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New Shot, New Paragraph Jul 08

ParagraphWhen do you start a new paragraph?

One thing that tends to confound new screenwriters is the issue of paragraphs. Some scripts have longer paragraphs. Other scripts have shorter ones — some as short as one word.  So how do you decide it’s time to start a new paragraph?

I’m glad you asked. And the answer is surprisingly simple:

One shot = one paragraph

The movie in your mind

As a screenwriter, you should be visualizing your movie as you write it. And in doing so, you’re actually imagining the various shots and angles the audience would see if you directed the movie.

So when you visualize the action in your mind, whenever the camera angle changes — that’s considered a new shot. If it’s a new shot, then it should be a new paragraph.

Let’s look at an example. Visualize the following action from my script FIRE FIGHT. Where would a new shot occur?

Red flashing lights undulate across the top of Portland, Oregon’s LADDER TRUCK 10 as it speeds to an apartment complex. 20 stories up, thick smoke plumes from windows on the top floor. High winds whip the ashy cloud into chaotic swirls. Panicked residents stream out the front entrance, past the arriving truck.

I’ve chosen to break up the action as follows:

Red flashing lights undulate across the top of Portland, Oregon’s LADDER TRUCK 10 as it speeds to an apartment complex.

20 stories up, thick smoke plumes from windows on the top floor. High winds whip the ashy cloud into chaotic swirls.

Panicked residents stream out the front entrance, past the arriving truck.

So why have I broken the action up in these spots? Because there would be different shots used to capture the action. Since I’ve chosen to focus on the “red flashing lights” and the truck itself, that’s a tighter shot. In order to jump 20 stories up, you’d have to use a wider shot to capture it, so it’s unlikely it would be all part of one take.

However, if I had written something like this, it’s conceivable it would be one shot.

LADDER TRUCK 10 speeds to the base of an apartment complex. Flames ravage several floors of the building.

In this version, we’re referencing the fire truck and the burning building in what is effectively one continuous image. So it’s conceivable that we’re seeing both things in one wide shot.

And what about the second paragraph break I chose?

Well, we go from looking at the “high winds” “20 stories up” to the the “panicked residents” streaming “out the front entrance.” So we’ve gone from focusing on the top of the building to the lower floor of the building. That would typically require a new shot angle and therefore a new paragraph.

The pacing of the movie/script will often determine the length of your paragraphs. Action scripts tend to have shorter paragraphs because there are so many more shots involved. There’s a lot happening and switching rapidly between shots invokes the feeling of urgency.

Drama scripts, on the other hand, tend to have slightly longer paragraphs because we’re usually taking more time with each shot, establishing the tone the scene or soaking in the emotions of the characters.

It’s really important that you visualize your movie when you write it. If not, it won’t “feel” like a movie, and the reader will notice.

This is the kind of tip I routinely give as part of my script consulting or proofreading services. If you’d like some help with your script, I’m here for you!

Category: Style, Writing  | 2 Comments
Quick Screenwriting Tip: Don’t Abbreviate In Dialogue Jun 25

Quick TipQuick Screenwriting Tip:

Don’t use abbreviations in dialogue.

Abbreviated words like “Dept.” and “Sen.” are confusing in dialogue and force the reader to stop and think, however briefly… which is bad. Is it “Deputy” or “Department” / “Senator” or “Senior”? Just spell it out.

Mr./Mrs./Ms. are fine, however. But spell out “Doctor.”


The Incredible(s) Sale! Jun 16

It’s finally here!

One of my favorite films of all time is THE INCREDIBLES… Not just favorite animated films — favorite films, period. I just think it’s brilliant.

In celebration of the opening week of the long-awaited sequel that was just released, I’m offering a 25% refund on any proofreading or script notes purchased through June 22nd.

Just place an order on proofreading or script notes, send me your script and tell me who your favorite INCREDIBLES character is, and I’ll issue you a 25% refund. Bam!

And when you get a chance to see the sequel, let me know what you think!

Shakes His Head Jun 13


Screenwriting is all about efficiency. Maximum impact with the minimum number of words.

So one of my biggest pet peeves is when I see the following in scripts:

She shakes her head no.

There are two big things wrong with that action line:

  1. Why is the word “no” there?! We already know she’s saying “no” because she’s shaking her head. If the audience can figure out what she’s indicating without her actually saying it, there’s no need to give the reader this extra piece of information.
  2. What’s a “head no”? Even though it’s completely unnecessary, if you’re going to explain what she means by shaking her head, at least put a comma between “head” and “no.” Or better yet, add quotation marks and capitalize the word: She shakes her head, “No.”

But really, this is all you need to write:

She shakes her head.

Similarly, if someone is nodding their agreement, there’s no need to write:

She nods her head, “Yes.”

Just write:

She nods her head.

Or even:

She nods.

You’re All Invited – WAKE UNTO ME Online Premiere Jun 11

Wake Unto Me

A woman alleging to be a time traveler makes a startling proposition to someone she claims will become her future spouse.

Most of you know me for my proofreading and script consulting services, but I also dabble in filmmaking.

My last short film, TRIPLE TIMe, was fortunate enough to win a number of awards at festivals this year and I was already gearing up for another project when the 2018 AT&T SHAPE Mobile Filmmaking Competition came along.

The challenge was to film a five minute short film, using only a mobile phone, tablet or drone, then edit and submit it — all within one week’s time! How do you say no to that?!

The really cool part is that Warner Bros. Studios allowed us to film at one of their sets — which was chosen at random. We were lucky enough to get the same set where the climax of DARK KNIGHT RISES was filmed.

Watch and Vote

From June 22nd to June 25th, I am cordially inviting all my clients and blog readers to watch the online world premiere of the short my team created.

It’s free, only five minutes in length, and you can watch it from any device that has an Internet connection!

Please head over to the Facebook event page for all the particulars of the online premiere and contest voting.

And don’t forget, when the time comes, if you enjoy the film, please vote for us to win! Online voting accounts for 25% of the score.

Mobile Filmmaking

I sure learned A LOT from the process of making a short film using only a mobile phone camera (albeit an amazing one, with add-on lenses, etc.). Is anyone interested in reading or watching videos about my experiences? How I put it all together, etc.? Filmmaking in general?

If so, let me know!

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