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Notes from a Screenreader: Low Readability

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

An active voice stands out immediately from the rest of the pile. It’s such a huge advantage to write action lines as if you want to tell a story rather than sketch in the background.


INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY
Tim is sitting at the table, playing solitaire. Molly is needlepointing on the couch.

Okay. That’s bad.

  • It’s written in the present progressive, with gerunds, which is a not very active way to write.
  • Who cares? Other than a general sense of nothing happening, which is the enemy, what does this convey?
  • It is flat and featureless, robotic in tone. Anyone could write this.

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY
Tim plays solitaire, Molly needlepoints. The ugly puppy clock ticks loudly. It barks the hour, Tim and Molly jump.

  • Serviceable. There is a sense of something underway, some anxiety. The tense is simple present, which is crisp to read. It’s a little more individual with the details, more personal. It still doesn’t tell us very much.


INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY
Molly vacantly embroiders a little pink bib. The needle stabs her. A bead of blood swells on her fingertip. Her composure wavers and cracks, she sobs aloud. Tim plays solitaire, his back to her. He turns over a red queen as Molly grieves. Nowhere to play it. He shuffles it to the bottom of the deck and deals again.

  • Better. This is a visual representation of a beat rather than a static description. No dialogue required. It’s economical, its voice matches the tone, it accomplishes story. The words are all useful.

TL;DR. Flat description of nothing special gives your script very low readability.

ANNIE LABARBA 

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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