Oct 23

Why word order matters


Here is a simple little scripting tip that will sound obvious as you read it and yet, because of the way we use language, is something often missed as people write.

Make sure actions and visuals play out in the chronological order in which they happen.

This is easily illustrated by an example. Read this next paragraph and play the story out in your head:

Harry laughs out loud almost as soon he enters the room when he sees Lenny hit the floor, after just tripping on a roller skate which sent him flying into the air.

There is no possible way that a scene can play out like this on screen unless you are playing it backwards. We read first that Harry laughs out loud but that doesn’t really happen until after he enters the room so we missed an action there. Lenny hits the floor but we have to rewind the scene as we find out how and why he hit the floor. As anyone reads through the lines (producer, editor, director, anyone), they lose a sense of what is happening because they are having to jump back in time as they read. That is a problem. It creates a barrier between the script and the storytelling and, really, you don’t even want people aware that they are reading a script – you want them to experience the story.

The solution? Just write it very simply as it happens in chronological order:

Harry enters the room. He watches as Lenny trips on a roller skate, flies through the air and lands right on his bottom. Harry laughs out loud.

Now everything happens in order. As someone reads it, every action plays out in their mind just as it will happen on screen. The sentences are functional. Personally, I like to keep them that way because what is important is the action. Your wordplay won’t make it to screen unless it is in dialogue and flourishes of language, as interesting as they can be, can often draw attention to your scripting rather than the actual story. The main thing is that you have clearly set down the order that will then survive to storyboarding, animatic and final episode.

So keep it mind as you write. Make sure actions and visuals play out in the chronological order in which they happen.

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