Lesson: Descriptions

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Audio Version

Descriptions are used when you are introducing:

  • a person
  • a setting
  • an object

The more important the person or thing is to the story—or the scene—the more detailed your description needs to be.

Keep it concise. You want to use the least amount of words possible. The best description is one sentence, but, if you really must, no more than 3-4 lines.

A good rule of thumb is to only use a maximum of 3-4 lines for all narrative descriptions and dialogue. You want to be efficient and characters shouldn't monologue.
If 1 page equals 1 minute, you want to be as efficient with your words as possible.


Most characters need an introduction when they first appear in the script.

An example of character introductions.

Of course, we want to use ALL CAPS when they are first introduced.

‼️ If there is a group or the character isn't important to the story, you do not capitalize them.

More importantly, you want to describe their essence with a few vivid details to form a mental picture. Focus less on the physical details of a character and more on their distinguishing personality (boring, angry, ruthless, etc.). Then take that characteristic and qualify it, either through a metaphor or comparison.

For example:

  • NELSON CONRAD, 68, waddles like a deflated beanbag chair.
  • ELENA CAMBRIDGE, 34, a predator dressed in Giorgio Armani.
  • TIFFANY ARCHER, 25, is as emotional as a piece of paper.

Notice how we focus on their essence, not physical details. Physical details (e.g. blonde, tall, thin) can limit the selection of actors that can play them. The ideal actor may be a person who doesn't fit the physical characteristics.

Also, don't focus too much on what they wear. That's the role of the costume department. Yes, I mentioned Giorgio Armani above but that is to suggest someone wearing expensive clothes and not on the colors or particular pieces she's wearing.

Names are important. First names and last names identify a complete identity.

Age is also important. “Sandy, 28” is different from “Sandy, 94.” Be specific. A person in their mid-20s could be 23 or 27. That's a big range of growth for some people.

Use words that describe how they move, stand, and present themselves.

Consider giving your characters a job, especially notable characters.

Character Don'ts:

  • Avoid limiting physical characteristics.
  • Don’t use actors’ names.
  • Don’t compare them to other characters in books or movies.
  • Don’t identify them as the protagonist or villain.


At the introduction of new locations, tell us where your scene takes place. Do not convey this in the slug-line. Slug-lines should be simple and minimal.

Add a short line of description, similar to how you would describe characters. Focus on capturing the essence of the place. Brevity is a strength.

Even if it's a place we might know—for example, the suburbs—a good description can communicate tone, mood, and context:

Hometown, USA, where Mom, July 4th fireworks, and the annual pie-eating contest rank as the most important things in life.

However, if it were something like this, it becomes a different story:

Hometown, USA. Not even Mom, July 4th fireworks, and the annual pie-eating contest can cover up the infiltration of ants and rotting garbage in the back alleyways.

Specifying the month can convey mood. New York in October is different than New York in July.

A story not set in the present may need more description, especially if it is unfamiliar to modern culture.

1350s. Northern Europe. The Black Plague claims a third of the population; gunpowder emerges, serfdom declines.

It often helps to assign a specific year, especially if it isn’t set in our time. It prepares a reader for the changes that are described.

If it’s set in an obscure or unique location, briefly describe the scene so that a reader can visualize it clearly.

Only show details if they impact the characters. A radical new political system isn’t vital to a character that’s lost in the desert.


When showing unique objects, it helps to describe them. However, the danger is not to over-describe an object.

Give the essence of what the object is explained in a sentence.

  • Focus on what it might look like in our world—a gun, a camera, a car.
  • Use character interaction to describe its purpose.
  • Sounds can also be useful.
“Gary grabs the Optithon, a weaponized telescope that fits in the palm of his hand. He aims—WHOOSH— a laser shoots out, and Paul is vaporized into dust.

Using these elements*

The goal is not to create holes in your story that your readers will fill in on their own. Descriptions help fill in enough details so that on page 3, you don't tell us something that pulls us out of the story and we have to go back and figure out what we missed.

A simple method of using descriptions is:

  • Intro location with description.
  • Intro character with description and place them in action
  • Intro second character with a description and place them in action (if needed)
  • Move into the story.
Another example of introducing a location and characters.

Finally, introduce your places, objects, and characters only as they appear in the story. You don't need to put them in all at the start.


  • Always focus on the essence of what you are describing.
  • Don’t direct. The cast and crew will bring so much more to the project.

(Asterisk indicates material added after the video was recorded.)


Write a 2-3 page script of any type that contains three main characters, two separate and unique locations, and one individual object. As explained in the weekly lesson, all characters, locations, and objects must have a one-sentence description.

Marking Criteria

  • Proper screenplay format (including active, present tense, slug-lines, parenthesis, ALL CAPS on the introduction of characters).
  • Proper use of descriptions.
  • Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • The proper page count of the assignment.
  • Includes a title page that uses the proper format.
  • Only 5 errors are allowed on the assignment.


  • Keep an eye open for these details. If you notice them, help your fellow writers.
  • Also, review my notes on your scripts and notice what I comment on. Use this as a guide for your feedback and work.

❗ Due: Sunday, Sept 17 at midnight. ( Saskatchewan time )