Screenwriting: How To Write Short Lines/Poetry/Lyrics

Screenwriting is one of the most important crafts in movie making because this is the phase when the plan for the movie is created. A lot of people are attracted to screenwriting because all you need in order to pursue it is a great idea, time and a word processor. It is entirely possible for a 30 year old living in his/hers parents' basement to write next year's biggest summer blockbuster. Because of the large amount of aspiring writers there is a screenplay format that is used in Hollywood to help the professionals initially separate the scripts they will read from the ones they will not because if the script is properly formatted then it was written by a writer who is familiar with the craft. You could have the greatest movie ever written but if it's not in the write format then a reader is highly likely to not give it a second look. 

Knowing the Rules

If you follow the general rules then you'll be all right. That means you need to properly use slugs for every scene and you have to follow the rules for description and dialogue. If you do this then your script will look like a script on paper and will be taken seriously. If you want to use short lines, poetry or lyrics then you need to embed them into this format. 

Short Lines

Short lines, whether description or dialogue, follow the same rules for description and dialogue as long lines do. In fact, you want to keep your lines as short as possible to help the story move along at a fast pace. Production companies and agents don't read every script sent to them. Instead, they hire underpaid and overworked readers to help sort through the good and the bad. If you can use shorter lines to help the reading go faster then by all means do so. 

Poetry

There are two ways to incorporate poetry into your script. If the character is just simply reciting poetry then add the poem into their dialogue in the proper stanza so that it will read. For example, this is what William Shakespeare's Sonnet #18 would look like if a character was reciting it out loud.

MARTHA

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate,

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And Summer's lease have too short a date.

But you can also use poetry combined with the action on the screen to turn your film's sequence into it's own poetic work.

 

EXT. STREET- DAY

JOHN and MARTHA walk holding hands.

 

MARTHA (V.O.)

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?

 

They look into each other's eyes and kiss.

 

MARTHA (V.O.)

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

 

Martha's eyes fill with panic. John has been shot by an Assassin. He collapses to the ground and the Assassin runs away.

 

MARTH (V.O.)

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.

 

Martha leans over John crying. 

 

MARTHA (V.O)

And Summer's lease have too short a date.

 

John dies.

 

Lyrics

If your script is going to be a musical then you need to incorporate lyrics into your script. To do this you follow the same technique used for incorporating poetry. The only difference is that you would add (SINGING) next to the character's name when they have dialogue.