SNL_0863_07_Update_4_Hans_and_FranzStop being a little girly-man. Use power words to pump up your prose. 

Today we’re going to talk about something I don’t talk about much on the site.


Yes, you heard that right. The big W.

I’ve written about structure, about conflict, about plot. About characters, about dialogue, about suspense. I’ve written about Jersey Shore, Star Wars, and Honey Boo-Boo. But I haven’t yet written an article about writing. About the words you physically write down to create your stories.

I’ll tell you how this came about. A few weeks back, I read an amateur period piece. Then a few days later, I happened upon a professional period piece that covered the same subject. The plot, the structure, and even some of the characters were similar.

The difference? The amateur script felt empty while the professional script was immersive. Now there was more than one reason for this. The professional writer had a better grasp of the craft. He clearly had more experience. He knew, that especially with period pieces, you had to research the hell out of the period so that it felt authentic. You had to do a ton of character work so the characters felt fully-fleshed out and real. And the complexities of the plot were expertly woven together as opposed to being clunky and confusing.

The thing was, I’d covered all that before. I knew all that stuff was better. However, even with that, there was something about the professional script that was stronger and I couldn’t figure out what it was. It wasn’t until I physically started comparing the pages side by side that I noticed a difference. The prose. The prose in the professional script wasn’t just “better.”  It was SAYING SOMETHING. The words were specific, and when an important moment came around, the professional writer always had a word ready to capture the moment. He had an ability that the other writer did not – to transfer me to the movie theater during the read.  I could see what he was describing.  How the hell did he do that? He did it in two ways.

1) Power Words
2) Specificity

Power words are words, usually verbs, that evoke one of the senses. They often look the way they sound and therefore have an OOMPH about them that other, more casual words, can’t create. For example, I could say that blood “trailed” out of a severed artery, or I could say it “gurgled.” “Trailed” is a weak spineless word. It gives me the barest visual of what’s happening with the blood. “Gurgle” paints a more vivid picture. And it adds another sense to the element – sound. You can HEAR gurgling.

Or, if a woman is running from her attacker, and she finally gets to her car, writing that she “sticks” her key into the lock isn’t as powerful as if she “JAMS” it in there. And I probably wouldn’t say that she “runs into” the car. I’d say she “PLOWED” into it. Notice how the power word evokes more of a sensory reaction. And the cool thing about power words is that they’re fun to come up with. Go through your text and when you find a weak verb, see if there’s a more powerful substitution.

Joe Hero shouldn’t “remove” the cap. He should “pop” it off.

Jane Heroine shouldn’t “fall” from the building. She should “plummet.”

Sidebuddy Bob shouldn’t “twist” the peanut butter jar. He should “manhandle” it.

Now the question is, should we use power words in every single sentence? No. There are so many quick and dirty sentences in a script that to try and infuse all of them with a power word would be counter-productive. Plus, if Joe PLUNGES to the fridge where he SUBMARINES to the bottom shelf and JACKHAMMERS his hand to the back where he KITTYHAWKS an Orange Crush, it starts to sound stupid. Use power words judiciously and only if the word fits the moment. Overuse them and it’ll feel like you’re trying too hard.

Specificity is the process of using specific words and phrases in your description/action passages. This is what I noticed when I read those two period pieces. In the case of the amateur, his sentences had a bland and generic feel.  He chose general words that didn’t create any imagery in the reader’s mind.  This is not an actual sentence from his script. But it’s similar to how a lot of his sentences read:

The town is lain over the hill, its ancient buildings centered around a statue of a man swinging a hammer.

The only thing specific in this sentence/paragraph is the statue, and even that’s been described in the most bland way possible. “Town” is a general boring word. So is “lain.” So is the phrase “over the hill.” “Ancient” gives us some sense of a visual, but it’s still quite vague. Both an Egyptian pyramid and an English castle can be ancient, but the two are very different structures with very different details. Let’s compare this with a description from “Killing on Carnival Row,” Scriptshadow Readers’ favorite script.

An urban hodgepodge of crumbling rooftops, grimy belfries, and smoke-stained spires. Chimneys and smokestacks pump towers of soot into a stone gray sky.

Okay! Now we’re talking! Right away, the coupling “urban hodgepodge” helps us imagine a specific type of city. Also, note how the rooftops aren’t just “ancient,” but “crumbling.” That’s a power word. We can SEE that as soon as we read it. “Grimy” is another beautiful sensory word. “Smoke-stained” chimneys sure is better than, say, “old” chimneys. “Pump towers of soot.” We even have an ACTION that’s bringing this city to life! It’s no longer static. It’s alive!

THIS is what I mean by being specific with your words. Words have power. Every one you choose is another million you didn’t. Could one of those million have been a better option? You owe it to yourself to dig into that pile and find out. Because if all you offer is generic words every time you write a paragraph, you’re going to lose us.

Just like power words, specificity must be used judiciously. There’s no reason to dissect the DNA of a sentence conveying a simple meaning, like passing a cup. Just as there are passages like the above in Carnival Row, Travis Beacham also includes lines like “He takes out a notepad.” But if the occasion warrants it (an important location that needs to be described or an intense battle between two warring nations), then specificity is where you’re going to separate yourself from your competition.

I know that for some of you newbies, this may be confusing. You’ve probably heard that screenplay writing is about being sparse. “Less is more.” This is true. The problem is that too many people believe “sparse” is synonymous with “generic.”  Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s because you’re only allowed to use so few words when you write for the screen, that they must be specific.

I’ve also encountered a new breed of writing where the focus is on being SO sparse, that there aren’t enough words left to provide meaning. All 500 paragraphs in the script are variations of “Joe zips down the street.” Yeah, the reader’s getting through the script faster, but it’s an empty experience. Which is leading to what I discussed in this week’s newsletter – studios aren’t buying scripts now because they’re all so damn thin. Nobody’s applying depth to their stories, to their characters, or to the prose itself.

There’s a happy medium here. Don’t write short. Don’t write long. Write SMART. Choose your words carefully. Think of every paragraph like a screenplay-version of a tweet, where every word matters. The sentence length should be the same as if you wrote generally. The difference is you’re pouring over every word. The steak “sizzles” is better than the steak “cooks.” The man “glares” is better than the man “looks at.” Power words and specificity are what bring your prose to life. Utilize both and I promise you, your writing will be better.

Here are few more examples…

(Bad version)
The witch walks into the room. Her black dress drags behind her. She pushes her deep gray hair out of her face.

(Carnival Row version)
[The witch] hobbles into the room, an old crone, frazzled gray hair, bandaged eyes behind black spectacles. A dark cloak flowing behind her. She leans on a crooked walking stick.

(Bad version)
The car skids noisily across the pavement until it comes to a full stop.

(Back to the Future version)

The car wheels lock up and the DeLorean comes to a SCREECHING HALT, smoke pouring off the body.

(Bad version)
She sits across from him, nervous but trying not to show it. She looks at him every once in awhile as she checks her menu.

(American Beauty version)
He smiles, then opens his menu. Carolyn picks hers up mechanically, but continues to stare at him, enraptured, like a fervent Christian who’s just come face to face with Jesus.

(Bad version)
After finishing the form, he looks down proudly at it and finishes it by adding his signature.

(Dances With Wolves version)
He looks over his work with a schoolboy’s excitement and affixes his signature with a wild flourish.

  • Marty

    Carson – this may be the best piece of screenwriting advice I’ve read in a long time!

    • carsonreeves1

      Thanks! Yeah, I think today’s post is going to help a lot of people.

  • Steffan

    Out of all the examples you’ve provided, Carson, I’d say the one that “pops” out at me the most is the excerpt from “American Beauty” and it’s because it uses metaphor.

    Metaphor is something I struggle with as a screenwriter, per se. I’ve been a writer most of my life (actually, as long as I can remember) and I feel metaphor is solidly in my repertoire in the realm of poetry and prose–but not in screenwriting.

    Screenwriting is supposed to be immediate, visual, and visceral and because of that I find that I use far less metaphors while writing a script than when I write poetry. However–and this article really highlights this–metaphor, sparsely used, allow a specificity that “power words” might not because it brings the reader outside of the text for the briefest moment to give the actions on the page a more worldly context.

    Or perhaps it allows for a deeper emotional connection to be made because of the mind’s movement outside the text–I say this because though screenwriting is immediate, visual, and visceral; it must also be emotional.


    P.S. I realize that the “Dances with Wolves” quote uses metaphor, as well; but, American Beauty’s simile goes so much more in depth and (like I said in the post) really takes you (farther?) out of the world of the screenplay than the schoolboy metaphor from “Dances with Wolves”.

    • carsonreeves1

      It’s true. Metaphors aren’t used as much in screenwriting because they take longer and, as we know, screenwriting is about brevity. But if you find one that sells the moment perfectly, like that American Beauty line, then use it.

      • Scott Strybos

        Yeah, I don’t like metaphors and similes, even outside of screenplays; they feel sloppy and even amateurish, especially similes.

        The wind blew like a…. His kiss was like a… I was as hungry as a….

        Don’t feed me a rhetorical device to try and convey what it was like, just tell me what it was like. It doesn’t need to be put into a term that I can understand if the writer spends the extra time to write it well. Just like adverbs aren’t necessary if the writer choses a stronger verb.

        • Randy Williams

          I’ve got one right off top of a current draft of a thriller I’m working on. I’m gonna get butchered from someone for using it, most likely. Should I go with my first choice or eliminate?
          It’s part of the description of a woman lying in bed, uncomfortable, agitated.

          “To and fro, long locks of red hair slide across the white sheet – desert snakes desperate for shadow.”

          • Scott Strybos

            “Long locks of red hair snake across the white sheet” is what I would write

          • brenkilco

            To and fro has to go. Sliding hair can stay. What you really want to know is whether you can keep that nifty metaphor you really like. If the metaphor reflects your character’s actual mood, that is if she is feeling exposed, endangered, craves shelter then I’d say OK. If not axe it.

          • Scott Strybos

            Yeah, if you keep the metaphor, Randy, “To and fro” does have to go.

          • Randy Williams

            Thanks Scott & Brenkilco, “to and fro” will go. Metaphor will stay. (for now) It does reflect her mood at that point and the story as a whole. It will be, however, the first and last.

          • Steffan

            Long locks of red slide across white sheets–desperate desert snakes searching for shadow.

            That’s how I would go after it. I like that metaphor bunches.

        • brenkilco

          Yeah, metaphors and similes are by nature evocative which is nice but also vague, imprecise and far removed from what the camera can actually observe which makes them rather useless. Unless the simile is so precise that it functions as a sort of stage direction or emotional cue for an actor I think it should be cut out.
          BTW if you really hate similes you ought to read at least one book by mystery writer Ross Macdonald. Fine writer but the guy was a simile addict. When Lew Archer drives toward LA on the freeway at night it’s “like the city was leaking light through a hole in its side.” And you get one or two of those on every page.

          • Scott Strybos

            “When Lew Archer drives toward LA on the freeway at night it’s ‘like the city was leaking light through a hole in its side’.”

            If you gave me an entire day, I don’t think I could explain what MacDonald was trying to describe with this simile.

      • astranger2

        Once we routinely discard similes and metaphors, we may as well just write, “See Spot run. Run Spot run.”

        Seriously? No imagery at all?

        I understand from reading your article, it’s the opposite of what you are saying… but from reading LIFELESS screenplays like Nebraska, I feel anemic… IRON deficient… (save me, Robert Downey Jr.!!!)

        … as if I need infinite bottles of type AB negative vials to feel lively once more…

        Maybe the capricious swings of “how to” books have dramatically swung the wrong way. And we need now, to swing back into a more colorful, evocative mode…

        As you’ve mentioned, these spec scripts read so elementary Dick and Jane as if to induce the equivalent of a hundred pill Ambien coma…

        (Two bad metaphors in one sentence… lions, and tigers, and bears… oh, my…)

    • Randy Williams

      Glad to see “Inhuman” is downloadable again. I tried to read it a while back and it seemed to be gone. I’ve been trying to read all the thrillers Carson has reviewed. This sounds like an interesting one.

      • Steffan

        I didn’t know it wasn’t available. I hope you enjoy it, Randy.

  • Dale T

    As Mark Twain said, if you find an adjective, kill it. Adjectives are so general and bland and the ultimate form of telling. In the above bad examples:

    The car skids noisily across the pavement until it comes to a full stop.

    After finishing the form, he looks down proudly at it and finishes it by adding his signature.

    Noisily and proudly aren’t specific enough, they can elicit a number of visual imagines in our head. Now admittingly in my stories I will write in adjectives, but I do that because I can’t think of anything better at the time, and during redrafts I’ll be able to come back to it and replace it with action.

    • Dale T

      lol yeah adverbs, I always get those two mixed up.

    • IgorWasTaken

      And I think Mark Twain was the guy (I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong) who wrote to someone that he’d have written a shorter letter – if he’d had more time.

      • Citizen M

        Many people have said something similar. Mark Twain wasn’t one of them.

        If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter

        The first known instance in the English language was a sentence translated from a text written by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. The French statement appeared in a letter in a collection called “Lettres Provinciales” in the year 1657:

        Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

        Here is one possible modern day translation of Pascal’s statement. Note that the term “this” refers to the letter itself.

        I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

        — Quote Investigator

        • IgorWasTaken


          • Citizen M

            Blaise Pascal is a bit obscure, and anyway he’s French. I think I shall cite John Locke’s comment on his “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1690):
            But to confess the Truth, I am now too lazy, or too busy to make it shorter.

            Americans might prefer Benjamin Franklin’s comment in a letter concerning electricity to a member of the Royal Society (1750):
            I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.

  • ripleyy

    Thank God someone else used the word “plowed”, I thought I was the weird kid in the corner of the room with that one. If you can mix both “power words” with “sparse writing”, then you can just throw your scripts around town right now and feel confident about it.

    A few personal favourites, when it comes to action words, are “demolished”, “obliterated” and “devastating”.

    Sure, a fist can *hurt*, a fist can *crunch* but a *devastating* punch connecting with someone’s face is far more visual.

    Sure, Godzilla could *destroy* the buildings, his tail could swing and *tear the buildings apart*, but he could also *obliterate* the buildings as well – again, far more visual.

    I love power words just as much as the other person, and to be honest – and this is something Carson neglected to mention – power words aren’t just for screenplays, they are equally as impressive when you use them for LOGLINES.

    Here’s two loglines from a made-up action thriller:

    (Normal Version)
    “A special agent, with a history of drug abuse, must protect a drug-dealing teenager from three warring gangs who she stole from”

    We’ve got irony in that a special agent, who has a history of drug abuse, must help a drug-dealing teenager. That also includes conflict, so we can safely say that it seems interesting.

    Now when we include power words…

    “a guarded special agent, with a history of drug abuse, reluctantly finds himself helping an ambitious teen who has stolen a special brand of drug from a powerful gang”

    *Guarded*, *reluctant* and *powerful* all tell us things about this story that we never even realized before.

    Not only is this special agent guarded (hinting at a deep secret, which makes us curious) but it is a one-two hit when it’s combined with *history of drug abuse*. Not only do we think we’ve connected the dots between him being guarded and him having a history of drug abuse, but we go a little bit further when we include *reluctantly*. Now he’s battling some serious internal conflict.

    The word “teenager” is replaced with “ambitious teen”. I could have used “prostitute” or “greedy teenager”, but the word that makes sense overall is “ambitious”.

    And then we flesh out the actual story. Instead of three warring gangs, we get one, and we also realize this isn’t your typical cocaine, this is something “special”, which makes us wondering what it is, and how special can it be if a powerful gang is after her? Also, we want to know why she stole it in the first place. When we dig deeper into the logline, we find that she is ambitious, but we aren’t sure if she was ambitious for ambitious’ sake, or if there’s another agenda.

    I see far too many loglines on Amateur Friday that could be improved greatly. When you write a logline, it’s important to dig deeper into it, to flesh out its own series of layers.

    • IgorWasTaken

      I agree with some of your logline punch-ups, but “must protect” already tells us “reluctant”. And that overall punched-up logline strikes me as over-punched-up. For example, you give us “with a history of drug abuse” for the agent, so I don’t think “guarded” is needed. Sure, in the script that’s another piece of the puzzle, but I don’t think it does anything for the logline.

      • ripleyy

        Oh, I know what you mean. I was just snowballing. I was just trying to say, that a few power words in a logline adds wonders. I wasn’t trying to do a masterclass in logline writing (that’s something I’ll leave to the professionals).

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    This is a very good article, Carson, thank you :)
    What you’re basically saying here is “Trust yourself”. But for some readers, there seems to be a very fine line between those vivid examples above and the bland ones. As an example, I’ll just use my latest script. I’ve spent countless hours thinking and rewriting, finding better words, verbs, metaphors, sentence structure and whatnot. The producer and the director were happy, they loved all those little details that made a clear image pop into their head right away. Then someone else read it and basically said, “Damn, what’s with all the unfilmables ?”
    I’m not pretending to be doing everything right, I still have a lot to learn, but I do know not to include descriptions of thoughts and feelings so I’ll just go with my gut instinct and trust myself :)

    • shewrites

      Marija, totally off topic, if I remember well, you write in French, right? If so, do you get the Inktip newsletter? A company is looking for a French language horror script. Here is
      the exact request:
      We are looking for completed, feature-length horror scripts in the French language. Please pitch in French when submitting your logline and synopsis.

      Budget has yet to be determined, WGA and non-WGA writers may submit.

      To get access & submit your script, sign up here:

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Yes, I do and thank you very much for the link :)

        • shewrites

          You are very welcome. Good luck!

  • IgorWasTaken

    Carson, while I am impressed today by the theme thrust of your post Opus, I ask implore beseech you…

    Please put down the penguin.

    OK. Now, I am glad you stressed moderation. Judicious use.

    If only there were a better term than “Power Words”. Yeh, that’s a good term for marketing the concept. And yet, IMO it inadvertently invites overuse.

    As for the example from “American Beauty”, I actually think “mechanically” is the wrong word; or, at least, is used in a way that doesn’t fit the moment.

    (American Beauty version)
    He smiles, then opens his menu. Carolyn picks hers up mechanically,
    but continues to stare at him, enraptured, like a fervent Christian
    who’s just come face to face with Jesus.

    Putting “mechanically” at the end makes it seem she’s doing it begrudgingly.

    (My rewrite; yeh, what gall!)
    He smiles, then opens his menu. Carolyn mechanically reaches for hers,
    as she continues to stare at him, enraptured, like a fervent Christian
    who’s just come face to face with Jesus.


    • ASAbrams

      Putting “mechanically” at the end makes it seem she’s doing it begrudgingly.

      I thought that was the whole point. Picking up the menu is getting in the way of her fully being focused on the man in front of her. Besides that, placing mechanically so close to Carolyn makes it seem like she is mechanical, rather than her actions.

      • IgorWasTaken

        Well, fair reading. But for me, I went back to that scene in the script and I didn’t get that sense you describe. For example – I’m a guy. A waiter brings me a bowl of soup. I notice a gorgeous woman across the room, and stare at her as I eat my soup. I’m not eating it begrudgingly. At that moment, as I eat it, I am mechanical.

        Frankly, I’d drop “mechanically”. “She reaches for hers, but only as she continues to stare at him…”

        • brenkilco

          Also not crazy about mechanically. Think abstractedly would be better if an adverb is needed there at all

  • Robin the Boy Wonder

    Holy coincidence! I used “plummet” in my script just before reading this article, which recommends “plummet” as a power word. CHECK THIS GUY OUT!!!

  • astranger2

    “The steak “sizzles” is better than the steak “cooks.”

    Nice quote — reminds me of the marketing rule, “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

    Your words should sell your story in a sensual, yet efficient manner…

    Great piece, Carson.

    • IgorWasTaken

      Ah. But perhaps, “The steak SIZZLES”?

      Personal choice, but I like sounds, so I usually CAP them. And I might do: “SIZZLING, of a thick steak on a charcoal grill.”

      • astranger2

        Nice add.

  • IgorWasTaken

    After re-reading today’s post, I think if you simply go for SPECIFICITY, “power words” will follow.

  • CastorTroy16

    Great post, Carson. This is exactly the type of thing writers should be looking for when READING professional scripts. Make it a game and find those key words that trigger images in your mind. Keep a word document of them that you dig out and learn from. It could come in handy to spruce up your writing during a rewrite.

  • gazrow

    Nice article, Carson! Love how you used some of Travis Beacham’s prose from “Killing on Carnival Row” to illustrate your point – man, that guy can write!!

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Indeed ! Even just that one example plunged me right into that script’s amazing atmosphere :)

    • Casper Chris

      Loved Carnival Row!

      Speaking of which, Carson should either update his Reader Top 25 or dump it altogether.

      • gazrow

        Yeah – “Killing on Carnival Row” is an exceptional script IMO.

      • andyjaxfl

        It’s a little outdated…

    • astranger2

      Hey, gazrow… anyway you could send that to me?

      Would really appreciate it if you have it. astranger2 at iCloud dot com.

      Thank you, and good luck on your AOW zom-com entry. Some other good works there, but your’s definitely put a few smiles on this face…

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Sent :)
        (No, I’m not Gazrow in disguise…)

        • astranger2

          Thank you, mz! I appreciate it.

      • gazrow

        Just sent it! Didn’t realize Marija had beat me too the punch!! You gotta watch those ZombiGirls!! :)

        • astranger2

          Thank you!

  • brenkilco

    Really good post. I’d go even further.Sometimes you can have a script where the verbs are punchy and powerful almost to a fault, and the degree of specificity is nicely judged, and yet it still seems off. It all sounds good and yet you have the niggling suspicion that the writer is not quite saying what he means. Just because it’s got oomph and detail doesn’t make it right.

    Take this superior example from the post

    An urban hodgepodge of crumbling rooftops, grimy belfries, and smoke-stained spires. Chimneys and smokestacks pump towers of soot into a stone gray sky.

    Looks fine. But put it under the microscope. Hodgepodge is an acceptable word for an ill assortment but it’s a friendly, nearly comic word. And the writer clearly intends to convey the ugly oppressive nature of the city. Jumble at least suggests a mess that needs to be cleared up. And calling it what I think he means it to be, an oppressive, urban heap might be better still. Crumbling rooftops is fine but then things get curious. He’s allowing himself descriptions of just two other structures to convey the cityscape and chooses to more or less repeat himself. Dirty belfries and dirty spires. How many churches does this berg have? Perhaps he intends spires as a synonym for highrises in which case it’s simply wrong. And do we really need grime, soot and two uses of smoke in once sentence. We get it. The place is dirty. If there are lots of smokestacks it follows there must be lots of factories so aren’t they relevant structures to mention? And is the stone grey sky a polluted pall or a natural overcast?

    An oppressive urban heap: crumbling rooftops, grime coated factories and spindly steeples. Soot plumes from chimneys and stacks merging with the poisonous stone grey overcast.

    Better? Worse? The same? The point remains. A screenplay affords a writer too few words so every one should be questioned. And whether they’re powerful and specific enough is not the end of the inquiry.

    • IgorWasTaken

      I was with you until about mid-way. “poisonous”?

      I agree about “hodgepodge” standing alone, but, by leading it with “urban”, I think that takes off the comic edge.

      An urban hodgepodge of crumbling rooftops, belfries, and spires, with chimneys and smokestacks pumping ever-more soot into a stone gray sky.

  • NajlaAnn

    Excellent examples.

  • jw

    I love the concept of this and think there should be more articles around stuff like this. I do find that “stylized” writing, however, can turn some readers off. Difficult to walk that fine line when many readers will come back with, “you’re not Shane Black” as though that’s the only stylized writer ever to live. I find it a unique contradiction though, this aspect of “give me cool, powerful writing, but don’t be TOO cool or powerful.” I think the basic premise of what you’re saying is: DIG DEEPER. Write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until it’s as impactful as possible!

  • Midnight Luck

    I think of it as
    Story Poetry.

    Not poetry in the way we think of poetry. All exaggerated and difficult to understand. Flowery prose that can reek of desperation.

    A poetry instead that cohesively tells a story, yet does so in a way that makes the reader feel the pounding of fingers on the keyboard. The perspiration of the Authors mind.
    Making choices in layout, structure, white and dark space, verbs, nouns, names, and pace.

    The entire read needs to be like a Ballet dance.
    The way the script looks when you open it.
    The way the lines of text dance across the page.
    The way the words roll of the tongue, or spiral through your mind.
    The images those words convey.

    The speed with which the eye moves across each sentence.
    The pacing.
    The way the author slows down the read when the tale needs a breath, or speeds it up when the story becomes frantic.

    and yes, the individual words. THE most important part of getting your story told the way you want it told, and the way you want it discovered by the reader.

    One word can jar the reader out of their zone.
    Another can fold them into it. Soft and caressing.

    Choose your poetry carefully.

  • Casper Chris

    Help me out…

    What’s a term for the animated equivalent of a “mood board” ? There’s a word for it. I’m terribly vexed that I can’t remember the name since I just created one for my latest script.

    • IgorWasTaken

      What’s a static-equivalent of a “mood board”?

      IOW, what’s a mood board?

      • Casper Chris

        A collage of photos/pictures used to illustrate/convey the mood/style of a production (i.e. a film).

        • IgorWasTaken

          A montage?

          • Casper Chris

            You could call it that, sure, but that’s not the word I’m looking for. There’s a quite specific term for it. And no, it’s not ‘animatic’ either.

          • IgorWasTaken

            How many syllables?

            But seriously… Is this something that’s IN a movie? Or simply, for what and where is this thing used?

          • Casper Chris

            No, it’s not in the movie. It’s a pre-production device. Just like a script. For visualization purposes.

          • IgorWasTaken

            Well then, I can’t help you. But with all of that, if Google (or Wikipedia) can’t help you, that seems odd.

          • Casper Chris

            It’s not a very common term (I think it’s 2 or 3 syllables). I’m not even sure it’s a formal term. I’ll try some more searching. Thanks anyway ;)

          • Casper Chris

            Guest111 replied:

            Look book.

            Nope, that’s not it either. I believe look book is just another kind of (static) mood board, arranged in a book format and often used in the fashion industry.

            The type I’m looking for is animated. Which means you can use sound and movement to convey your mood as well, not just static images.

            Google is not yielding any results for me. I guess it’s a pretty obscure term.

          • shewrites

            Story board? Or is that something else yet?

    • Nicholas J

      A storyboard?

    • ElectricDreamer

      Are you talking about PRE-VIZ?

      • Casper Chris

        Nah, but it’s a form of pre-viz, sure. Pre-visualization is sort of an umbrella term…

    • Casper Chris

      After some searching, I’ve come across the term “mood reel”. It wasn’t the term I was looking for, but it seems to denote the same thing.

      Here’s an example of director Rian Johnson using this device for Looper (this one has more of a trailer feel than mine):

      Rian Johnson:
      This is a strange curiosity I thought might be interesting – just after I finished the script for Looper but before we began preproduction I asked Joe to record some voice-over, and with help from my friend Ronen Verbit constructed this “fake trailer” using clips from other movies. This is a fairly common thing to do when you’re trying to get a movie off the ground, but it was the first time I tried it. It was meant to show more some of the film’s tone, and to show how the odd concept could be presented in a clear and compelling way in the marketing. Zach Johnson did the sketches. Note that we hadn’t begun the casting process yet, and the clips were chosen just based on their visuals and not by who is in them.

      • mulesandmud

        Stringing together video from other projects to suggest the mood/plot/premise of your own project is often called a rip-o-matic, or rip for short. It’s in the same general universe as a sizzle or mood reel. Johnson uses the phrase clip-o-matic in his version, which I’ve never heard before, but the two are clearly related.

        A famous rip-o-matic is one that Joe Carnahan put together while pitching to reboot Daredevil as a 70s grindhouse-type flick:

        • Casper Chris

          Sizzle Reel! The answer I’ve been looking for all along is in the title of that video you just posted. Haha, what are the odds.

          But very interesting. Will check it out. Thanks.

  • witwoud

    (Bad version)
    Nice article, Carson

    (Good version)
    He stares at the screen, enraptured, as these latest words of wisdom PLUNGE into his brain like 9mm bullets into jelly.

  • Craig Mack

    OT: Does anyone have the HOSTEL II screenplay? I need it for my collection. It has eluded me. … I have a ton of horror if you are looking for anything. BLESS UP.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I’m sorry, I don’t have it. Eli Roth scripts don’t seem to be floating around the web…
      I only have the first one except the quality isn’t very good.
      I’m stealing your email address, though, I’m always looking for horror scripts to read :)

      • Craig Mack

        Marija —

        I have most of them. Hit me up if you are looking for anything.


        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Will do, then. Thanx :)

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    I was JUST thinking about this. Thanks!

  • Casper Chris


    Unfortunately, I read mules’ post first so you probably didn’t get my full booyah reaction even though you were first with the winning answer.

    Ahhhh, now I can sleep tonight. Thanks!

    • IgorWasTaken

      “animated mood board” is what you started with, and you were looking for “sizzle reel”? That was the best description you had?

      You must be killer at charades.

      • Casper Chris

        Not the most detailed description, but pretty accurate.

        Animate = to give motion to
        Mood board = collage of static images to convey mood/tone/style
        Sizzle reel = moving images to convey mood/tone/style

        I expanded on this when I wrote:

        The type I’m looking for is animated. Which means you can use sound and movement to convey your mood as well, not just static images.


        It’s like a movie trailer you watch. Except it’s not a trailer. It’s a mood board in a trailer-like format.

        I even got the number of syllables right ;)

        I honestly had no idea it was common practice to use clips from other movies (clipomatics). Like I said, I use mostly original artwork in mine.

        • IgorWasTaken

          Sizzle reel = moving images to convey mood/tone/style/story/character(s)

          My impression is that sizzle reel also gives a sense of the STORY. “It’s about a guy who…”

          The first time I heard “sizzle reel” was in reference to pitching a reality show. A “sizzle reel” for pitching “Jersey Shore” would have shown us some short clips of those characters doing crazy shit. IOW, it would include some action.

          So yeh, mood/tone/style may be in there, but it’s also simply to give some video/moving sample of what is this thing, what’s it about, here’s a taste of what happens.

          With you description, I pictured a living room with changing color swatches. And no characters.

          Anyway, you found the answer.

          • Casper Chris

            I looked more into the term and definitions seem to vary, even more so across industries (narrative TV, film, corporate marketing, advertising etc.).

            For example, one description reads:
            A sizzle reel is a fast paced video that is short and incorporates creativity with sounds and engaging sights to advertise a product or any concept on TV. In simple terms, a sizzle reel is something like an advertisement.

            The basic idea is the same though. A motion piece used to present and drum up excitement / interest for a particular product or concept.

            My own sizzle reel does not convey story / characters. At least not at the moment. I do that separately in my pitch (although I could combine the two). It is indeed similar to what a set designer, or perhaps more accurately, an art director would create.

  • K.B. Houston

    It’s amazing to me how many aspiring and solidified screenwriters neglect this aspect of their pursuit. I cannot understate how truly careless even employed screenwriters are when it comes to the craft of writing.

    I think one thing that’s misunderstood about technicalities is that it’s all some sort of boring mathematical equation, that when you’re studying the craft you’re just conforming to long-held beliefs that will make your writing appear more neat and organized. While this is true, what you also obtain is the MENTALITY of a writer. You learn to think like a writer. You learn to brainstorm like a writer. You learn to approach life obstacles — you guessed it — as a writer. Learning the craft is WAY more than accruing a large vocabulary, understanding sentence structure and knowing when to use proper punctuation — it’s about learning to LIVE with a writer, and that writer is you!

  • Midnight Luck

    absolutely. looks and sounds extremely interesting.

  • Midnight Luck

    of course now I have to find a place that is actually playing it.
    and out here, no one is for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

  • cjob3

    Thanks for this article. Writing beautiful prose in the stage descriptions is one of my strongest weaknesses. I envy those who do it.

  • Malaguy

    When you said:
    “Plus, if Joe PLUNGES to the fridge where he SUBMARINES to the bottom shelf and JACKHAMMERS his hand to the back where he KITTYHAWKS an Orange Crush, it starts to sound stupid,”
    I cackled with laughter, drawing the stares of my wife. It was then that I realized, it takes a certain kind of nerd to laugh at a joke about words, while reading a screenwriting blog.
    Wouldn’t change a thing.
    Thanks Carson! Keep it up.