How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Location, Location, Location

1 Apr , 2012  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

What's true in real estate is true in screenwriting: location, location, location. Screenplay Doctor Susan Kouguell shares her top ten tips for penning the perfect setting. E-mail screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your screenwriting question answered in an upcoming issue.

A recent discussion with one of my screenplay clients at Su-City Pictures East, LLC, inspired me to write this month’s column. We were talking about the importance of establishing settings in one’s script and I encouraged him to take the time to properly set the stage in his screenplay. More specifically I stated that he should keep in mind how his characters relate to their various environments and that well-executed settings will add an extra layer of depth to his screenplay. This is a topic I also detail in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! — which I have summarized in my top 10 points below.

Top Ten Tips on Settings

  1. Effectively establish your settings so the reader can step into the world you have created with a complete understanding of how it looks and feels.
  2. Be faithful and consistent to the world you have created and its rules.
  3. Research the various settings and time periods in your script for accuracy and plausibility. For example, if your script is set in medieval times, indicate if the setting is a realistic down-and-dirty, muddy, smelly village or a genteel mythic pristine village.
  4. Action paragraphs should briefly describe elements, such as the technology used, barren wastelands, flying horses, and so on.
  5. Always keep in mind that action paragraphs should be as an interesting to read as your dialogue. Readers must quickly get a visual picture of the world you have created.
  6. If your screenplay is set in the past, don’t forget to include the year that your story takes place in, otherwise you will confuse the reader.
  7. If your screenplay is set in the present day but jumps forward or backwards in time, always include the year or a reference to that particular change.
  8. Keep in mind that setting your script in a major city or a small town should not be a random decision — each setting will further define what your story is about and how your characters will behave and feel in this specific environment.
  9. Interior settings are equally important as exterior settings. Inform your reader by offering some details, such as specific trinkets in a living room; this will help define your characters and story.
  10. Settings can be an integral part of the plot; they can be specifically named, such as the Atlantic City setting in Louis Malle’s film Atlantic City, where the characters are defined by and are metaphors of this setting, or they can be generic settings which are equally specific in how they are defined, as seen in American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, where the picture perfect American suburb informs the plot and is a metaphor for the American Dream.

Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452.

Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com).

Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.


Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.