• Anthony Hett

How to write a short film - Writing action (writing exercise)

How to write a short film – Writing action (Writing exercise)

Hello and welcome to my blog, where I offer simple and practical advice on how to write and make an interesting, engaging and hopefully successful short film.

Today I will be taking a closer look at writing action and I will be running you through a simple writing exercise, designed to help you improve this element of your scripts.

The way that I like to approach writing action in my screenplays, is to look at it as though it is poetry. When I say that, I don't mean that it should be full of flowery language and elaborate metaphors. When writing my own scripts, I actually try to keep the language describing the action as simple as possible.

Instead, what I mean is, as when writing a poem, I believe that it is important to make every word count. I subscribe to the idea that the action should be as concise as possible, while also containing all the relevant information.

Writing exercise:

Write the action for a simple scene: Choose one character and one location.

Eg. Ted walks into the kitchen.

Now explain everything about the scene that you can possibly think of. Completely overwrite it. Explain who the character is, what they look like, what are they wearing. Describe why they enter the kitchen and how they move. Detail what the kitchen looks like. Maybe add some sounds or smells. Literally explain everything you can think of.

From: Ted walks into the kitchen. You should hopefully now have something more like: Zoe's overweight brother Ted, walks into the untidy, old fashioned kitchen. He is still wearing his work uniform and a red baseball cap. The bin is overflowing with rubbish and the sink is overflowing with dirty plates. He stomps into the room, he is clearly in a terrible mood. He looks very angry and starts flinging open the kitchen cupboards, he appears to be looking for something.

Now that you have this exaggerated, overwritten version, you need to start editing I back down. First of all, start by taking out everything that is unnecessary. Looking at my example, straight away we can cut "he is clearly in a terrible mood" and "he appears to be looking for something". The reader will already know this from the actions "stomps" and "flinging open the kitchen cupboards".

Next we can look at individual descriptions. Ask yourself: Is it important to the plot that he is overweight or that he is still wearing his work uniform? What is the importance of the red baseball cap? How detailed does the description of the kitchen need to be?

Taking the example of the red baseball cap. In most cases it will be of no importance to the plot that Ted is wearing a red baseball cap, in which case I would suggest leaving it out. However, there might be a couple of examples where it is important and should be kept in. For example, if in a previous or following scene, where something significant happens, there is a person who is unidentifiable, except that they are wearing a red baseball cap, then Ted wearing a baseball cap in the kitchen will lead the reader/viewer to believe - rightly or wrongly - that the person in the other scene is also Ted.

Okay, so after you have taken out all of the unnecessary information, you might now be left with something more like: Zoe's brother Ted, still dressed in his work uniform, stomps into their untidy, old fashioned kitchen and starts to angrily fling open the kitchen cupboards.

Try to only include details that move the plot forward or explain something important about the character or situation. Like most things in life, it is a matter of finding the right balance and of course it is also important for you to chose the style that best suits you and your scripts. However, for me personally, it is a case of less is more.

I hope that you find this post helpful. If you did, please leave a comment in the section below and also be sure to share it with others who might also find it of use. Don't forget to check out my YouTube videos and I hope to see you back here soon. In my next blog I will be looking at the topic of One page per minute.