Using the active voice isn't just for Action Movies...

I got some feedback recently from a story editor who said my script was great overall but that I needed to use the active voice and present tense throughout.  Explain?

This is a really good question.  One of the things that makes scripts and movies compelling is their directness.  You are IN the action taking place right now, not yesterday or 100 years from now. (excluding flash forwards or back).   In a well told screenplay or script you can’t be anywhere else but in that world and in the moment - and you don’t want to be either!

Part of that compulsion to ‘stay present’ is a mix of interesting characters, interesting dilemmas and YOUR CHOICE OF WORD AND TENSE as you describe it.  Listen to the difference in feeling to the following sentences.

“Jane wrenched the pin off the grenade. She hurled it at the target.”

It’s immediate and riveting.  You’re right there with Jane…. You want to know what happens next. You’re drawn into the next action.  Now in the past tense you add one simple word that makes an incredible difference to TEMPO or pacing.

“Jane HAD wrenched the pin off the grenade. She had hurled it at the target.”

There is nothing wrong with these sentences except the action is not quite so immediate in the second example.  And the use of past tense is like a drop of water - one drop will do very little damage. But a thousand drops can wear away a mountain - or completely stall your screenplay.  That is why FLASHBACKS always feel like you’re walking backwards - the ‘past tense’ action that is sometimes necessary, but always at the risk of slowing the story downTry googling  ‘active voice’ in writing for more information on the subject so that you’re clear about the tenses of the verbs you’re using in your screenplay to keep the action - NOW!

I hope that helps. And I wish you good luck with your screenplay.