Action, Appearance, and Setting

Watch any silent movie and you can figure out the story just by seeing the action alone. That’s the way all screenplays work. Action is about what characters do, how they look, and where they are.

For example, consider the opening scene in “Fargo” where Jerry first meets the two men he’s hired to kidnap his wife. The action is about meeting these two men in a bar, but Jerry already reveals he’s a screw-up by showing up late to the meeting. That action alone reveals a tremendous amount about his character and who he is, which will create problems for him later.

Jerry doesn’t show up dressed like someone rich and important. Instead, he shows up looking ordinary because that’s his problem. He’s just an ordinary man living a meaningless life.

Then you look at where Jerry meets these two kidnappers, which is a seedy little bar. What if he had met them in an airport terminal or a fancy restaurant? The setting wouldn’t fit with the characters of these two kidnappers, which is that they’re both seedy as well.

Always focus on what characters do, how they look, and where the action takes place.

In comparison to the character in “Fargo,” look at how James Bond differs. Unlike Jerry in “Fargo” who’s a bumbling idiot, James Bond is sure of himself. To emphasize this, he’s always well-dressed and able to fit into any high society setting such as a fancy casino while sipping a martini. James Bond speaks intelligently and people treat him with respect, which is the complete opposite of a character like Jerry in “Fargo”.

In every scene, focus on what characters do, how they look, and where they are. All of this is important because if you just randomly select a place for a scene to occur, you won’t take full advantage of that setting.

Imagine a man proposing to a woman. It’s far different to do it in a fancy restaurant than it is to do it while jumping out of a plane or running a marathon.

If you write every scene with a clear focus on what each character does, how they look, and where they are, the rest of your screenplay will take care of itself.

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