When writing a scene, use specific details that paint a distinct picture of the setting. Far too many writers settle for generic settings by simply describing slug lines like:
INT. DINER – DAY
First of all, focus on making a scene unique and memorable. Why would characters visit this particular diner? In “Thelma and Louise,” there’s a scene where the two women stay at a motel and eat in the motel coffee shop. That’s when Louise realizes Thelma left all their money in the room and the hitchhiker they had picked up earlier is now alone in the room with their money.
Yet that diner says a lot about the two women. The diner is in a cheap motel because they’re trying to save money. More importantly, it’s also just a run of the mill diner because both women still think of themselves as ordinary.
Imagine if that same scene were placed in a five-star resort. The exact same scene would no longer work because it wouldn’t fit in with the women’s personalities. Now imagine if that same scene were placed in a rat-infested, filthy diner. Once again, that location wouldn’t work because such a location would seem too dangerous to the women, and that would distract from the action where Louise realizes Thelma left the money in the room with the hitchhiker.
You can see that the details of a location can be crucial, but how you describe that scene can paint a visual picture in the mind of the reader, and the reader is the first person you have to impress. Look at the way “Pulp Fiction” describes a unique 50s diner:
EXT. JACKRABBIT SLIM’S – NIGHT
In the past six years, 50’s diners have sprung up all over
L.A., giving Thai restaurants a run for their money. They’re
all basically the same. Decor out of an “Archie” comic book,
Golden Oldies constantly emanating from a bubbly Wurlitzer,
saucy waitresses in bobby socks, menus with items like the
Fats Domino Cheeseburger, or the Wolfman Jack Omelet, and
over prices that pay for all this bullshit.
But then there’s JACKRABBIT SLIM’S, the big mama of 50’s
Either the best or the worst, depending on your point of
Describing a location with specific details is the key to making each scene stand out. In the book, “Visual Intelligence,” the author uses famous works of art to train people to look at a scene objectively with clear eyes and sharp observational skills. By studying how intelligence agents and police officers notice specific details to describe a scene, you can use those same techniques to describe memorable scenes in your own screenplays.
Specific, memorable, and visual details make a scene distinct. Use the techniques from “Visual Intelligence” to improve your screenplay.