How to Incorporate Visuals Into Your Screenplay

How to Incorporate Visuals Into Your Screenplay


Writing visually is something a lot of screenwriters try to do, without knowing exactly how to do it. The why of writing visually seems clear: film is a visual medium, and we should take advantage of that. However, a screenwriter is not a director, nor are they a cinematographer, nor are they an actor. At least, they’re not when they’re writing. Writing visually is just another tool to communicate a story. Though perhaps it’s easier to tell you what writing visually isn’t, rather than what it is.

First off – writing visually is not about telling the director what to do. That is not the writer’s job. The writer’s job is to tell a story. People get confused about this because the only scripts they’ve read are production scripts, the ones used to shoot the film or episode. A production script writes “close to screen”. This means that it was written for the purpose of production, and contains notes on specific types of shots or transitions. We don’t do that when writing a draft of a screenplay, because it makes us seem like we’re going to direct the project ourselves.

Unless you’re a Charlie Kaufman or a James Gunn, you’re probably trying to get your script sold so that someone else can hopefully, maybe, potentially make a version of it in the future. Selling a script that tries to direct on the page is almost impossible to do, because it seems arrogant and anal and suggests a lack of understanding on the writer’s part. Nobody wants to get involved with someone or something like that. Why would they, when there are so many other scripts around to read?

Building a Blueprint

Writing visually is not directing. It’s also not set design, cinematography, acting, makeup, or costume design. Remember that screenplays are effectively blueprints, meaning writers shouldn’t use action lines to describe every detail of every location, character, and movement. It slows down the read and takes up valuable page real estate. If there are crucially important visual details, then of course reference them. But as with every other line you write, be concise and clear. Avoid using parentheticals for every line of dialogue, adjectives for every noun, or adverbs for every verb. In fact, if you’re using an adverb then you probably need to find a more specific verb to begin with. These don’ts will help you keep your writing direct and clean. But there will always be moments, movies, or writers who feel the story demands specific images or visual flair.

Some movies have visual moments so impactful they seem to tie everything together. Think of the feather in Forrest Gump. It weaves its way through the story Forrest tells, acting as a perfect symbol for his belief that life is both fate and random chance. This symbol floats us into the story, and we follow it before we even know why it’s important.

Read the full article on Screencraft.org

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