First out, my question pertains strictly to screenplays. Secondly, it deals with a spec script. Now, there seems to be surprisingly scant information on the internet in regard to how far you should go in describing a locale.

I'll throw you an example. If I intend on describing a building from the 'EXT', should I specify the colour of the walls and the number of storeys? Can I go even further to describe its skeleton and the shape it cuts?

How much is too much? Further, would it be superfluous to mention stuff like the frame of the windows and other things of the like?

Your answer will be all the more appreciated if you could cite examples and/or sources.

4 Answers 4


Short answer: only as much as you need. Which Usually means "not a whole lot."

Screenwriting is a collaborative effort. The author needs to write enough for the locale to be "suggestive," but not so much as to take away freedom from the producer. The more "generic" the place (New York, Chicago, Paris, etc.) the less you need to write. Only if the place is very specific, e.g. a faraway island on earth, or in space, do you need a detailed description.


The Power of Common Knowledge

Simply base the amount of description upon how easily you can apply common knowledge.

If your main setting is:

Downtown Chicago

Then, your script reader will understand when you say the character is standing outside of a building. Your reader will assume it is a skyscraper and not additional info is necessary.

SmallTown USA

However, if your setting is Smalltown USA outside of a building that is necessary and specific to your plot -- old barn or horse stable or something, you can probably just add the bit about the barn or horse stable.

Sci-Fi Setting

If, however, the setting is another planet in the future where the aliens have 16 eyes and 4 arms, then the buildings may look a bit different and need to be described specifically.

Main Reason To Make It Short Directors do not like to be told too many specifics because it :

  1. wastes their time
  2. limits their creative outlet
  3. may offend their intelligence.

All of this is extremely well explained in the very short and fantastically instructive book : How To Write A Movie In 21 Days by Viki King - amazon link


None. Just write the dialogue and setting. If the director cannot figure out what it looks like from the dialogue, then your dialogue is not good.


The Director, Cameraman and Location Manager will all participate in finding what's available and works. Writers should describe in impression, like an Impressionist painter. Overly specific location descriptions are without much meaning and mark you as an amateur. Why tell them about the window frames when you can't know what city the show will shoot in?


Perfect for a Horror Movie, the dark, musty, long-abandoned home was almost as threatening as the WORSENING STORM. Sheila ran to her car when suddenly,...

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