High School Boot Camp: Week 3

Week 3: What Makes a Script a Script?

This week, we're going to look at the four elements that make up a script: dialogue, character names, action, and description. In a script you have to show an audience who your characters are and move the plot forward using these four elements only. That means you can only write what an audience can hear (dialogue) and what they can see (action and description). For example, you cannot describe what a character is feeling or thinking like you can when writing short story or a novel. Your characters have to either say things aloud or act in a way that exemplifies how they feel.

 


Dialogue and Character Names

Dialogue is what happens when characters speak to one another, and your script is going to be filled with it.

Above each line of dialogue is a character’s name, which should always be written in ALL CAPS and centered above the dialogue like so:

 

BILLY

I told you that chicks can’t rock!

 

We experience dialogue all the time in our everyday lives. A common conversation in real life might sound something like this:

    "Hey, dude. How are you?"

    "I'm really good. Thanks for asking. And you?"

    "Good, thanks."

Of course, this kind of dialogue is important to everyday life. In fact, most of our daily interactions depend on these kinds of exchanges. If we didn't say "hello" and ask people how they're doing, we might lose a lot of friends, and fast. But in a script, long scenes of this kind of everyday dialogue end up being mind-numbingly dull. It's tricky: audience members want dialogue to be simultaneously believable and realistic and more clever and more meaningful than everyday conversations. They want to hear real people make heart-breaking and life-changing declarations and seemingly improvise hilarious wisecracks.

Think of it this way: How many times have you thought of something clever, more meaningful, or more intelligent to say after the fact? How many times have you said to yourself, "If I would only said [insert clever comeback or poetic proclamation of love here], things would be different?" If you had it your way, the script of your life would read, well, more like a movie.

 

Dialogue in a script should do one, if not both, of the following:

1. Reveal characters’ relationships to one another.

2. Move the plot forward.

 

Exercise

Read examples of dialogue that reveal relationships and move a plot forward, and practice writing your own, in this "Writing Good Dialogue" worksheet.

 


Action and Description

If dialogue in a script is what’s heard, action and description are what’s seen. Basically, action and description make up everything in a script that is not dialogue.

 

Facts about Action and Description:

1. Action is what your characters are doing in a scene.

2. Description adds details to a script about a scene’s location, important props within a scene, and the time in which a scene takes place.

3. In a stage play, action and description are referred to more generally as stage directions.

4. Action and description are always written in the present tense.

5. You can only write about what you can see. That means you can’t write about what a character is feeling or thinking. You can only describe what he or she looks like from the outside.

6. Scriptwriters should be selective in writing action and description. You should only describe what a director/artist needs to know in order to make your script come to life.

7. Character names within action are always written in ALL CAPS.

8. Important props, sound effects, and actions in a screenplay are often also written in ALL CAPS.

 

Exercise

Learn more about formatting action and description, and practice writing some for your own script on the "Lights, Camera, Action!" worksheet.

 


When you're finished, you'll be ready to move on to the final week of the Boot Camp.