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Kill ‘ing’ in Your Screenplay.

August 7th, 2009 · 1 Comment · Screenplay Tips

I’ve always had a problem with present tense and past tense. Even in this article I’m sure I’ll shift back and forth without being aware of it. Screenplays are supposed to be written in present tense. I didn’t know this until someone working in the industry brought it glaringly to my attention.

So if you’re like me and can’t grasp the difference between present and past tense, here’s a trick. Kill the ings. If a word ends with “ing”, it’s probably past tense. This is not always the case, but 90% of the time it is.


Past Tense

“Jack was leaning against a wall. Jill was walking past with a tray of biscuits and Jack stuck out his leg and ended up tripping her, sending her tumbling down a stairwell.”

Present Tense

“Jack leans against a wall. Jill walks past with a tray of biscuits and Jack sticks out a leg and trips her. She tumbles down a stairwell.”

The neat thing about present tense is it gives your story punch and can lead to a more engaging writing style. You can even write short, choppy sentences…

“Jill glares upward. Looks pissed. Grabs the tray and Frisbee’s it at Jack’s head.”

So grab your script and start kill-ing.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Green Miller III

    Mon ami,

    The point you are making is a good one. Screenplays are written in the present tense. This applies to flashbacks and flashforwards just the same.

    However, your “kill the ‘-ing'” point is a specious one (i.e. it has the ring of truth, but is ultimately false). The use of “-ing” in the fashion you describe is not dichotomizing past and present tense, but rather active verses passive verb use.

    Allow me to clarify, for instance, if I am at this very moment leanING against a wall, it is happening presently. If I lean against the wall, it too is happening in the present. One, however, is more active. Another example: He runs. He is runnING. Both are happinging in the present. One is simply a more active verb usage.

    I would submit that you are seeking to delineate the distinction between active vs. passive verb usage. On this point I am in agreement. Active verb tenses give the sense of characters being active as well. So while I would not hold this as a hard and fast rule, I think that when one is unsure, it is a good practice.

    Warm regards,
    Green, future screenwriter/film director

    “Rhetoric is a lost art.”
    -Green Miller

    P.S. Your blog, if I might refer to it as such, is a wonder! Simply sublime!! I am on here AM, Noon, and PM. Your conglomeration of filmic writing, both legendary and less so is awesome. Keep up the good work. I shall eagerly continue to follow your posts.