The Devil’s in the Details…

Today in screenwriting we talked about details, although the teacher never came right out and said it. He’s weird like that, and most the time I don’t listen to him, I just space out and think about writing something else.

Anyway, Details.

In the world of screenwriting details are just as important as the world of prose. In prose classes we’re taught to “show not tell”, and it holds equally true when writing for the screen.

We discussed the importance of details in screenwriting because the screenplay is only going to be read by the production team of the film. There has to be enough description and detail to get your point across to a large number of people, whose jobs are to bring your writing to life.

But, and this is a big, huge, enormous but, you can’t include every last detail. That’s not your job. That’s the director’s job, and the actor’s job. They have creative license. Think of the screenplay as the rules and settings. Things change from page to screen- it’s inevitable.

So, if details are so important, but you can only put in so much, how do you pick what makes it to the page? Think of it in terms of importance, and power. Every line of your screenplay should hit home, and be to the point.

Also, don’t include things that the audience can’t see or hear, it will just be ignored in your screenplay. If you want to convey emotion, do so with facial expressions or tone of voice. Don’t TELL us that Jordinn is sad, SHOW us he’s sad. And, though you can include thoughts and ideas in prose, you should still show much more than you tell.

When including details in your work, think in images, and then describe. For instance, we have a hut. Ok… or how about, a thatched roof hut? Or maybe an old, dilapidated hut? Or, a dilapidated hut smeared in grime from years of impoverished inhabitants?

You start with a simple idea, and expand. Depending on your medium (short stories, novels, screenplays, etc) how much you expand varies.

When you’re first writing, do just that- WRITE! Write anything and everything, and do so free of internal criticism. I accomplish this by writing all my first drafts by hand in a multitude of notebooks. I go through a lot of pens and paper. Then, when I’m typing my work down, it goes through a light editing process; changing a sentence structure here, a word there, and ultimately just cleaning it up a bit.

Then, I print out that copy, and really dig into it. I do a “was” count for each chapter and put it at the top of the page. Same for “as” and for words that end in “ly”. Then, I go back and try and remove as many of them as I can.

The chapter I’m working on now, at draft 2, had 38 “was”. Now, on draft 5, it has 9. And the chapter is that much tighter and stronger for every “was” dropped.

Each draft gets physically edited with pen on paper, then fixed in the computer and printed again. I do this until I have no more changes to make. Then I let someone I trust read it, and start all over again with their comments.

These are the details of writing, that most people don’t think about when they pick up a book in Barnes & Noble. They see 300 pages and wonder why there isn’t more, and wonder why a new book is taking so long to come out. Well, I’ve done 5 drafts of one chapter, and I have about 17 more chapters to go.

You tell me why it takes so long..

Anyway, that’s gonna be it for today. Tomorrow I’m going to post my first scene in screenplay format. I’m not sure how WordPress will handle the format, with all its weird tabs and capitals, so forgive me if it’s atrocious. I promise it was pretty when I printed it!

Thanks for reading,



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