Action or Action Description is the second element of a screenplay. This element is very important in writing a screenplay because, without it, everyone in the production crew including the A-list actors/actresses will look confused; that is if such a screenplay can be bought by a business-minded movie producer.

For anything you have written to be called Action or Action Description, it must obey these rules:

  • It must be written beneath the scene heading or slug line.
  • It should be written from the left margin of the page to the right margin of the page with no indentations.
  • It should never be written in past tense, but in the simple present tense.
  • Action lines are written in third-person singular (he, she, him, she, it or they).

QUESTION:

  • Why should the action line be written in present tense?
  • Why should action lines be written in third-person singular?

ANSWER:

  • As a screenwriter, whenever you write a screenplay, you’re telling a story that hasn’t been produced (watched) which means your writing is still alive, but when you write in past tense, it means the story you’re telling has already happened, so why would you spend time writing what has already happened?
  • Action lines are written in third-person because as a screenwriter, you’re a third person in the life of your characters which simply means you’re an outsider who is looking into the life of your characters.

Read: Elements Of A Screenplay.

You should never write your screenplay in either first person (I and me) or second person (you and yours). Action description as the name implies describes three things and these things are:

ENVIRONMENTAL DESCRIPTION:

The screenwriter gives the screenplay reader an insight into how he wants a particular character’s home, office or wherever to look like. The environmental description isn’t always needed until the story says it is.

Example:

  • RICHARD (30s) walks into a one-bedroom apartment with no furniture; it only has a bed that has clothes littered on it.
  • This house is a one-bedroom apartment with no furniture; it only has a bed that has clothes littered on it.

Do not describe an environment if it has nothing to do with the scene; don’t waste your reader’s time. When describing the environment, you should be careful of the things you mention because whatever you mention that can’t be gotten easily will cost money.

Read: How To Write Scene Headings.

CHARACTER DESCRIPTION:

The screenwriter tells the reader the name of his/her character/s, their age, and whatever he/she feels is important for the reader to know about the character.

The screenwriter doesn’t just write these things, there are rules when describing your characters.

  • When you’re writing a character’s name in your action for the first time, you should write it in capital letters. For example: RICHARD or VICTORIA.
  • The next thing that follows the name is the character’s age. You can choose to be specific (32) or not (20s).
  • The next thing that follows the age is any special information the screenwriter has to give about the character he/she is introducing.
  • Whenever you want to mention the same character name again, you shouldn’t write it in capital letters.

Example:

  • RICHARD (32), a physically challenged picks up a stone and throws it at a car.
  • VICTORIA (20s), a lady who loves touching her ears picks up a stone and throws it at a car.
  • GEORGE (40s) picks up a stone and throws it at a car; George takes off his slippers and runs away.

From the example above, you’ll see that I’ve been able to show you how the four rules listed above work.

CHARACTER ACTION DESCRIPTION:

This is where the screenwriter describes the exact thing he/she wants the character/s to do in the scene.

Example:

  • RICHARD (32) sits on a couch reading a book as his phone rings.
  • VICTORIA (20s) opens the curtain to see Richard drive into the compound.

Read: Screenwriting Terminologies.