Action and Unfilmables

When I first thought of screenwriting, what really scared me was the dialogue. Turns out, that’s the least of my worries.

Coming from prose writing, the action I write comes so close to being an “unfilmable” and sometimes just jumps right over the line. This wasn’t always the case. When I first started writing scripts I was pretty good at only putting on the page what absolutely needs to be there. I even was good at being a little creative and conveying what I meant fairly eloquently.

What changed?

Probably the sheer volume, honestly. Writing three scripts in less than two months does not give me time to write both good dialogue and good action along with good plot. Something has to give. To me, the natural break comes by way of the stuff the audience doesn’t directly see or hear. But that’s not entirely true, is it?

Obviously, there are elements of action that are essentially direction. In film screenwriting, this is a big no-no. But in TV screenwriting, there are less stringent rules as far as I can tell. Besides, how else do I let the actor and the director and whoever else know that the character is saying something sarcastically? It pains me to actually tell anyone he’s being sarcastic, so I have to rely on a rolling of the eyes or some other action to convey it.

Which inevitably leads to writing like this:

Levi obviously doesn’t trust them, but he trusts his ability to get out of any situation. Without a word he walks toward Gabriel, who isn’t sure what to expect.

Which I eventually changed to:

Levi obviously doesn’t trust them, but his confidence implies he trusts his ability to get out of any situation. Without a word he walks toward Gabriel, who isn’t sure what to expect.

It’s not much better, but it’s what I could do at the moment. I also had to add some dialog later to give a better understanding of the character and the fact that he’s the strong silent type. (Dialogue in which he says very little.)

It’s something I’m constantly struggling with and I wonder how many other people struggle with the same thing or if anyone has any ideas on how to get around this.

On the other hand, I feel like my dialogue is pretty strong and my pacing is usually good, so I wonder how much the action part really matters as long as the reader gets an idea of what’s going on, who the characters are, and what they’re doing.

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