Screenwriting: The Importance Of White Space

July 8, 2010 at 10:59 pm

The screenplay format is easy to learn but filled with ways to enhance the reader experience and if you get creative.

At first glance, it appears to be a locked in format with little room for maneuvering.  This is simply not the case.

While basic things like margins and fonts are essentially set in stone, the one thing you can control is White Space.

There are thousands of subtle ways you can use white space to your advantage.  When used correctly you have complete creative control over how fast or slow a reader gets through your script.  When it comes to pacing a screenplay, white space is one of your best allies.

A basic rule is to never let your action paragraphs get too long.  I like to organize mine by shot or idea.

Each new piece of the scene deserves a new paragraph with each playing off the one before it.

In contrast, I can create slightly larger (not too large) paragraphs to add emphasis to a particular shot.  Make it stand out.

One of my favorite ways to utilize white space is to increase suspense in a given scene.  Extremely short paragraphs as small as one word in succession can greatly affect the overall mood of a scene.

For example:

INT. ERIN’S ROOM – NIGHT

Erin walks into the room and flips the light switch.

A loud POP accompanies a subtle flash as the light above burns out.

She wanders further into the room but suddenly, she stops dead.  Something isn’t right.

There is a dark shadow beside the bed.

She stares at it while her eyes slowly adjust to the room.  Slowly, she begins to see the shadow is actually a figure lying motionless on the floor.  It appears to be lifeless yet she can hear it breathing.

Deep breaths.  Slow breaths.

She steps closer…

The breathing stops.

She stops a foot away from the body.  It’s a MAN.

She crouches down and tilts her head sideways.  The room is silent now.  The figure is dead.  A pool of blood has collected beside him.

ERIN
Serves you right.

To me that reads a lot better than:

INT. ERIN’S ROOM – NIGHT

Erin walks into the room and flips the light switch.  A loud POP accompanies a subtle flash as the light above burns out.  She wanders further into the room but suddenly, she stops dead.  Something isn’t right.  There is a dark shadow beside the bed.

She stares at it while her eyes slowly adjust to the room.  Slowly, she begins to see the shadow is actually a figure lying motionless on the floor.  It appears to be lifeless yet she can hear SOMETHING breathing.

Deep breaths.  Slow breaths.  She steps closer…  The breathing stops.  She stops a foot away from the body.  It’s a MAN.

She crouches down and tilts her head sideways.  The room is silent now.  The figure is dead.  A pool of blood has collected beside him.

ERIN
Serves you right.

Careful use of white space has become a mission of mine over the last few years.

I try to be mindful of how much or how little I leave in my screenplays.  Hopefully it’s paying off.

In the end, there isn’t a lot of space on a page and every single detail needs to be considered.

The Athletic Nerd Screenwriting