Adventures in Storytelling: McKee’s STORY {Part Four}

Writing Description for Screen

When writing description for screen, describe what you can see NOW on the screen. It should be written in present tense. It should contain all action and be vivid. Avoid using generic nouns or verbs in favour of the actual name of the things i.e. “he drags himself across the room” rather than “starts to move slowly”. Write what you see on the screen while eliminating all instances of “is” and “are”.

Image Systems in Screenwriting

In writing an image system is a category of imagery that repeats itself with great variety as a subliminal enhancement of the film’s themes and meaning.

These can be internal and external. 

  • Internal – The writer takes an object which may or may not have meaning outside of the world of the story and import it into the film whilst giving it new meaning.
  • External – The writer takes an object which already has symbolic meaning outside of the film. They will then use it with the same meaning.

Some examples of Image Systems on screen:

Diabolique (1955) – The theme of water in relation to the murder of the victim and to denote mood, tone etc

Se7en (1995)  – Religion. Art as a weapon. Many literary references.

Alien (1975) – Technology as erotica.

Aliens (1986) – Motherhood

The Writing Process

  • Three pages – one page per act.
  • Create a step outline – one sentence per event to describe turning point of the scene. Show how it pivots.
  • 40/50/60 scenes for the whole thing.
  • Next, create a treatment. Expand each of the sentences. Text AND subtext.
  • Write a few paragraphs without dialogue. You can indicate what they talk about.
  • Then write the screenplay – reduce to vivid screen description.
  • Now you can add dialogue.
  • Revise and polish.

This process creates true character. Character and events working from the inside out.

Adventures in Storytelling: McKee’s STORY is part of  a series based on McKee’s STORY Seminars. Notes based on the seminar from London, 2013. 


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