Your screenwriting should bring your story to life – it needs to pop off the page into the reader’s mind and sink into their imagination. Visual screenwriting is a skill that takes your screenplay to the next level.
Visual screenwriting, luckily, can be taught!
That’s why we decided to write this article. In this article, we look at what visual screenwriting is when you can write visual descriptions in your screenplay, excellent examples of visual screenwriting, and finally, an exercise that will immediately improve your visual writing.
Let’s not waste any more time, and jump straight in!
What is visual screenwriting?
Visual screenwriting is a way you can convey your script visually to a reader whilst they’re trawling through your script.
When writing visuals within your screenplay, you will want to ensure it captures the reader’s imagination. Allow them to imagine they’re sitting there experiencing the surroundings, observing the characters and feeling the atmosphere.
Let’s scroll below and see when you can put your captivating visual writing to practise.
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When can I write CAPTIVATING visuals in my screenplay?
These are the situations when you can write captivating visuals that will pop straight off your page into your reader’s mind, submerging them into your story.
It’s imperative to capture the reader’s attention and pull them into your story, where they can dream off into the world you’ve created.
Here are the four situations when you must write captivating visuals within your screenplay.
The character’s appearance is the perfect place to incorporate captivating visuals in your screenplay.
The visuals written about the character will allow us to picture your character and understand the emotions they’re going through at that exact moment.
What does the character look like? What are they wearing? Do they have any mannerisms? Include absolutely everything you deem necessary to paint a picture in the reader mind.
You may also enjoy reading: Character development: The fundamentals of developing the ultimate character!
The scene action in visual screenwriting is to describe what is currently happening within the scene. Has something happened? Has a car sped past? A bunch of Zombies sprinting down the road?
What’s currently happening within the scene? What is the key action? Keep it short and sweet. This will give an idea of the atmosphere to the reader, tap into the feeling surrounding the scene, and potentially what situation the characters are in.
It’s a great way to build an image in the reader’s mind and visually develop an atmosphere surrounding the scene and a clue to what situation your character or characters are in.
Character action is all about what your character is doing at that moment. The physical response of a character can communicate a lot to the reader, ask yourself, what is your character doing in this scene?
Are they running away? Sprinting to catch something? Defending themselves? Are they scared? Are they cowering? What is it your character is doing within the scene?
This will help you develop another visual screenwriting dimension within your scene; even a single sentence will permeate the reader’s imagination.
The action of your character opens up another world of visual screenwriting.
The location appearance is essential to setting the scene. What does the location look and feel like in which the scene is taking place? Is it grubby? Dingy? Does it give off the a wonderland feel? What does it look like?
Are there any specific features that make it stand out compared to a bog-standard living room? Is it smelly? Small? Humongous? Get specific with your descriptions.
Keep it specific, short and to the point. Is it “a cramped, sodden basement”. This will ignite the reader’s imagination, and they’ll put the pieces together.
Examples of IMPRESSIVE visual screenwriting
Here we thought we’d gather up examples of great screenplays which have written captivating visuals for their screenplays. We’ve broken the list down into character appearance, scene action, character action and location appearance.
Without further ado, here are some examples of impressive visual screenwriting.
Character Appearance Example
Our example of writing an exemplary description of character appearance is from Good Will Hunting by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (1997).
We love Good Will Hunting and for many reasons, but one of them is that the character appearance description within the screenplay is impeccable. Here it is:
These descriptions are short, concise and descriptive, allowing you to keep in the zone and focused but develop an overall picture of each character. They’re all unique traits that captivate the imagination, and you’re not lost in a web of words. It’s smooth and descriptive and keeps you captivated.
The perfect example of exemplary visual screenwriting, hat’s off!
Scene Action Example
Our “scene action” example is Little Men (2016):
INT. UPPER WEST SIDE SCHOOL/CLASSROOM – DAY
Loud conversation, laughter, singing, and even dancing: the teacher is missing in a 7th Grade classroom. This rare absence of authority is intensely enjoyed by the crowd.
It looks like it’s party time for these KIDS.
They talk and laugh, show each other photos on their phones, draw spaceships and baboons on their notebooks, and fold pieces of paper into airplanes that fly around the room.
In a corner, a GROUP OF GIRLS dance to the tune of a song.
They are listening to on headphones.
On the other side of the room, TWO BOYS play like in a sword fight, without swords.
Suddenly, someone turns out the lights. There are random shouting and laughter.
This is a perfect example of writing visual action within a scene, allowing the words to pop off the page into the reader’s mind.
Why the example of Little Men (2016) is so good is that it shows the scene’s energy. You can picture the noise and raucousness of the scene without it being clearly stated in the scripted.
That is why it’s genius and such a captivating piece of writing.
Character Action Example
A perfect example of this is from Birdman (2014). A poignant scene from Birdman is where the protagonist is dashing through the streets of New York nearly naked, trying to get back into the theatre to get on stage.
Why was this such a perfect example? The writers help bring out the emotions Riggan is experiencing. This is such a powerful piece of writing as ourselves; the readers begin to experience his anxiety, embarrassment and utter humiliation.
A brilliant piece of writing.
Location Appearance Example
You’ll all know this example, and if you don’t – that’s a pretty impressive feat. The example in question is Toy Story (1995).
The description of Sid’s room is incredible; here’s the excerpt below:
“They are in Hell… toy Hell.”
This captivates the reader’s imagination, and the simple description of “Toy Hell” evokes the strongest of thoughts in the reader’s mind. It allows you to develop a full picture of what Sid’s bedroom must be like and the sheer chaos that awaits Woody and the gang.
Keeping it simple and poignant is the key to writing captivating visuals.
Two Senses of Visual Screenwriting
The two senses of visual screenwriting are seeing and hearing. What can you see within the scene and what can you hear in the scene are integral to writing captivating visuals within your screenplay.
What can you actually see in your scene? Think of it as a super wide shot. What is clearly happening in the scene?
Is it a bustling street with plenty of street food vendors? Or is it an eerie, dark alleyway with no one around?
Whatever it is, write it down; this will add to the atmosphere of the scene and pull the visuals from your screenplay to life.
What can you hear within the scene? Sounds actually improve the visuals, as it helps create a better picture.
Whatever you can hear in the scene, write it down! It makes a huge difference. Can you hear laughter? Shouting? A huge gust of wind?
What exactly can you hear? Then write that down. It will add depth to your scene and add an atmosphere that brings your story to life.
Visual screenwriting exercise
Here’s a visual screenwriting exercise that will help you become a better visual screenwriter. The more times you practise this, the better you’ll become – like everything!
Here’s how it goes.
Remember the two senses above? Well, we will base this exercise on those. We will use both what you hear and what you can see.
To begin, we will go to 3 locations, these are:
- A dark alleyway
- City streets at 3pm
- An abandoned theme park
Now with these three locations, write exactly what you see and hear. Repeat this exercise plenty of times, and after the first few goes, you will see a huge improvement in your visual screenwriting.
You’ll be writing captivating visuals in no time.
Top tips for writing captivating visuals
Here are our top tips for writing captivating visuals. Use these tips accompanied by the other tips and exercises to improve your visual screenwriting monumentally.
Here are some tips for writing captivating visuals.
Activate your characters
Firstly activate your characters, put them in motion. Make your characters do things whilst they’re talking. Maybe your protagonist is in an important meeting, but they’re starving. As they’re listening, they are chowing down on a delicious BLT.
Or, they’re in a rush to an important appointment and are jogging to the car whilst delivering the most crucial line of the movie.
Have a play around with it, but make sure you activate the character, get them doing things, add another dimension. Keep it interesting.
Create lots of obstacles. What do you mean, Tom?
Well, what’s more, interesting than walking up to someone?
The protagonist is hopping a fence to confront the antagonist.
“David walked up to Sharon”.
“David hopped a five-foot fence, sprinting to Sharon to confront her”.
Obstacles add to the visuals of the scene; it makes it interesting for the reader and spikes their imagination.
Choosing visual locations is a great tip to ensure your visual screenwriting is on point. The reason being is it’s the first thing the reader sees. They see the location; what better way to start building the picture in their mind than using a visually intriguing location.
The energy you can bring to the scene is immense. Think about two people arguing in a solitary meeting room. Compared to an argument within a cafeteria, where they’re acting like two kids fighting over crayons.
The atmosphere you can create through that and the tension it gives off is insane. Not to mention, it will have the reader’s imagination firing on all cylinders.
Not just that, but imagine setting a scene where the protagonist declares their love for the main character, but it’s set in a house.
Why not move the location to a street market filled with hundreds of people, as the protagonist grabs a microphone off of a local food stall to profess their love… And get rejected.
It brings far more to the table; think about the sort of location in which you wish to use.
Use active verbs. That means using words that describe what the characters are doing. For example, rather than run, use “Sprinting”. Or instead of walking, use “Waddling”.
These help you visualise the characters’ behaviour and give it a lot more substance; you want the descriptions to pop off the page, which will certainly do it!
Our parting shot
Put your guns away.
We wanted to sum up this article. Visual screenwriting is an art. It takes time, it takes practise, but it can certainly be taught.
Keep your descriptions concise, exciting and use the tips above. It will make a huge difference immediately and never give up.
Write the script first, then go back and nuance some of the key scenes with some belting verbs.
Happy screenwriting all!
We hope this article on “Visual Screenwriting: How to write CAPTIVATING visuals“ was helpful to you. Let us know your thoughts down below in the comments.
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