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White Spaces

White Spaces. No, I’m not talking about fascist rallies. I’m talking about an intentional approach to screenwriting that helps keep the reader engaged. The last thing they want is a densely packed screenplay littered with loquacious sentences that end up confusing them. They want brevity. White spaces allow the reader to judge your screenplay for what it really is: a story captured in a handful of pages, unincumbered by tangents brought about by the writer liking the sound of their voice. Do not bog your readers down in words. Instead, leave them no choice but to go in search of more. And here’s why:

Firstly, this isn’t a school essay. We aren’t trying to hit a word count for the sake of it. Secondly, remember: screenplays aren’t novels. You need to show us more than you need to tell us. We don’t need to know what colour someone’s shoes are, unless that represents an important character trait or affects the plot in some way. (Think of the little girl wearing the red coat in Schindler’s List – the symbolism of which deserves its own article). Screenplays are ultimately written with the screen in mind, so focus on the important stuff: what a character says and does, not what the character thinks and ‘wants’ to do.

Granted, some of you might’ve read an Aaron Sorkin or Tarantino script and think I’m talking utter nonsense. It’s true, their work often reads long. Dense paragraphs, ten lines long, are not uncommon. But there’s a difference. In fact, there are two differences. First of all, they are established screenwriters with decades of experience behind them. They don’t need to be as married to modern screenwriting conventions as you or I need to, and secondly, they are auteurs. They often direct the work they’re writing. Their screenplays don’t need to be as polished and precise as ours do, for ultimately, they are responsible for taking it from page to screen. In that sense, they are a law unto themselves. And thank heavens they are, for auteurs often carry the entire industry on their shoulders.

But for the rest of us, being efficient is a good thing. We want to keep the read fast and light. And we want to be extremely intentional with the words we use. It’s a challenge to say anything succinctly in life, let alone via the medium of screenwriting, but once you’ve cut away the writerly fat, you’ll be left with a collection of sentences that represent the very thing you set out to achieve – the truth. Don’t worry about how your sparsely populated pages come across in a filmic sense. Don’t even worry about how they’ll be interpreted by a director one day. Your job is to write the best screenplay. And the best screenplays direct themselves because they evoke the reader’s imagination. And they do that by creating fast-flowing reads that imbue the best-kept secret in screenwriting: white spaces.