Ask Dr. Format - Time Lapses

DAVE TROTTIER has sold or optioned ten screenplays (three produced) and helped hundreds of writers break into the writing business.  He is an award-winning teacher and script consultant, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, and friendly host of  Read more tips on the Ask Dr. Format page.

Dr. Format



I'm stumped. I want to show a time lapse from day to night for a story reason. A character, Jimmy, parks a Chevy automobile next to a building; someone is locked in the trunk (established in an earlier scene). I want to focus on the Chevy while everything around it changes. Jimmy will stand by the car and then disappear. The sequence will end in a light rain for the next scene. How do I format that?


The fact that you have a "story reason" for this time lapse is what prompted me to respond. I would use a format that is similar to the MONTAGE. How about something like this?


The Chevy stays in the same place as everything around it changes.

-- Jimmy disappears.

-- The day evolves into night as lights go on, then out, in the building behind the car.

-- Two teenagers gather around the Chevy, then disappear.

-- A light rain drizzles.


The only sound is the rain on the Chevy. And then the usual sounds of morning become apparent.



After watching movies like The Ring and Identity, I was wondering how much of the script actually turns into the visuals we see on the screen. Does the writer simply provide his/her version with dialogue and minor details and the director creates his/her own vision for the screen? My main question is when writing, how much description of key actions can the writer use throughout the script if it is relevant to the story?


If an action moves the story forward or adds to character, then write it. A spec script should contain specific details, but only those details that are important to the story or which reveal character.

For example, here is a small detail from a script.

Selma picks up her cup of coffee.

Normally, this incidental detail is unnecessary. It's not important enough to keep. On the other hand, if there is poison in that cup of coffee, then it is a key detail that should be in the script.

If there is a fight scene, describe the scene so that the reader can visualize it. You don't have to choreograph the fight, but you need to describe blows and tumbles. What the director chooses to use or not use is up to him/her.

Remember, your job is to give the script reader goose bumps, tense up her muscles, make her laugh, or bring tears to his eyes. You can't do that with general or vague details such as "They fight," or "they make love." At the same time, don't add unnecessary details. Remember, the more you write, the more you will get a sense of how much detail to add. So keep writing.

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