Except from Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script by Ann Marie Williams © 2019
As a screenwriter, you need to be aware, not just of the pacing of your story, but also of the pacing of your script.
The two should be the same. But that doesn’t always mean they are. And it’s important for a story to read at the same pace as that story will be viewed.
One page of properly formatted script is about one minute of screen time, which means a 120-page script would be about a two-hour movie. Consequently, if copious amounts of description are written on every page of the script, then it’s hard to determine how long the movie will take to play on screen. But just as importantly (or perhaps more so) it’s very difficult for a reader to get a sense of a story’s pacing if the description takes longer to read than it would to play out on screen.
This is one of the reasons why descriptions need to be short (usually four lines or less… preferably less) so that the beats, rhythm, and timing of the description on the page represent the beats, rhythm, and timing of the film or episode.
For example, let’s say you’ve crafted twenty lines of beautiful description. Perhaps this description equals just a few seconds of screen time. But, at twenty lines, it’s going to take more than a few seconds to actually read that description.
Now, this isn’t to say your description can’t be beautifully written. It can! But it needs to also be economically written so it can represent the appropriate pacing. In other words, screenwriters must be selective with their word choices.
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? And with a script you’re writing picture after picture on the page—however, you can’t use thousands of words to do so (which is a bit of a paradox).
Because of this, it’s necessary to select very precise words to convey your intent for the story and to achieve the pacing you want.
For example, you could say, “Sally closes the door behind her,” or “Sally raises her chin defiantly, turns, then slams the door behind her,” or “Sally starts to leave, but stops. She hesitates with her hand on the doorknob. Then, slowly, she closes the door behind her.” In each case, Sally leaves and closes the door, but each description conveys something entirely different about that moment and about Sally—and the pacing of each example is different.
So, if you can identify the key word/s you need—the most important characteristics you must convey about an action, a place, or a character—then you’ve got a better chance at achieving and conveying both your intended story and intended pacing.
Screenplay Competitions has received endorsements from Dave Trottier (Author, The Screenwriter’s Bible, http://www.keepwriting.com), Richard Walter (former Screenwriting Area Head, Associate and Interim Dean UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television), Matt Dy (former Director of Script Competitions at Austin Film Festival), professor Harry M. Cheney (Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts), script editor Lucy V. Hay (www.bang2write.com) and Emmy-wining writer Ken Levine (Hollywood and Levine).