Screenwriting : How much detail to include in a specific action sequence by Krista Crawford

Krista Crawford

How much detail to include in a specific action sequence

I have an action sequence in the beginning of my script that has my main characters whitewater rafting. My question is, how much detail should I put into describing the actual action while they are rafting? Do I leave it pretty generic and just write "They paddle down the river, going through several rapids." Or can I put some more detail into it about the raft hitting certain rapids, the movement of the boat shooting upwards into the waves, etc. I'm not trying to just wax poetic about rafting but the motion of the boat is important as to what the characters are doing in the raft as my main character is the guide and trying to help the others get through the river. It's going to be an action/adventure feature and I'm also using this to establish that the main character is believable doing action hero things later on. Thoughts? Thanks everyone! Some descriptions that I use are: A wall of water comes up over her as the back of the raft plunges downward. It goes sideways as it hits another whirlpool and turns straight again. The raft hits a dip, a rise and then gets dropped again before it surges upward, going airborne as screams ring out.

Craig D Griffiths

Read the script for Casino Royale. Bond films always start with an action sequence and that one is amazing.

Krista Crawford

Craig, I added some examples of what I have written to my original post if you wanna take a look.

JJ Hillard

Even though this refers to fight sequences in the John Wick movies,I think it may apply to action sequences in general: https://screencraft.org/2019/06/13/how-do-you-write-john-wick-worthy-fig...

William Martell

Read a dozen scripts with big action scenes. Read how the scenes are written - the use of reversals and suspense to create excitement.

Craig D Griffiths

I would add detail. I realised how important this at a rehearsal. The actor saw how the character (on paper) was progressing, how each hit was effecting him. He then could interpret that for his performance.

Adam Howell

Try to keep it lean, simple, and write in present tense. Strong verbs are also key for writing action descriptions.

CJ Walley

It's wise to match the pacing of your script with the timing you picture on screen using the one-minute-per-page average. Practicing this can be enlightening. In one of my very early scripts, I had a car chase that I'd spent a lot of time visualising in my mind around a particular song. When I wrote out the chase, it came it at something like half a dozen pages due to a combination of detail, dialogue, and formatting. What I did was force myself to get it down to a page count that matched the song's length, which I did by reducing detail, eliminating slugs, and cutting back dialogue. What I lost in detail I gained in pacing.

However, detail itself is not the enemy when it comes to laborious action scenes. It's flow and rhythm that's the biggest issue. Clunky prose, however streamlined, is just that - clunky. Good action scenes are like watching a dance performance and particularly good writing demonstrates that. The mistake a lot of people seem to make is laying out a very specific set of movements as if explaining every move in a chess game. What's powerful is if you can think like an editor and give people beats that encapsulate how things look and feel.

Another import thing, especially from an emotional standpoint, is centralising the action around your characters, particularly your leads and telling it from their point of view. If your example, the focus is on the raft rather than the occupants (and maybe witnesses). Scenes like this still need to be telling us story so how they react to the situation and how they are impacted by it is critical.

Rohit Kumar

I'm also writing my period war action script. What I do is sometimes try to set up a toy setting on my desk to play the scene like how kids would narrate what's going to their friends sort off playing a game. This helps a lot I feel.

Because quite often there is this thick line between suspension of disbelief rooted from imagination and time constraint. When we go on writing, we want to show a lot of things as our brain flows with it's own created visuals, because for our brain time constraint is sort off uncontrolled behavior to the real world. And our imagination expands that even more.

So if we write it by visualizing it or even sometimes say 1min per 1 page, that quite often find it hard to match with the beats of the scene and how fight choreographer plans the shoot and editor makes the final cut in scene as well.

So my trick is try to set up a false toy setup and narrate it to myself or someone. I often before writing script, i write a short novel for all my stories. This helps me to see the scene happening as I set up toy as an object and try to create it physically and go on writing like a story. And than I sort of write a script based on that short brief synopsis. What this does is , it fits the beat, it also help me to know what's enough details for that scene and what's going overboard leading to too much imagination

I mean others are giving great suggestion. But just thought to share how I write story and than script.

There is my state's movie which came out it's second teaser KGF Chapter 2 which rated highest on youtube lately. It's an action drama movie. In it there is this scene where a story teller explains a scene with some mud toys to the kids. That's exactly how I tell story to myself in my room setting it up. You can see the scene. It's a song infact

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUaOcaclCKQ

Rohit Kumar

Krista Crawford You can see the movie's trailer I linked down below. It's an action movie. It got bad reviews for it's action scenes from American audience as there they can't handle that abrupt multiple cuts. But for Indian audience we have seen a lot, a lot actually of such fast cuts and even beyond suspension of disbelief fight scenes and are used to that Bourne identity sort of fast cuts since ages. So you can see in the trailer the editor cuts a lot, and you can imagine how the director wrote it as well and gave a free space for choreographer to make it's working for that story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXgF-iJ_ezE

Dan Guardino

Just write what the director needs to know to film it.

Doug Nelson

Krista; the basic answer to your question is: Just enough, not to much, not to little. This knowledge comes with experience over time. C.J. is correct in that you should keep in mind the story's pacing and rhythm. This might be a conversation you ought to have with a Director.

Stefano Pavone

Not too little, not too much. I made that mistake when transferring my novel into script form (had to cut down a LOT of the descriptions).

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