5 ways to improve style of action descriptions

How can we make action descriptions concise and effective?

You’ve written your script, you’re fairly happy with it (hopefully after feedback!) but still need to cut back on scene/page lengths. How can you do that? Well, one of the best ways is to edit your action descriptions…

  • Change tenses. Get rid of all those “is sitting/is walking” phrases and replace them with the much shorter “sits/walks”.
  • Don’t describe rooms or character clothing/accessories. Sure, mention a room’s a gold mine or that it’s a pigsty if it’s useful to our understanding of the characters, but we don’t really need to know that there’s a bed, two bedside tables, a cupboard and a chair.
  • Cut out linking words… We’re talking the likes of “and,” “then,” “whilst,” and “as [he does something else]”. This is a tricky one, because we add these words instinctively, and it might mean shifting around the sentence to make it read differently. It doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate these words completely, but by being economical you can make the character count lower and the pace quicker. Consider how much swifter the following example is after doing this…

Johnny grabs an item off the shelf whilst looking around to check for staff and then runs for the exit as he stuffs the item into his bag.

Johnny glances around nervously, shoves an item into his bag, and runs like hell for the exit.

  • Cut back on minor actions. Don’t show us boring daily routines such as brushing teeth, or the process of making breakfast, tea or coffee. We don’t need to know exactly where a character walks in a room, or which hand they use to do something. Think of it like cutting out obvious stages. Just have the tea already on the table. Let the character “leave” the room, rather than walk over to the door, turn the door knob and step outside the room.
  • Be creative. Instead of describing a journey in detail, give clues. Do we really need to hear how the motorbike goes down this road and then that road on its journey from London to Bath? Or, could the character simply drive past a sign that says “BATH – 14 miles”?

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