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Screenwriting

Screenwriting Basics – How To Write a Screenplay

Screenwriting is an incredibly fun form of writing, but it can also be intimidating. There are strict rules you must follow (specifically with formatting).

I’ll be breaking down each element of writing a screenplay in future posts, but for now, let’s just get the basics out of the way.

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Kinds of Screenplays

As a writer, if you’re trying to sell/propose a screenplay or write one for your portfolio, you’ll want to create what is known as a spec script. While a shooting script or production script includes camera angles and more details surrounding production, a spec script simply revolves around the story.

Spec scripts are written by writers trying to sell their script, enhance their portfolio, or send it to agents.

It’s important to know that when you are writing a spec script, there is no need to include camera directions or anything of the sort. I dive deeper into formatting at the end of the post, so don’t worry if you are confused.

Important Information

Screenplays are quite regulated in that there are certain ways to write them, and straying from the rules will only lead to rejection. There are a few things you must remember when writing a screenplay:

  1. They must be entertaining (it’s a story after all), but must also provide detailed information on location, action, and character. Everything you write must be able to be SHOWN VISUALLY.
  2. Every scene should have a purpose. If your goal is to sell your screenplay, and you want a production team to create your show or movie, you don’t want to include any unnecessary information. Film and television is an expensive industry, and every scene costs money to make.
  3. Your screenplay needs to be a specific length. This applies more to tv scripts than movies, but a good rule of thumb is that one page=one minute.

If you want to write a 30-minute show, then your screenplay should be about 30 pages (30 minutes).

The length of your screenplay should depend on what it is you are writing for. Just remember that each page equals one minute. So, if you are wanting to write a two-hour-long movie, your screenplay should be 120 pages.

How To Write a Screenplay

Using a screenplay writing program will help tremendously and save a ton of time. I use Final Draft. It automatically formats everything for you, is super easy to use, and is one of the industry standards. However, if you don’t want to pay for a program, it is possible to use Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Using a word processor will be a pain, though. You’ll have to remember to enter every tab and shift and it’s not easy. If you are really interested in writing screenplays, I’d recommend investing in a program like Final Draft.

There are a few free screenwriting programs that you can try. These are great to start with if you are unsure about screenwriting. Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter are industry standards, though, and are recommended.

Whichever program you use to write your screenplay, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with proper formatting.

Formatting

Elements of a Screenplay

Page Rules

Page Size: 8.5”x11”

Font: Courier

Font Size: 12pt

Page Margins: Top Margin (1in) / Left Margin (1.5in) / Right and Bottom Margin (1in but can vary slightly)

Page Numbers: Right Upper Heading about 1/2in from top followed by a period.

*No page number on the first page.

Title Page

I could create an entire post about the title page alone (and I probably will), so I’ll simply include the basics now.

The title page should include:

  • Title
  • Written by ________
  • Contact Details

Scene Heading

  • Interior or Exterior (INT. / EXT.)
  • Location
  • Time of Day (usually DAY or NIGHT)
INT. - CAMERON’S CAFE - DAY

Action

This is where everything that isn’t dialogue is written. Each scene should have some action as this is what tells the reader what is happening.

Note: The first time each character is seen, their name should be capitalized.

INT. - CAMERON’S CAFE - DAY
CAMERON (20s) wipes the counter. A CUSTOMER approaches.

Dialogue

The character’s name should appear above the dialogue.

INT. - CAMERON’S CAFE - DAY
CAMERON (20s) wipes the counter. A CUSTOMER approaches.

CAMERON
(exaggerated)
Hello. What can I get for you today?

Note: You can also include certain information in parentheses below the character name. This should not be used too often.

If your character is off-screen (O.S.) or doing a voice-over (V.O.), you should include that next to the name.

CUSTOMER (O.S)
Give me a second.

If the dialogue runs to the next page MORE will be written at the bottom. And, CONT’D will be next to the character name on the next page.

CAMERON
Okay, just let me know when you're ready.
MORE

CAMERON (CONT'D)
Take your time.

Examples and Resources

The best way to understand how to write a screenplay is to look at one yourself. I will leave some links to book recommendations and real tv scripts to view.

Book Recommendations:

Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge (Amazon)

The TV Writer’s Workbook by Ellen Sandler (Amazon)

Scripts:

TV Scripts

Movie Scripts

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