Passage of Time in Screenwriting – A Comprehensive Guide

Crafting the Passage of Time in Screenwriting – A Comprehensive Guide

Portraying the passage of time in a screenplay is a crucial aspect of storytelling, offering a dynamic way to progress your narrative and develop characters. Let’s delve into various methods to effectively and creatively indicate time shifts in your script.

Basic Method: Scene Headings

The simplest way to show time progression is through scene headings. Indicate the time passed at the end of the scene heading, such as “ONE YEAR LATER,” “LATER,” “SOMETIME LATER,” or “DAYS LATER.”

Indicating Time Passage in the Same Location

To show time progression in the same setting, use “LATER” as a subheading within the scene.


INT. SCHOOL - ONE YEAR LATER

INT. SCHOOL - DAY
Detention. Roger balances a pencil on his nose.
LATER
Roger, now asleep, head resting on the desk.

Advanced Techniques for Time Skips

Varied Scene Headings: Utilize different time-of-day headings like “EVENING,” “AFTERNOON,” “SUNRISE,” or “SUNSET” to subtly indicate time progression.


INT. DAN'S WORKSHOP - DAY
Dan works on a metal piece.
EXT. DAN'S WORKSHOP - SUNSET
Dan exits the workshop, exhausted.

Superimposed Time Skip (SUPER): Ideal for large time gaps (months or years). Place a SUPER at any point in the scene.


INT. DAN'S WORKSHOP - DAY
SUPER: 2007
Dan works diligently.
SUPER: 2008
Dan adds final touches.

Editorial Cues: Use terms like “CUT TO:,” “CUT BACK TO:,” and “DISSOLVE TO:” for temporal jumps.


The Social Network (2011)

Descriptive Time-Lapse: Describe the time-lapse within the action lines, ensuring to capitalize the word “TIMELAPSE.”


We TIMELAPSE to see the city evolve over decades.

Dialogue Time Skip: Use dialogue to indicate elapsed time. Best used during conflict to seamlessly integrate information.


Alec: “You’ve been gone for weeks, Haira. Where have you been?”

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