A quick, useful screenwriting lesson

No line of dialogue or description really ever needs to be longer than four lines (feel free to break this rule 5 times per script, more is just pushing it). Most elements in a first draft are at least one line too long.

BAD: Josh reaches in his desk drawer and pulls out an envelope and slides it across the desk.  Michael picks it up.

BETTER: Josh hands Michael an envelope.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

7 thoughts on “A quick, useful screenwriting lesson

  1. There could be some symbolic meaning in the act of sliding the envelope. The sliding may have more significance than the envelope or what’s in it. Which example is better depends on the context.

  2. Please pitch me a context where the sliding becomes more important. If the sliding was the most important part of the sentence, you’re doing a disservice by burying that verb in the middle of the line.

  3. I don’t really want to go back and forth with you on this, Matt. I was just trying to make the point that small details sometimes matter. No pun intended. By the way, are you related to Tom Lazarus? I did read one of his books on screenwriting. I’m just about finished with a first draft of my first screenplay. I have one or two, possibly three scenes needed to wrap it up. It’s going to need considerable rewriting. I’m already at 164 pages. I want to do a lot of shortening up of action. Much of the dialogue could stand a trim as well. It will be easier once the story is complete. I’ll have a better picture of what can stay and what can go. Some scenes are out of sequence. I need to juggle a bit. Some scene to scene transitions may also need smoothing out. It struck me funny when you asked me to “pitch” a context. It was the first time someone asked me to pitch something other than a baseball. Stay cool, brother.

  4. Someday you might pitch ideas for a living. Unlikely, but that’s the dream. Let me know if you need any notes, I’m always happy to help 🙂

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