Angelo J. Bell: 3 Simple Ways To Enhance Your Screenplay

Snoopy-writingby Angelo J. Bell

Not long ago I received critical feedback on a script I’d written almost seven years ago. One of the things I noticed about the feedback was that it was critical of technique I omitted in the screenplay. The omission of this particular screenwriting and story-tellingdevice wasn’t as curious as the fact that I had only recently removed all usage of the device because I wanted to simply my story-telling. Earlier revisions of the story included it. Now that it was no longer there people noticed.

This made me think about how my writing has changed over the last half-decade. There are many storytelling devices that I use in both film and TV writing that help me tell a different story  – or at the very least, a more engaging story. I’ve been around for a long time, so many other devices I have abandoned all together.

At the root of this change is my focus on storytelling for television over theatrical storytelling. TV is a different realm for writers, and ripe with the challenges of dealing with short attention spans and quick-draw remote control hogs with lightning fast trigger fingers. Your first audience will always be – the reader. Doesn’t matter if he/she is a $40 per script reader or the VP of Development at a major studio. Your job is to impress the hell out of him or her. A script is only as good as the impression it leaves on the last person who read it.

With that in mind, here are some simple tips to add to, change, or increase your script’s ability to engage the reader.

PART I: TRANSITIONS  Transitions help us connect the action, thought, emotion and overall scenes together. Use transitions judiciously – and creatively. This doesn’t mean you have to insert a special cliffhanger or transition shot after every scene. However, when the pacing of the storying needs a burst of energy, a transition shot is an easy way to link scenes together so no momentum is lost.

Using a MATCH CUT:  is a great and simple way to do this. End a scene with a particular shot, angle, character expression or focus, and then indicate in the script that an almost identical shot/angle/etc will be used in the next scene. I found the following blurb on an academic website:

In this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, transitions glue our ideas and our essays together. In academic writing, professional and creative writing, your goal is to convey information clearly and concisely… Transitions help you to achieve these goals by establishing logical connections between sentences, paragraphs…”

And I’d add, “scenes and Acts” to that last statement.

However, sometimes your story needs to jar the reader out of one emotion or mindset and into another, in order to properly convey the sheer chaos happening in the story or in a particular character’s mind. In this instance you may want to use the following:

  • JUMP CUT:
  • FLASH PAN:
  • WHIP PAN:

Again, be judicious with usage.  An overwhelming use of transitions can have an undesirable effect on the reader. Some screenwriting gurus will tell you to avoid transitions completely so as not to make a mistake. However, pro’s don’t avoid transition. If you consider yourself a pro, you should write like one.

In the critique mentioned in the first paragraph, the reader gave me glowing marks, but when it came to transitions she wrote, “The writer did absolutely nothing with transitions.” So as much as the gurus want you to be avoid potential pitfalls, know that readers are looking for complete writers.

“PART II – DESCRIPTIONS” coming next week…