The Helpful Reviewer

Write Playable Actions

Monday, September 16, 2019

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.

Cody Smart

Cody Smart


Cody is an independent writer and script doctor from Santiago, Chile. She attended the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where she double majored in English Literature and Linguistics, with a minor in Dramatic Literature. She moved to L.A. and got her MFA in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios location, while at the same time working at Sony Pictures as a reader and story analyst. She also received two Certificates from UCLA, in Development and Producing for Film and TV.

Aside from her years of experience as a studio reader, she’s a judge for multiple script and film competitions, has written some award-winning short films and feature film scripts, she’s been working as a script analyst and doctor for years helping writers take their scripts to the next level, and is currently the head of the coverage department at Story Data.