Susan Kouguell is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and chairperson of the screenplay and post-production consulting company Su-City Pictures East She is the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself ). Follow Susan on Twitter: @SKouguell
Where are we? Why are we here? What does this place really look like?
These are just a few of the questions you don’t want film executives asking themselves about your script because they are confused rather than intrigued. If these film industry folks are questioning these ‘where, why, and what‘ issues, then you are risking your script getting rejected.
This is a topic I also detail in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! – which I have summarized in my top 10 points below.
Top Ten Tips
- Effectively establish your settings so the reader can step into the world you have created with a complete understanding of how it looks and feels.
- Be faithful and consistent to the world you have created and its rules.
- Research the various settings and time periods in your script for accuracy and plausibility. For example, if your script is set in medieval times, indicate if the setting is a realistic down-and-dirty, muddy, smelly village or a genteel mythic pristine village.
- Action paragraphs should briefly describe elements, such as the technology used, barren wastelands, flying horses, and so on.
- Always keep in mind that action paragraphs should be as an interesting to read as your dialogue. Readers must quickly get a visual picture of the world you have created.
- If your screenplay is set in the past, don’t forget to include the year that your story takes place, otherwise you will confuse the reader.
- If your screenplay is set in the present day but jumps forward or backwards in time, always include the year or a reference to that particular change.
- Keep in mind that setting your script in a major city or a small town should not be a random decision — each setting will further define what your story is about and how your characters will behave and feel in this specific environment.
- Interior settings are equally important as exterior settings. Inform your reader by offering some details, such as specific trinkets in a living room; this will help define your characters and story.
- Settings can be an integral part of the plot; they can be specifically named, such as the Atlantic City setting in Louis Malle’s film Atlantic City, where the characters are defined by and are metaphors of this setting, or they can be generic settings which are equally specific in how they are defined, as seen in American Beauty (directed by Sam Mendes) where the picture perfect American suburb informs the plot and is a metaphor for the American Dream.
The more plausible and/or logical things are, the more real your world will be for the film executive to want to turn the page. Take the time to set the stage in your screenplay and indicate how your characters relate to their various environments. Well-executed settings will not only add an extra layer of depth to your screenplay, it will make your script shine in the eyes of film industry folks.
Check out all of Susan’s Upcoming Classes!
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation
Writing the Family Feature Film
Writing the Documentary
Writing the Animated Feature
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting
Advanced Film Rewriting
World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into