Describing Locations in Your Script: Things to Keep in Mind
Describing locations in a script is a task most novice screenwriters overlook. The story arcs, structure, and characters tend to gain the main focal point, while the locations are left behind. Realistically, a great script pays attention to the locations, no matter how insignificant some of them might seem.
With this in mind, below will discuss a few main points by describing locations in your script. We’ll discuss where you describe locations, the writing style, combining action, the importance of the setting, and more. By the end, you’ll know what to do location-wise with your writing.
Still from 'The Dark Knight (2008)'. Photo credit: Comicbook
Where to Describe Locations
The specific location in a scene is always described in the scene description. Though it’s possible to have a character react to the scene, they’re in as an additional description metric, that isn’t the main point. The description is meant to direct action (characters or environment interact with something) and the scene's location.
What Scene Description is Meant For
● The Look (Location Description)
● The Feel
● The Action
● The Characters
Describing locations is a happy balance of knowing what to describe in the scene. Going with straightforward adjectives like clean, dirty, minor, or significant are common and simple enough to remember. However, it’s best to think a little outside the box with adjectives as a way to put a more in-depth painting of the location. However, remember not to be too wordy.
As great as it is to have a great description of a scene, none of that matters if it’s not written in an active voice. For those who don’t know, an active voice describes a sentence where the subject acts. All scene descriptions, including location descriptions, should be written in an active voice.
Dirt was thrown across the room by Joe.
Joe throws dirt across the room.
Notice how the subject (Joe) does the action (dirt) instead of the opposite. Keep that in mind with all of your descriptions, especially when describing a location. Stick with the room is or the building is, or the park is. A room, building, and park aren’t the only locations meant for description. Just remember to mention the location first and then the adjectives to describe it.
Combining Action with Locations
Besides knowing the foundation of how to write about a location, sometimes descriptive action can demonstrate the location better. The way characters interact with their environment can highlight where they are and the types of characters. For example:
INT. TENNIS COURT - DAY
Joe and Jack are PLAYING TENNIS in an empty park with no one around. Joe tosses a tennis ball on the ground, and it hits a CRACK. The ball bounces awkwardly and hits Joe in the mouth.
Though you might add a further description of what the two characters are wearing and so forth, you should get the point. The two characters are playing tennis and the ball hitting a crack paints a picture that the tennis court isn’t well-put-together. You can add a description before this action to further this point while it ties it together.
The best example of combining action with locations is in action scripts. Characters typically dodge behind spots in the location for cover, giving the audience a better idea of what the place looks like. An excellent example of this is the opening heist scene in The Dark Knight (2008) and the end rescue mission of Morbius in The Matrix (1999).
The Importance of the Right Setting
One of the most significant issues people have with developing their scripts is finding the right setting. In some instances, it’s straightforward enough with skaters going to a skatepark or a couple on a first date going to see a movie. In some instances, it’s something completely new that isn’t easy enough to describe.
Examples include where someone lives, works, or a completely made-up area that we see in a Science Fiction or Fantasy script. The latter is the more challenging task, but all permit the same question: How do you describe a location well enough, so the person reading it knows what it looks like?
Now that you know all of the essentials for describing locations in your script, the last point has to do with over-describing. Many writers get in their heads about how they should write, aiming to become the next great writer. In reality, scriptwriting doesn’t require an overwordy style to appear to be a better writer.
Use flavorful language while understanding that only a few sentences are needed. The old saying is that a script shouldn’t read like a book. Keep that in mind while you’re crafting your script, particularly describing locations. Lastly, consider reading several popular scripts to see how they describe locations and what you can take.