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Formatting: Screenplay

I don’t know if you guys are following my Facebook page as well, if you are, then you would have seen my second video on storytelling differences between screenplays and novels. I mentioned in the video that the obvious difference is the formatting, but it wasn’t really a storytelling technique, so I didn’t want to go into it in my video. Luckily, that means you, my readers, get to know about this information here.

Before and during high school, I wrote mainly stories in novel form. Like I had mentioned before, I did a lot of fan fiction and some original pieces. At the same time, I developed my love for filmmaking, playing with my family’s camcorder. My friends and I would make up shorts and skits while I in-camera edited the whole thing. I had fun being behind the camera and fell into screenwriting this way. Sophomore year we had to write a career research essay and that’s how I discovered how to format and write scripts.

It was hard at first because I was trying to get the margins and the rest of the formatting done correctly using Microsoft Word Processor. I expressed my need to have a scriptwriting software to my parents and the next Christmas, Final Draft was my “big gift” from “Santa”. Once I got my hands on this software, I taught myself all the short keys and researched the ins and outs of formatting. By the time I was applying to college, I had already written a few short scripts and the beginnings of a feature.

It was blogs like this one and other informational links that helped me shape my writing path and I hope that others will be able to kickstart theirs from mine.

So, let’s get into the nitty gritty — forgive me, I’ve been playing too much HQ Trivia.

First things first, you do not need to spend big bucks to write on a screenwriting software like Final Draft. Thanks to companies like Celtx, WriterDuet*, and Amazon Storywriter* you can now write your scripts in industry format without breaking the bank.

*Note: I have not used this software personally, but I’ve heard great things about them.

But, if you don’t want to use pre-formatted software and would love to stick with Word Processor, here are the margins you need to set (source):

Page:

  • Font: 12 pt – Courier
  • 1.5 inch left margin
  • 1 inch right margin (between .5 inches and 1.25 inches), ragged
  • 1 inch top and bottom margins
  • Pages should be numbered in the top right corner, flush to the right margin, a half-inch from the top of the page.
    • Numbers should be followed by a period.
    • The first page is not numbered.
    • The title page is neither numbered nor does it count as page one, so the first page to have a number is the second page of the screenplay (third sheet of paper, including the title page), which is numbered 2.

Dialogue:

  • Dialogue speaker names (in all caps) 3.7 inches from left side of page (2.2 from margin)
  • Dialogue 2.5 inches from left side of page (1.5 from margin)
  • Actor parenthetical (aka wrylies) 3.1 inches from left side of page (1.6 from margin)

After you’ve set your margins, you can start writing.

SCENE HEADING:

Every scene has its “scene heading”. Every scene heading is aligned to the left.

The scene heading is a quick description of the location, where, and time of day. First information is whether the scene is inside or outside. Second, is the actual location. Last, is what time of day is this scene taking place.

EXAMPLE: EXT. PLAYGROUND – DAY

That means the scene is taken place outside, or Exterior, at the playground during the day.

Sometimes you can get really detailed in the scene heading.

EXAMPLE: INT. STACEY’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DUSK

The scene is taken place inside, or Interior, of Stacey’s House, specifically the living room, just after the sun set.

This is generally used for a specific plot point or look the writer wants to show for the scene.

ACTION:

Action, aligned left, is the section where you’re writing what’s going on in the scene. In my video I mentioned the film is a visual medium. Everything written in the action section is what you’ll see on screen.

Here you can describe your set, characters, etc. When you first introduce characters, their names should be CAPITALIZED. Only time you don’t capitalized an introduction is if they spoke before they come in on screen.

GENERAL:

This isn’t used very often, but this setting would be for writing notes in the screenplay that wouldn’t be shown on screen. It looks and fits exactly like the Action lines.

CHARACTER:

This setting is for your Character’s names. Character names should be CAPITALIZED. You can also add a parenthetical beside it to show whether the character is speaking Off Screen (O.S.), Off Camera (O.C.), or narrating in voice over (V.O.).

PARENTHETICAL:

Sits directly under the Character’s name or in between dialogue. Parentheses can be used for describing the way the character speaks or indicating movement or pauses in the middle of a dialogue.

EXAMPLE:

JOHN
(raspy)
Tell me where you hid the gold.
(cocks gun)
And I won’t kill you.

Parentheses can be used to show a character’s dialogue is continuing after an action line has been written or if the dialogue is being cut off on the bottom of the page and continuing on the next page.

EXAMPLE: JOHN (CONT’D)

DIALOGUE:

Dialogue is your character’s dialogue. Everything you want said is written on those lines. Rule of thumb while writing dialogue: “short and sweet”.

TRANSITIONS:

In between scenes you might want to write in transitions. Use sparingly. Transitions include: Fade In, Fade to Black, Fade to White, Dissolve, Cut, Cut to, Black, Jump cut, Match cut, Fade Out.

Each transition is CAPITALIZED and ends with a colon “:”.

Transitions aren’t used all the time in between each scene. It takes up too much space on the page. I only use them if I want to emphasize a cut or if I’m fading because time has passed.

You don’t always have to start your script with

FADE IN:

and end with

FADE OUT.

You can also start/end with Black. White. Or nothing. Whatever floats your boat.

In the end this is how you want the script to look like:

Adieu, My Love1Adieu, My Love2

You can end the screenplay with a THE END.

That’s pretty much everything that comes into formatting. The rest is the story which is entirely up to you.

Thanks for reading and I hope you learned something new today.

-Emi

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