Does your Story need to go on a diet?

Trimming the excess fat off your story and keeping it lean and fit.

By Daniel Dercksen

If there’s one obstacle that will prevent your story from being realised on film or television, it’s an overweight, or overwritten screenplay or manuscript.

Story Diet


Putting your story on a diet does not mean that you have to starve it to death, or force it into a dull and  lifeless creation.

It simply means that you have trim it down so that it is lean and mean, without drowning the reader with words.

It also doesn’t mean that you have to write your first draft starving for rich visual narrative.

A first draft is the equivalent of an actor clearing his throat before walking on stage to perform.

As a writer you have to purge your emotions and indulge your fantasies so that your first draft could end up up to 180 pages instead of the standard 125 page.

When you have been working on a draft for years, it is impossible to see the forest for the trees, or see the bigger picture.

This is where a story editor jumps in to put your story on a diet, trimming it down to size so it works dramatically and is effective structurally.

The story editor will build muscle and emotion.

Looking for a story editor that will trim the fat off your story?

The Write Prescription from your Script Doctor

The Write Journey – 12 steps of writing the perfect screenplay

Here are some common pitfalls of most first drafts:

Dull locations

When dealing with a visual medium, it is always about what we see. Once you have established where the scene takes place in the slugline (INT. ROOM – DAY) , it is important to let us see (1) what the location looks like (2) and tell us where we are.  Where does the story take place?  Where the character lives and where the story is set is an important visual dynamic. It has become an important aspect of filmmaking and needs to be rooted in the screenplay. Also make sure that the setting reflects your thematic purpose, if your story deals with death, your locations will be dark and intimate, if your story deals with emancipation, your setting will reveal the transformation from confinement to freedom.

Film Is A Visual Art that expresses its subjects in space.

The art in a visual art consists of how those subjects are composed in space.

  • A painter composes with colour, shapes, and tones.
  • A sculptor composes with shapes and spaces.
  • A photographer composes with real and sometimes unreal objects of light.

The visual side of the film is primarily in the hands of three members of the production team:

  • Production Designer/ Art Director: Responsible for designing sets and the total visual concept of the film.
  • Cinematographer: Who decides the lighting, and in some cases the composition of the shot to be photographed.
  • Director: Who supervises the mechanics of filming.

Weak character descriptions

In the description paragraph of the screenplay, when we meet a character for the first time, we have to know what that character looks like. You have to give a brief description of the character in your story.When you introduce a character you should always do it as follows:  JOHN (20), a ruggedly handsome charmer.

Not revealing important information

Be clear about establishing the relationship between characters.  Don’t write:  Two friends walk down the street.  Any information that you feel is important for us to know, should be revealed through exposition (visual or dialogue).

Scenes without a purpose

One of the most important aspects of a scene, and to establish the mood and context of the scene, is to know what the function of a scene is. Once the function of your scene is set in motion, it should amplify or reflect your thematic purpose.

Show don’t Tell

When writing for a visual medium it is always good to open up your story visually.  Unlike a stageplay where it’s all about talking heads (dialogue), dialogue in film should be lean.

When the writer takes on the role of editor

Don’t tell the editor where to cut. When you have a new slugline, it is clear where one scene ends and the next scene begins.  Remember that you are the writer, not the editor.

Overwritten visual narrative

Keep the visual narrative it lean and to the point. Don’t write what we can’t see. Also, keep different actions in the narrative separately.  If there are three things happening, write three short, succinct paragraphs.

Not showing emotions

When you describe how a character feels in the narrative, we need to know that.  It’s a visual medium.  When Matt feel rejuvenated and has writer’s block, we need to see these emotions.

Writing information we can’t see

If you are writing for a visual medium, it is essential to reveal emotions, thoughts, and introspective mindscapes visually. Don’t write:  He looks at her and thinks about what she was like as a young girl….  Show us what he is thinking so that we can see the character’s thoughts.

Looking for a story editor that will trim the fat off your story?

The Write Prescription from your Script Doctor

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen/ The Writing Studio