Narrative 2


Peanuts Narrative

Screenwriters are told over and over again how important it is to hook your reader within the first ten pages. More often than not this is true, but what is usually the focus in accomplishing this is all about the story being the hook. That is not the whole of it.

Depending on how the narrative of your screenplay unfolds it can either draw the reader/viewer into the story or turn them away.  There is absolutely no doubt that poorly written narrative and/or weak dialogue will kill any chance your screenplay might have no matter how amazing the story is.

The success of your screenplay is dependent to a great degree on how well the narrative is written. Your screenplay must be a fluid, engaging read and this is accomplished primarily through the prose, images, atmosphere and pacing of your narrative.  It is within the narrative that images are created; where the story is revealed, where the pacing is established and atmosphere is ingrained into the script.

The screenplay narrative is unique from any other form of writing due primarily to the following two aspects.  First film, and by association screenplays,  have no real comprehension of time, tense or flow of location. Even flashbacks take place in the absolute present tense of the script.  Second, a screenplay is ‘not’ written to be read. It is written to be seen. You are not writing for the reader, but rather for the ‘viewer’ within the reader.

When the narrative is written in the absolute present tense it places the reader/viewer within the story. In a sense they are creating the story by the mere act of reading. The next sentence does not exist. It is simply ether in the universe until it is brought into existence by the reader.

The narrative should be concise and descriptive. By descriptive I am referring to the visual expressions of the screenplay. This is extremely valuable to creating a visceral connection with the reader/viewer. Remember, whether you choose to ignore it or not, there is always an image on the screen. What are you going to do with it?

Your story is not a monotone. It has moments of action, reflection and discovery and each of these moods have their own particular pace. This pace should be reflected in how you choose to write the narrative of the scene.

We have the luxury to break from traditional grammatical rules. If the scene is a fast-paced action scene, then we are allowed incomplete and single word sentences that allow the narrative to keep pace with the action.

Another thing that is extremely valuable to a well written screenplay is to capture the atmosphere of the overall story as well as each particular scene. The same suspense and intrigue that you want to express on the screen should also be expressed in the narrative. If your script is a comedy, then humor should exude throughout your narrative, not just through the gags and jokes.

Even though narrative is given so little consideration in the numerous books and classes that are out there I suggest to you that it is quite possibly the most important aspect of the screenwriting process.

For those of you who are interested in improving your screen writing narrative, check out  Narrative Course N102,  where you will find a 6 session on-line course plus a conference call with me at the end of the course focused entirely on screenplay narrative.


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2 thoughts on “Narrative

  • Jim T. Gammill

    Bill,
    Thank you for the great insight on narrative style. My scripts became much more dynamic after employing your visceral and visual techniques. Every writer who has taken a screenwriting course has heard the term “absolute present tense”, but what is missing from many of these course is the VISUAL element of the screenplay. The story is meant to be seen not read. The greatest compliment one of my longest and most faithful readers has ever given me was when she was trying to tell me about a movie that she had watched a week or two before and described to me in detail a scene from one of my screenplays as it would look on the screen!
    Thanks for the great blog as always!
    — JIm

  • Sherrie Tutt

    The challenge for me is to not only to include enough narrative, but also do so without excess verbiage. I find it difficult to include enough to help the reader adequately visualize the action..