Balance between Scene Description and Dialogue

What if you were to think of scene description as Narrative Voice's dialogue?

I'm currently teaching a one-week Screenwriting Master Class course called Scene Description Spotlight — Express Your Voice. I created the class for a number of reasons, the most pressing one being this:

The scene description I read in most scripts suffers by comparison to the dialogue.

By contrast, when I read a great script, there is a balance between the dialogue and scene description.

This subject came up in the Scene Description Spotlight forums today when a writer talked about the "seamlessness" between spoken word and action in good scripts. Here is an excerpt of my response:

That "seamlessness" of which you wrote, I get what you're saying. When you read a great script, there is a flow to… everything. Scene to scene. And, as you suggest, even line to line. Dialogue informs action. Action informs dialogue.

And this leads to another point critical to our discussion of scene description: If a writer is great with dialogue, a reader picks up on that. The characters' words leap up off the page. If, however, the writer just lays out the scene description pro forma, those words pale by comparison.

That is the antithesis of seamlessness. The seams spring wide open every time the narrative shifts from dialogue to scene description, the disjunctive quality causing us to fall in and out of the story.

This is yet another reason to embrace the concept of Narrative Voice, as detailed in today's Lecture 2. If we approach NV as our script's invisible character, then scene description is in effect that character's dialogue! If we can imbue scene description with that vitality and unique personality, we are much more likely to achieve a balance between dialogue and scene description.

No matter what, it pays to devote at least as much energy to scene description as to dialogue, especially since scene description does not carry with it the benefit of a character's personality like dialogue does…


I have a nifty formula:

Genre + Style = Narrative Voice

That's the starting point, but it's much more. Really embrace the idea that Narrative Voice is your script's invisible character. Then consider:

  • What is their Personality?
  • What is their Perspective about what transpires in each scene?
  • What is their Proximity to the events which occur?

In effect, you end up giving scene description as much if not more care and attention as you do with dialogue. And that can go a long way toward achieving a balance between scene description and dialogue.

Check out that scene description from the script Alien above.

For more on Narrative Voice, go here.

You can still join my Scene Description Spotlight class. We have a great group from all over the world. For more information, go here.

Balance between Scene Description and Dialogue was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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