Write Playable Actions
One of the best pieces of advice I got back in grad school was to read a book called “Directing Actors” by Judith Weston, and my biggest takeaway from reading it was playable actions. One of the hardest things for new writers is to write in a cinematic way, meaning actions that are playable, and not just simple emotions. Writing for film means writing actions that can be played by actors. Emotions that the audience can connect with. But for that to happen, such actions need to be playable on screen—if you want to convey that a character is nervous, you can’t just write that he feels nervous, like you would if you were writing a novel. There’s no way an actor can play that. You would need to come up with an action that would convey such emotion on the screen. For example, to show that a character is nervous, one could say he’s tapping his fingers on the table, or constantly rearranging an already perfect flower arrangement, or pacing around a room. Those are actions that SHOW character and emotion.
Could you just write someone feels a certain way? Sure. But why leave it up to the actor or the director to find a way to play that feeling on screen? That’s lazy writing. And if you’re trying to break through or make an impression on a manager or agent to take you on, then you need your writing to speak for itself, and be suitable for the medium you’re writing for. We’re in an industry that’s all about show, not tell. So find interesting ways to show what your characters are feeling, and that way, you won’t just be writing in a cinematic way, but you’ll also be creating more unique and three-dimensional characters that audiences want to watch on screen and that they’ll fall in love with.