Script Verticality

Script Verticality

A Lesson by Gabriel Strange

More about that pesky rifle method and script vericality.


This is a follow on from my blog post where I mentioned vertical script writing.  The sole aim of the screen writer is to get there scripts made into films/TV or whatever they are writing for. Now to do this a number of hurdles need to be jumped, the first is always the hardest and it’s where the majority of scripts get rejected. I’m not going to give you a magic wand to remove this hurdle I will tell you how to jump it though.

The First Hurdle

The Script Reader, this poor under paid person who is usually manning phone lines, making coffee, eating lunch and looking after the producers baby, whilst reading your script. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way I just mean they will probably have a lot of things to juggle all at the same time. You need to give them a reason to not toss your script in the reject bin.  This is all about removing reasons to give up on your script.

Any script that is badly formatted, hits the bin automatically, if you try to tell the actors what to do will get you a rejection, the same goes if you try to direct from the script. The man issue most scripts have is lack of white space. You need to give the words room to breathe so the reader can easily grasp what is going on.

With a novel you will read from left to right then drop to the next line and go left to right and repeat. With a script your reading from top to bottom, if you have to scan left to right to much your slowing the reading process down and when your juggling the whole office while reading you want the reader to get to the meat of the story fast and keep them hooked.  If the reader can get through a 120 page script in an hour then you have saved them some time and they will appreciate this.

So you need to make your script fast to read as well as gripping.

Vertical Writing

The theory if vertical writing is to keep everything as simple as possible, cut your descriptions down to a few words if possible and keep your actions clear and to the point. Multiple actions on one line should be avoided where possible.

You may have been told not to write prose in your scripts and to keep your descriptions short and simple, but you were probably not told why or given solid examples. I know I was never given the info, so I always did it wrong until I found examples and researched the theory behind verticality.

For example to describe and abandoned house you may not even need a description beyond the scene heading, unless there is something specific about it. Now how does this abandoned house differ from any other abandoned house you may find? Is there something important to the story you need to know if not then don’t describe it, if there is you may use something like this


Home to thousands of bats.

A pair of glowing red eyes, SNORT!

Jack freezes in the doorway.

You don’t need to describe the pealing wallpaper broken stairs and damp walls as that’s a given in most abandoned houses. The Wild Boar is part of the action so you only mention that when you see it on the screen, the bats are mentioned because it adds to the scene as the floor will be covered in faeces and the ceiling with bats, thus adding to the tension of the scene for the viewer. It also reads fast.

As a rule of thumb try to keep descriptions short and don’t go over two lines unless you have to, your aim is for  strong visual images in a few words. Remember if you can scan down a page quickly and get the core of the story you have succeeded. This can take a lot of practice to get right, its all about picking the right words, but not hitting the reader with complex verbs. Simple descriptions using common descriptive words are vital. Remember agents and producers have readers, who have to coral pigs and clean the coffee cups, if you can give them something quick and easy to read from page one they will keep going till the end, by that point if your stories good there is a chance it will get passed up to the next level.

So remember it’s not about clever prose, it’s about creating images with as few words as possible. If you need a lot of description for the scene try to brining it in naturally as you would see in the final film.  Here is an example if a famous film I wrote in vertical format; this is the first 50 seconds after the pre roll text.


Small moon and medium moon dwarfed by the planet.


Cargo ship in a hail of laser blasts, chased by a gigantic Star Destroyer.

The Star Destroyer gains ground, laser fire continues.

The Cargo Ships communications array explodes.


C3-P0 and R2-D2 in a hurry, rocked by the explosion, they continue.

C3-P0 (Droid) Biped, gold coloured, moves in a stilted manner.

R2-D2 (Droid) Squat, cylindrical, moves on three wheeled legs.


A unit of armed resistance troops runs past.

As you can see by the second line action line you’re into the thick of it and wondering what’s going on the first question that hooks the reader.  Each consecutive line adds to the tension, who are these odd droids they must be important? Troops with runs rushing around something big is about to happen?  The character descriptions are simple and all you need, now go watch the first 50 seconds, in fact you can try this with the opening of many movies, to see how little you need to write to get the action and story across.

But what about William Goldman

You may have read screen plays that have reams of description and even prose and look nothing like the vertical examples here, yet they got turned in to multimillion dollar blockbusters. This is a simple concept to get around, when someone if paying $50,000 plus for you to write a script for them they will read anything you put down. You don’t have to worry about the reader or how long it takes to read, they will read it, wouldn’t you. So when someone drops a large non-rubber cheque in your lap feel free to write it how you want.

But most of you will be writing scripts on spec (in the hope of payment one day) sending them to agent, producers and very busy people in the industry, so if you want to stand a chance use the vertical method until someone pays you a lot of money to write.  Do read other scripts see how the weave a story, take pointers but remember they got paid to write.

Using Vertical Writing to tell a Story

You can use vertical writing to give pace to a script, I’d advise against it on the first 10 pages though.  However you could use the vertical method for fast pace action, and quickly building tension and then on the slower more thoughtful moments add longer descriptions to slow the reader down. I’d say doing this is hard as it’s a case of creating the right balance vertical and horizontal.

Vertical writing is a tool it should be easy to use but hard to master; it will take you a while to get into that groove. But you can look at existing films and write a script of a few key scenes making sure you get everything that is important and needed but removing everything else. This can give you an idea of how to right to create a certain pace mood or tone.


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Added on September 1, 2012
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Gabriel Strange
Gabriel Strange

Cardiff, South Glamorgan, United Kingdom

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I found myself huddled up in a Grebo community in the Midlands, here I started working in Publishing, well not really working more running around panicking as ..