Script Writing – It’s easy to feel intimidated by the idea of writing a screenplay. Rules! Formatting! Mandatory! Don’t let the seemingly endless parade of script elements scare you away from writing your first screenplay. Since familiarizing yourself with the basics of the craft is half the battle, The Writer’s Store offers resources, a sample script, and an overview of how to write a screenplay to help you learn the basics of screenwriting.
Combine that with the right screenwriting software, books, and material, and you’ll be ready to write FADE IN before you know it.
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How To Write A Video Script (a Practical Guide)
In the most basic terms, a screenplay is a 90-120 page document written in 12pt Courier font on 8 1/2″ x 11″ glossy white three-hole punched paper. Want to know why the Courier font is used? It’s a matter of time. One page of script formatted in Courier font equals about one minute of screen time. Therefore, the average number of pages in a screenplay should be between 90 and 120 pages. Comedies are shorter (90 pages or 1.5 hours) while dramas are longer (120 pages or 2 hours).
A screenplay can be an original piece or based on a true story or a previously written piece, such as a novel, a play, or a newspaper article. Basically, a screenplay is the blueprint for a movie that will one day be made. Set professionals, including producers, directors, set designers and actors, use their individual skills to translate the screenwriter’s vision. Since filmmaking is ultimately a collaborative art, the screenwriter must be aware of each person’s role, and as such, the script must reflect the knowledge of the writer.
For example, it is important to remember that film is primarily a visual medium. As a screenwriter, you should show rather than tell what is happening in the story. A two-page interior monologue might be fine for a novel, but it’s the kiss of death in a screenplay. How to write scripts is based on how to convey a story on screen, and moments as important as an actor’s face can be conveyed through something. Let’s see how a script is structured.
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While screenplay formatting programs like Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Outline, and Montage free you from learning the ins and outs of margins and indents, it’s good to have an understanding of general spacing standards.
The top, bottom, and right margins of the script are 1. The left margin is 1.5″. The script allows an additional half-inch of white space on the left side of the page for binding with staples, while giving a sense of vertical balance to page text The entire document should be single-spaced.
The first item on the first page should be the word FADE IN: Note: The first page is never numbered. The following page numbers appear in the upper right corner, 0.5″ from the top of the page, to the right of the margin.
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Below is a list (with definitions) of the elements that make up the screen format, along with indentation information. Again, the scripting software will format all of these elements automatically, but the screenwriter must have a working knowledge of the definitions to know when to use each one.
A scene title is a one-line description of the scene’s location and time of day, also known as a “slugline”. It must always be in uppercase.
Example: EXT. WRITERS STORE – DAY Indicates that the action takes place outside the Writers Store during the day.
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When a new scene title isn’t needed, but something needs to be done to differentiate the action, you can use subtitles. But make sure you use it, because a script full of subtitles is often frowned upon. A good example is when there is a series of quick cuts between two locations, you would use the terms INTERCUT and scene locations.
A narrative description of the events of a scene written in the present tense. Also less commonly known as direction, visual exposition, noir material, narration or visual direction.
When a character is entered, their name must be capitalized in the action. For example: the door opens and in walks LIAM, a thirtysomething hipster with attitude to spare.
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A character’s name is headed and always appears above their lines of dialogue. Secondary characters may appear without names, for example “TAXI DRIVER” or “CUSTOMER”.
Speech lines for each character. Dialogue format is any time a character is heard speaking, even off-screen and for voiceover.
Parentheses refer to character direction, whether attitude or action oriented. Originating in the genre of dramaturgy, today parentheses are rarely used, and only when absolutely necessary. why Two reasons. First, if you need to use parentheses to convey what’s going on in your dialog, it probably just needs a good rewrite. Second, the director’s job is to teach an actor how to do a line, and everyone knows not to encroach on the director’s territory.
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A short technical note placed before a character’s name to indicate how the voice will be heard on screen, for example, if the character is speaking as a voice-over, it will appear as LIAM (V.O.).
As a typical screenwriter, you should avoid using transitions unless there is no other way to convey a story element. For example, you would use DISSOLVE TO: to show that a lot of time has passed.
A shot tells the reader that the focus of a scene has changed. As with transitions, there is rarely a moment when a particular screenwriter has to dictate shot directions. Again, that’s the director’s job.
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A “script spec” literally means you’re writing a script about speculation. That is, no one pays you to write a screenplay. You are writing the screenplay in hopes of selling it to a buyer. Specific scripts must strictly adhere to established script conventions.
Once a script is purchased, it becomes a shooting script, also known as a production script. This is the film version of the script. It will include technical instructions for film editing notes, shots, cuts and the like. All scenes are numbered and replays are marked with a color-coded system. This is done so that production assistants and directors can arrange the order in which scenes are shot to make the most efficient use of set, cast and location resources.
A specific script should never contain elements of a shooting script. One of the biggest mistakes a new screenwriter can make is submitting a script full of production language, including camera angles and editing transitions. It’s very hard to resist putting this kind of language in your script. After all, this is your story and you look a certain way. However, facts are facts. If you want to direct your own screenplay, try going the indie filmmaker route. But if you want to sell your script, please keep the specified script format accepted.
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Screenwriting software makes creating industry standard scripts simple and easy. Programs like Final Draft and MovieMagic Screenwriter put your words into proper script form as you write, allowing you to focus on the story better instead of working on the margins and space.
There is also a wide spectrum of design and development software to help you organize your thoughts before writing. The popular story development program includes Dramatica Pro, a step-by-step guide to the storytelling process, Contour, a character-based composition system, and Save the Cat!, a program focused on the proven methods of successful screenwriter Blake Snyder himself .
What if you want a show that combines story development and format? Check out Movie Outline, an all-in-one development package that uses step outlines to create your story, scene-by-scene and montage, including outline tracking and submission features.
Short Story Script Writing
As with script format, there are very specific rules for stringing together and presenting your script. The first page is the cover page, which should also be written in Courier 12pt font. No graphics, no fancy pictures, just the title of your script, with “written” in the middle of the page, and your name. In the lower left or right corner, enter your contact information. In the lower left or right corner you can place a registered, WGA or copyright notice, although this is usually not required.
Now that you understand the basics of screenwriting, you’re definitely ready to continue your exploration of the craft and go beyond learning how to write a movie script. The books listed below are some of The Writer’s Store’s favorite screenplay guides.
Want to know how to write a screenplay? This top-notch screenwriting manual provides a concise introduction to the basics of screenwriting with query letters, helpful worksheets, checklists, sample scenes, and more to help you get into screenwriting.
Script Writing: Write What You Know
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