A screenplay consists of multiple parts. The plot and dialogue might be the most obvious, but there’s more to a screenplay than just writing dialogue and describing action. For every scene, you need to define the location and tone.
Defining the location might seem easy, but you should give it much thought. For example, suppose you wanted to write a scene that takes place in a house. This is the generic, bland way of writing the scene:
INT. HOME – DAY
MIKE walks through the front door and throws his jacket on a chair. Then he shuts the door behind him and SIGHS with relief. He’s had a long day.
While functional, the above example misses out on the chance to make the home help define the tone of the scene. In this example, Mike seems exhausted, but is he happy, sad, burned out, or just physically tired? Whatever choice we make, we can then apply this tone to the home.
Let’s say Mike is sad and just glad he got through the day for whatever reason. Now instead of just picturing a generic home, we can define a run down home. Maybe the paint is peeling off the wall to show neglect (just like Mike’s life). Maybe it’s an old house that has seen better days and has faded, peeling wallpaper. Maybe it’s a cramped older house filled with junk cluttering the hallway. Maybe the front door doesn’t even match the rest of the house to show that the door is more functional than aesthetically pleasing.
Notice how all of these types of choices suddenly make the home as a setting match and reflect the character’s mood whatever that might be?
There’s a reason why movies always show rain during tumultuous times of a character’s life. When a character is sad, the setting is usually dark, gloomy, and dismal. When a character is happy, the setting is usually brighter, cleaner, and beautiful.
Setting plays a huge role in shaping the tone of every scene. If you use generic settings, you’re missing out on the chance to further shape and manipulate the audience’s emotions.
So make sure your setting reflects the tone of the scene. You’ll find just this simple difference can make every scene in your screenplay feel more alive and integrated with the tone of each scene.