cars parked outside? Are there trees or thick foliage nearby? Again, strive to keep your description no longer than this paragraph. If it helps, imagine that you are writing a break-in scene with more than one person breaking in. How are we to visualize this scene as it happens? Who goes where?

Describe a piece of furniture in your house. Could be anything. What color is it? About how wide is it? How tall? Is it an antique? Or something from Ikea? Where is it placed in the room? If it helps, imagine that you are writing a scene in which somebody is selling this furniture to a blind person.

Writing takes so many muscles in the brain; keep them sharp by doing writing exercises now and again. That's why I write prose - heck, even the Rouge Wave is exercising a totally different muscle for the Wave-inatrix than screenwriting. Writers write. Happy Sunday, Rouge Wavers!

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millar prescott said...

Wave-inatrix, how about analyzing a couple of descriptions from the Whiskey, Foxtrot, Tangos?

Julie Gray said...

That's a great idea! I'll do that when I have some extra time. So don't hold your breath. But I'll try, I promise. :)

Geena said...

Rather than the What the Foxtrot descriptions, which was a weird genre.
How about taking an actual paragraph from a recent script you've read where the description was a point of your reviewing notes. Share us the context of why it needed revisions, given you and your staff readers observations. Sometimes teaching examples can be extreme and I would love to see examples from material on the verge of a recommendation.

Julie Gray said...

That's another great idea, Geena. See comment above about time constraints. I'll have to find a way to do as you suggest; I don't keep scripts from production companies, they must be destroyed after reading, so I follow the same protocol at The Script Whisperer as well. I also don't think a client of mine would appreciate a bad action line paragraph put online for everyone to see. When I do malapropalooza examples, I always use things from scripts at production companies so that my clients know that their material is confidential when it's with me. An example of bad descriptions in action lines are simply that when you read them you find yourself confused. The house is - where? The car turned the alley which was - where? You just can't get a strong visual so you can keep up with the story.

Christian M. Howell said...

Maybe you should call this "writing with the mind's eye?"

The scantly decorated room looks as though it played host to all manner of regurgitative soiree.

The brightly-themed amusement park overflows with the sounds and sights of families enjoying the warm summer day.

The shiny sports car barrels down the traffic-bound streets, narrowly missing pedestrians and other vehicles, while cautious police follow at breakneck speed.

Wow, writing is so cool.