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Action vs. Dialogue

By Jeffrey Alan Schechter

Question: The first five pages of my script contain a lot more movement than speech. Because of this, it's exceeding the one-page-per minute rule. It just seems to take me more pages to describe action than it does for dialogue. Is this a common problem? Do readers take this into account? Can you give me a bit of advice to either put my mind at ease or teach my to overcome this?
G.K. Brothers, KS

Jeffrey Schechter responds: Don't get too hung up on the one page per minute rule. While you're right that description can sometimes read slower (or faster) than dialogue, by the time you get to page 110, everything should average itself out. The best thing you can do, particularly in those precious first few pages when a reader forms his or her first (and often irreversible) impression of a script, is to keep the descriptions short and punchy. Two or three short sentence bursts. Lots of white space on the page. Also, keep the voice active. (Jack jumps. Hits the wall four feet up. Flings himself over in one move.)

Make sure that you use only the barest amount of description needed to paint a clear picture in the reader's mind. Don't go prosey (Jack leaps like a gazelle for the rough-hewn brick edifice. He catches hold of the wall like a giant spider, impossibly high off the ground. Using impressive, almost superhuman strength, Jack propels himself up and over the wall in a move that would make a gymnast green with envy. BLECH!!)

To recap -- keep it short, active and essential.

Meet the Author: Jeffrey Alan Schechter

Jeffrey Alan Schechter has been beating up stories for more than twenty years. He is a WGA, WGC, Emmy, and BAFTA-nominated writer, producer, and director, a million-dollar spec screenplay writer, a Gemini award winning producer, and the developer of the underlying story principles behind Mariner Software’s Contour Story Development program.

Jeff's first credits were in action films such as Bloodsport 2, The Tower, and Street Knight. Turning to his love of family films, Jeff sold his spec screenplay Little Bigfoot to Working Title Film...