How to Write a Script (Step-by-Step Guide)
So you want to write a film script (or, as some people call it, a screenplay – they’re two words that mean basically the same thing). We’re here to help with this simple step-by-step screenwriting guide.
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Lay the groundwork, 1. know what a script is.
If this is your first time creating movie magic, you might be wondering what a script actually is . Well, it can be an original story, straight from your brain. Or it can be based on a true story, or something that someone else wrote – like a novel, theatre production, or newspaper article.
A movie script details all the parts – audio, visual, behaviour, dialogue – that you need to tell a visual story, in a movie or on TV. It’s usually a team effort, going through oodles of revisions and rewrites, not to mention being nipped ‘n’ tucked by directors, actors , and those in production jobs. But it’ll generally start with the hard work and brainpower of one person – in this case, you.
Because films and TV shows are audiovisual mediums, budding scriptwriters need to include all the audio (heard) and visual (seen) parts of a story. Your job is to translate pictures and sounds into words. Importantly, you need to show the audience what’s happening, not tell them. If you nail that, you'll be well on your way to taking your feature film to Hollywood.
2. Read some scripts
The first step to stellar screenwriting is to read some great scripts – as many as you can stomach. It’s an especially good idea to read some in the genre that your script is going to be in, so you can get the lay of the land. If you’re writing a comedy, try searching for ‘50 best comedy scripts’ and starting from there. Lots of scripts are available for free online.
3. Read some scriptwriting books
It’s also helpful to read books that go into the craft of writing a script. There are tonnes out there, but we’ve listed a few corkers below to get you started.
4. Watch some great films
A quick way to get in the scriptwriting zone is to rewatch your favourite films and figure out why you like them so much. Make notes about why you love certain scenes and bits of dialogue. Examine why you’re drawn to certain characters. If you’re stuck for ideas of films to watch, check out some ‘best movies of all time’ lists and work through those instead.
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Flesh out the story
5. write a logline (a.k.a. brief summary).
You’re likely to be pretty jazzed about writing your script after watching all those cinematic classics. But before you dive into writing the script, we’ve got a little more work to do.
First up, you need to write a ‘logline’ . It’s got nothing to do with trees. Instead, it’s a tiny summary of your story – usually one sentence – that describes your protagonist (hero) and their goal, as well as your antagonist (villain) and their conflict. Your logline should set out the basic idea of your story and its general theme. It’s a chance to tell people what the story’s about, what style it’s in, and the feeling it creates for the viewer.
In the olden days, you would print your logline on the spine of your script. This was so producers could quickly glance at it and decide whether they wanted to read the whole script. A logline does the same thing, but you usually tell people in person or include it when you give them the treatment.
6. Write a treatment (a.k.a. longer summary)
Once your logline’s in the bag, it’s time to write your treatment . It’s a slightly beefier summary that includes your script’s title, the logline, a list of your main characters, and a mini synopsis. A treatment is a useful thing to show to producers – they might read it to decide whether they want to invest time in reading your entire script. Most importantly, your treatment needs to include your name and contact details.
Your synopsis should give a good picture of your story, including the important ‘beats’ (events) and plot twists. It should also introduce your characters and the general vibe of the story. Anyone who reads it (hopefully a hotshot producer ) should learn enough that they start to feel a connection with your characters, and want to see what happens to them.
This stage of the writing process is a chance to look at your entire story and get a feel for how it reads when it’s written down. You’ll probably see some parts that work, and some parts that need a little tweaking before you start writing the finer details of each scene.
7. Develop your characters
What’s the central question of your story? What’s it all about? Character development means taking your characters on a transformational journey so that they can answer this question. You might find it helpful to complete a character profile worksheet when you’re starting to flesh out your characters (you can find these for free online). Whoever your characters are, the most important thing is that your audience wants to get to know them, and can empathise with them. Even the villain!
8. Write your plot
By this point, you should have a pretty clear idea of what your story’s about. The next step is breaking the story down into all the small pieces and inciting incidents that make up the plot – which some people call a 'beat sheet'. There are lots of different ways to do this. Some people use flashcards. Some use a notebook. Others might use a digital tool, like Trello , Google Docs , Notion , etc.
It doesn’t really matter which tool you use. The most important thing is to divide the plot into scenes, then bulk out each scene with extra details – things like story beats (events that happen) and information about specific characters or plot points.
While it’s tempting to dive right into writing the script, it’s a good idea to spend a good portion of time sketching out the plot first. The more detail you can add here, the less time you’ll waste later. While you’re writing, remember that story is driven by tension – building it, then releasing it. This tension means your hero has to change in order to triumph against conflict.
Write the Script
9. know the basics.
Before you start cooking up the first draft of your script, it's good to know how to do the basics. Put simply, your script should be a printed document that's:
Font fans might balk at using Courier over their beloved Futura or Comic Sans. However, it’s a non-negotiable. The film industry’s love of Courier isn’t purely stylistic – it’s functional, too. One script page in 12-point Courier is roughly one minute of screen time.
That’s why the page count for an average screenplay should be between 90 and 120 pages, although it’s worth noting that this differs a bit by genre. Comedies are usually shorter (90 pages / 1.5 hours), while dramas can be a little longer (120 pages / 2 hours). A short film will be shorter still. Obviously.
10. Write the first page
Using script formatting programmes means you no longer need to know the industry standard when it comes to margins and indents. That said, it’s good to know how to set up your script in the right way.
11. Format your script
Here’s a big ol’ list of items that you’ll need in your script, and how to indent them properly. Your script-writing software will handle this for you, but learning’s fun, right?
The scene heading is where you include a one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene. This is also called a ‘slugline’. It should always be in caps.
Example: ‘EXT. BAKERY - NIGHT’ tells you that the action happens outside the bakery during the nighttime.
When you don’t need a new scene heading, but you need to make a distinction in the action, you can throw in a subheader. Go easy on them, though – Hollywood buffs frown on a script that’s packed with subheaders. One reason you might use them is to make a number of quick cuts between two locations. Here, you would write ‘INTERCUT’ and the scene locations.
This is the narrative description of what’s happening in the scene, and it’s always written in the present tense. You can also call this direction, visual exposition, blackstuff, description, or scene direction. Remember to only include things that your audience can see or hear.
When you introduce a character, you should capitalise their name in the action. For example: ‘The car speeds up and out steps GEORGIA, a muscular woman in her mid-fifties with nerves of steel.’
You should always write each character’s name in caps, and put it about their dialogue. You can include minor characters without names, like ‘BUTCHER’ or ‘LAWYER.’
Your dialogue is the lines that each character speaks. Use dialogue formatting whenever your audience can hear a character speaking, including off-screen speech or voiceovers.
A long word with a simple meaning, a parenthetical is where you give a character direction that relates to their attitude or action – how they do something, or what they do. However, parentheticals have their roots in old school playwriting, and you should only use them when you absolutely need to.
Why? Because if you need a parenthetical to explain what’s going on, your script might just need a rewrite. Also, it’s the director’s job to tell an actor how to give a line – and they might not appreciate your abundance of parentheticals.
This is a shortened technical note that you put after a character’s name to show how their voice will be heard onscreen. For example: if your character is speaking as a voiceover, it would appear as ‘DAVID (V.O.)’.
Transitions are film editing instructions that usually only appear in a shooting script. Things like:
If you’re writing a spec script, you should steer clear of using a transition unless there’s no other way to describe what’s happening in the story. For example, you might use ‘DISSOLVE TO:’ to show that a large portion of time has passed.
A shot tells the reader that the focal point in a scene has changed. Again, it’s not something you should use very often as a spec screenwriter. It’s the director’s job! Some examples:
12. Spec script vs. shooting script
A ‘spec script’ is another way of saying ‘speculative screenplay.’ It’s a script that you’re writing in hopes of selling it to someone. The film world is a wildly competitive marketplace, which is why you need to stick to the scriptwriting rules that we talk about in this post. You don’t want to annoy Spielberg and co.
Once someone buys your script, it’s now a ‘shooting script’ or a ‘production script.’ This version of your script is written specifically to produce a film. Because of that, it’ll include lots more technical instructions: editing notes, shots, cuts, and more. These instructions help the production assistants and director to work out which scenes to shoot in which order, making the best use of resources like the stage, cast, and location.
Don’t include any elements from a shooting script in your spec script, like camera angles or editing transitions . It’s tempting to do this – naturally, you have opinions about how the story should look – but it’s a strict no-no. If you want to have your way with that stuff, then try the independent filmmaker route. If you want to sell your script, stick to the rules.
13. Choose your weapon
While writing a big-screen smash is hard work, it’s a heck of a lot easier nowadays thanks to a smorgasbord of affordable screenwriting software . These programmes handle the script format (margins, spacing, etc.) so that you can get down to telling a great story. Here are a few programmes to check out:
There are also a tonne of outlining and development programmes. These make it easier to collect your thoughts and storytelling ideas together before you put pen to paper. Take a peek at these:
14. Make a plan
When you’re approaching a chunky project, it’s always good to set a deadline so you’ve got a clear goal to reach. You probably want to allow 8-12 weeks for writing a film script – this is the amount of time that the industry would usually give a writer to work on a script. Be sure to put the deadline somewhere you’ll see it: on your calendar, or your phone, or tattooed on your hand. You should also tell a few friends about your goal so that they pester you and hold you accountable.
For your first draft, concentrate on getting words on the page. Don’t be too critical – just write whatever comes into your head, and follow your outline. If you can crank out 1-2 pages per day, you’ll have your first draft within two or three months. Easy!
Some people find it helpful to write at the same time each day. Some people write first thing. Some people write late at night. Some people have no routine whatsoever. Some people need to turn off their phone and internet to be able to concentrate. Find a routine (or lack thereof) that works for you, and stick to it. You got this.
15. Read it out loud
One surefire way to see if your dialogue sounds natural is to read it out loud. While you’re writing dialogue, speak it through at the same time. If it doesn’t flow, or it feels a little stilted, you’ll need to make some tweaks. Highlight the phrases that need work then come back to them later when you’re editing.
16. Take a break
When your draft’s finished, you might think it’s the greatest thing ever written – or you might think it’s pure dross. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. When you’re deep inside a creative project, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
That’s why it’s important to take a decent break between writing and editing. Look at something else for a few weeks. Read a book. Watch TV. Then, when you come back to edit your script, you’ll be able to see it with fresh eyes.
17. Make notes
After you’ve taken a good break, read your whole script and take notes on the bits that don’t make sense or sound a little weird. Are there sections where the story’s confusing? Are the characters doing things that don’t push the story along? Find those bits and make liberal use of a red pen. Like we mentioned before, this is a good time to read the script out loud – adding accents and performing lines in a way that’s true to your vision for the story.
18. Share with a friend
As you work towards a final version of your script, you might want to share it with some people to get their feedback. Friends and family members are a good first port of call, or other writers if you know any. Ask them to give feedback on any parts you’re concerned about, and see if there’s anything that didn’t make sense to them.
Wrap things up
19. write final draft.
After you’ve made notes and gathered feedback, it’s time to climb back into the weeds and work towards your final draft. Keep making edits until you’re happy. If you need to make changes to the story or characters, do those first as they might help fix larger problems in the script.
Create each new draft in a new document so you can transfer parts you like from old scripts into the new one. Drill into the details, but don’t get so bogged down in small things that you can’t finish a draft. And, before you start sharing it with the world, be sure to do a serious spelling and grammar check using a tool like Grammarly .
20. Presentation and binding
There are rules for everything when writing a script. Even how you bind the thing. Buckle up!
This is a list of stuff you’ll need to prepare your script before sending it out and taking over the world:
And this is how to bind your script:
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Related links, more from the blog..., how to write a logline.
Before you start work on your Hollywood-busting screenplay, you'll need a logline. It's a one-sentence summary of your movie that entices someone to read the entire script.
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How to Write a Script [A Complete Guide with 7 Tips]
What is a script? How long does it need to be, and most importantly, how to write a basic script are some commonly asked questions amongst new, up and coming scriptwriters.
Well, when we really break it down, a script is simply written work (all in size-12 courier font) of roughly 90 -120 pages which translates your creative word smithing into how the visuals and audio on screen will unfold.
On the surface, trying to write a script or screenplay is deceptively simple, partially because everybody intrinsically understands the language of cinematic storytelling.
It is an inevitable (and crucial) byproduct of growing up watching movies – everybody knows the feeling of being able to anticipate a character’s next move, or when the plot will shift directions, or when the monster is about to crash through the window. If you know movies, you know enough to write the script, right?
Another part of the deception is the textual nature of screenplays themselves: the formatting on the page creates a lot of empty space. Anyone who’s spent time in a script editor knows the giddy sensation of typing along and finding themselves suddenly ten, or twenty, or even thirty pages into a script.
Wow, that was quick, right?
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The problem is that scripts are as much technical documents as they are works of art. You could craft a beautifully heartfelt and original script that will be rendered completely unfilmable by virtue of the way that you wrote it.
You could have a one hundred and fifty page script that would only justify forty minutes of screen time. The margin for error in writing a script is enormous, because a screenplay isn’t a story to be read on its own: rather, it is a blueprint for creating something larger and much more complex.
Consider the Frankenstein metaphor: stitching the creature together is one thing, bringing it to life is something else entirely.
So how do you stitch together a good creature? Wait, I mean, so how does one write a good script? For those new to the craft, here are some simple, helpful directives to get you on the right track
How to Write a Script – A Basic 5-Step Guide
Step 1 – Create a Logline & Develop Your Characters
A great way to start the process of writing a script is by coming up with a logline: one or two sentences that will encapsulate your story in an intriguing manner. Once you’re done with that, develop your characters. Write their backstories. Refine their personalities.
Think about what makes them tick. Always make sure that your characters have goals that they need to achieve, and ensure that those goals carry high stakes should your characters fail to meet them. This does not mean that their goals need to be lofty, they just need to be authentic. The stakes can be as high as the end of the world or as personal as the end of a friendship.
The point is that characters having purpose is what makes them interesting. Flat characters destroy scripts. No matter how great your action sequences are or how original your concept is, one dimensional and uninteresting characters will drag your story to a halt.
You’ll find that writing with your characters’ personalities and goals in mind will take your story in unexpected places, and usually for the better.
Step 2 – Write an Outline
An outline (sometimes called a ‘beat sheet’) is a brief synopsis of your entire story. Try to fit it on one to two pages, and be concise. Broad strokes are key here. Think of the outline as the ‘definition’ of your script that breaks down the movement of the story, plot point by plot point. This is where you should begin to think about structure.
Essentially, conventional cinematic storytelling is bound to a classical format of three acts: It’s just how people expect stories to be told. There are many books written on the subject of screenplay structure, but the fundamentals are pretty simple. An average screenplay will be about ninety to one hundred pages.
Divide those pages by three. There’s your acts:
- The 1st one should introduce your characters and setting and feature an inciting incident that gets the story underway.
- The 2nd act is where your characters encounter obstacles as the story escalates into a crisis.
- The 3rd act is where the crisis becomes climax (think victory or defeat), after which the story slows down and resolves itself. Don’t think of it as a paint by numbers approach – there’s plenty of room for experimentation and subversion.
Step 3 – Write a Treatment
Now you get to start flexing your prose muscles and develop your style.
Treatments are effectively a more in-depth version of your outline. Expound upon it and write your whole story scene by scene in a conventional manuscript style. Experiment with dialog, or at least make note of what you want your characters to say. Develop your settings and have fun with descriptions.
The treatment is where you really start building the world that your story takes place in. The length of a treatment is dependant on both the kind of story you’re telling and the length of the intended finished product.
For reference, a typical feature treatment will clock in at around thirty pages.
Step 4 – Write Your Script
Time to get to work.
Go to it, and godspeed. It’s always a good idea to write in a script editor like Celtx to help streamline the process . Celtx Studio features one that is tried, true, and hugely popular – and it’s free.
You’ve developed your characters, structured your plot, and have an inspired treatment. Understand the formatting. Write in the present tense. Brevity is your friend. Remember to show, not tell: you’re writing for the eyes and the ears.
Bonus Script Writing Tip #1: If you’re feeling a little uninspired on the creative direction of your script, then a great trick is to take notes on the go of the interesting conversations, news articles, and people you encounter. This can be as simple as taking notes on your phone or a notepad.
Step 5 – Write Your Script Again (and again, and again)
Completing the first draft is an accomplishment to be celebrated, but it’s just the beginning. If you think your first draft is perfect, it’s not (sorry).
Go back, read it through, take stuff out, and add stuff in.
Get other people to read it and commit yourself to being open to constructive criticism. Don’t just look for feedback from professionals and editors – lovers of fiction or plain old movie fans can offer advice just as sound as any seasoned screenwriter.
Throw your script out there and surround yourself with the ideas that come back. Always be refining and revising, and just when you think you can’t possibly revise any further, do it again.
It all comes down to practice. Most professional screenwriters complete multiple features before they write a script that sells. A select few hit it out of the park on the first try. All will agree that you need to be dedicated, and that most of all, you need to love your story. If you don’t, it’ll never be complete.
7 Script Writing Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Now that you have your framework lined up, it’s time to dive deeper into what it takes to write a script. Below are 7 script writing tips that will help you when writing your first script.
1. Do Some Homework and Play to Your Strengths
Write to your strengths. Like any new craft, scriptwriting will come with some fresh creative lessons.
Through the process of your first script, you will learn how to build a script from an infant idea to a finished product, all while becoming familiar with the formatting and terminology along the way. Therefore, for your first script, writing to your strengths is a great place to start.
What are you already good at? What do you already have a natural strength or interest in? Is there an area of work or the world that you know well? These questions are not designed to find any expert-level knowledge, they’re designed to probe what your strengths are .
You may be the comic of your group of friends, so try starting with a comedy. Perhaps you are the family historian, so a historic film or one with investigative themes may come more easily to your skillset.
Another way to approach writing to your strengths is to set the film in a place you are very familiar with, such as your hometown or country. Also, if you are not sure of your strengths, why not ask the people around you for some help?
Through conversations with others, you may realize areas of your life that you are passionate to discuss, whether it’s about your childhood, sport, social injustices, work, or family life.
2. Try to Read Some Scripts
Many of our most beloved films have their original scripts available online and are easily accessible for us to read and analyze. Try to find even two or three film scripts online for stories you are already familiar with and give them a read.
This is an enjoyable exercise, and chances are you will be amazed to read how such memorable scenes and movies were once first sketched out in words. You may even be surprised to see how stripped back the visual notes and script cues are that created these entire visual worlds on screen.
Your script should emulate this neat, efficient writing style when you are translating ideas for visuals into words.
Bonus Script Writing Tip #2: Writing a script can take as long as you want it to but, assuming this is a part-time project to be done while balancing other commitments, allocating 12 weeks of work should be enough time to complete a solid first draft.
3. Watch Your Favorite Films
Okay, so let’s say you want to write a movie script , then start by reflecting on why you love some movies and why you hate others. This is one of the best (and most fun) ways to learn how to write a script.
Take note of details you appreciated and try injecting similar elements into your own work. We can all easily sit back and enjoy our favorite films, but consciously analyzing the films we enjoy and taking notes of what elements work is helpful for getting our own scriptwriting and creative hats on.
If you’re not sure how to start picking apart your favorite films, take down notes for each of these categories: sound, dialogue, setting, character, editing, and lighting. These are some of the key script elements which create the mood and atmosphere on screen, so picking apart what you found effective will certainly inform your own script.
Also, while it is helpful to watch your favorite film (Happy Gilmore for me) to see how well all these things are executed, it can be just as helpful to watch, well . . . bad films too. Seriously! This may sound like an unusual piece of advice, but when you watch a bad movie, it can also quickly show you what elements are not working well.
Unlike great movies where all the elements flow and work together seamlessly, bad movies make their separate elements easy to spot and analyze. For example , The Room (2003) is a cult-hit “ bad movie” which will help you see how key film elements, such as editing and dialogue, are disjointed.
If watching a great movie is eating an amazing meal at a restaurant, then watching a bad movie is more like stepping behind the scenes and into the chaotic kitchen.
Also, if you already have an idea for a film, do a little research into this genre. You may find more creative inspiration and wisdom in what the existing genre is doing and, perhaps, how your film could be a fresh take on an angle currently missing in the genre.
For example, if you want to write a horror film set inside a farmhouse, try watching some horror films and keep an extra eye out for horror films which are set predominantly inside.
While doing some research into films which thematically are similar to what you want to achieve will help you come away with a list of things you were inspired to do (and what not to do!), the possible sources of inspiration for your script are really endless. For another example, you could base your story from your own life, a book you read, a play you saw or a wild dream you just had.
Remember folks, at this stage, before getting into writing your script, you have complete creative license and agency, the creative origin point of this entire project. Of course, later down the line, scripts will be revised, partly rewritten, and tweaked to accommodate the needs of directors, producers, and the studio’s needs. But, right now, you’re in the creative driver’s seat!
4. Learn How to Write a Script From a Single Sentence
You have an awesome idea, and you know what you want to do with your characters, but are you still wondering how your script will actually get written? This is a great place to be. Before cannonballing into the deep end, take these steps to thoughtfully build up your script like a screenwriting pro.
The first essential step is to write your script’s logline , al so sometimes known as a “slugline.” This logline should be no longer than two sentences or about 50 words in length. Your logline should capture your script’s main obstacles or action into a single-sentence nutshell.
Of course your entire script cannot be boiled down into one line, but loglines are not designed to be comprehensive and fit your entire story in; they should describe the thrust of action facing your characters and hook the reader’s attention into reading the rest of your script.
The logline tends to focus on the central character’s mission and contextualizes them in the place they are starting. The logline for documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2019) , about t he life of TV personality Mister Fred Rodgers reads, “A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.”
You will notice an effective logline gives us a flavor of the story, a hint at the narrative but continues to leave readers seeking more information and depth. Your logline will be an excellent summary to keep on hand while writing your final script because it anchors your narrative and reminds you of your initial storytelling goals. Think of it as your storytelling mission statement.
5. Learn How To Develop a Beat Sheet and Treatment
The next key step in learning how to write a script is to make a beat sheet and treatment for your script. You can make your beat sheet and treatment documents in either order, depending on your own preference.
Your beat sheet is essentially a bullet-pointed skeletal version of your script. From beginning, middle to end, all the key moments are jotted down in chronological order. Each “beat” is a sentence or two long and simply states the action taking place.
Related Article by Celtx: How to End a Screenplay [3 Effective Script Endings]
For example, “Hannah arrives at work and realizes her car is missing”. Again, it is useful in this stage to avoid overly floral and descriptive language so that the action is really laid bare. It’s very common during this stage to identify gaps in your narrative, which is exactly why this exercise is so important.
Suddenly you may find yourself with some creative gap-filling and work to do, and that’s great. This is the ideal time for you to spot untethered parts of your story and fix them into place. There are two common and constructive methods for crafting a beat sheet: using a Word document to bullet point these action beats or using index cards with a sentence on each and ordering and reordering them as needed.
If running through your script in chronological order is proving too difficult for now, try starting at the end or the middle and working backwards. Most scripts are structured in a tripartite way, meaning you will have one third dedicated to the beginning, a middle third with a focus on the action, and the last third for the dramatic final act.
This storytelling structure follows a “set-up, confrontation, and resolution” approach. Splitting-up your bullet points over three pages, with approximately 30 points on each, will be roughly enough beats for a 90-minute movie. Whether you have a bullet pointed list or ordered index cards on a board, your finalized beat sheet should make it clear how your script’s action unfolds from beginning to end.
Bonus Script Writing Tip #3: A useful measure of your script’s length is the same way most writers and producers calculate your script length – one page of your screenplay equating to one minute of the film on screen. Simple, right?
Next, with your logline and beat sheet completed, it is time to write your script’s treatment. This is a 3 to 5 page document which uses descriptive language and brings your lean beat sheet into a short story format which more vividly brings your story and characters to life.
This is the perfect opportunity to highlight your character profiles in detail by describing their characteristics and motivations. A script treatment is often used as a kind of marketing tool which would accompany your script when being sent to potential buyers or producers, therefore it is important to have a strong treatment which actively portrays the themes, visuals, and overall tone of your script.
Writing your treatment is like writing a descriptive and polished blurb for your film.
Now, it is time to open your scriptwriting software , jump to the first page, set yourself a realistic deadline for completing this script and get writing. Start by writing your script’s title page – this includes the film’s title, your name and contact email on the title page, and then get into the script!
6. Familiarize Yourself With Scriptwriting Language
It’s essential to familiarize yourself with scriptwriting language before writing your script.
Most screenplays are considered to be a “spec script”, as a short way of saying “speculative script.” Later in the creative process your script would need to be iterated by directors and producers into a “shooting script” to get the script camera ready.
A shooting script contains more detail for editing purposes and camera angles for the purposes of filming, which directors will infuse based on their own visions. Remember, while you are writing your ‘spec script’, you do not need to include details on camera angles or how scenes will transition at this stage. Stick to the story.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to learn a whole new scriptwriting language to write. However, there are a handful of terms which you should learn because you’ll employ them constantly while writing. By writing your screenplay with a baseline familiarity or, better yet, a firm grasp of these terms, then your work will just continue to flow more easily.
These terms are the fundamental building blocks of scriptwriting language and will come up in every script you read or write!
- Scene heading : This heading signifies the beginning of every scene and is placed at the very top of each in ALL CAPS. It will either say: “EXT.” or “INT.” These abbreviations are simply short for “exterior” and “interior” to describe the location of the action in your scene. This is followed by the name of the location itself, as well as the approximate time of day in which the scene takes place. For example, “INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT” or “EXT. GARDEN – DAY”
- Action Descriptions : This is one of the easiest terms to pick up and start using. Action lines are describing the action of your characters in any scene. It may be tempting to write long descriptions, but keep these sentences as neat as you can. Remember: you’re not writing a novel or poetry; you’re describing the literal action as it appears on-screen.
- Characters . When introducing characters for the first time within an action description, capitalize their name and include 10 or so words that describe their main attributes. When they speak, their character name is centered on the page with their dialogue immediately following.
- Dialogue . This goes in the center of the page beneath the name of the character speaking. To make your dialogue as authentic as possible, focus on understanding your characters as if they were real people. Subconsciously writers often project their own voices or world view; make sure to avoid this common trap!
- Parenthetical : A parenthetical is one of the ways scriptwriters can add performance or action details related to lines of dialogue. These provide helpful texture but make sure to use these sparingly. For example, (begrudgingly), (emphatically), or (excitedly) would go before a character’s line of dialogue, as could (scrunches nose), (scoffs), or (points)
With all these scriptwriting phrases and abbreviations under your belt, you’ll find it easier to write and make sense of the scriptwriting software you decide to use. Almost all scriptwriting software today intuitively formats your script out for you – meaning it will add details like parentheticals and formatting conventions like capitalized scene headings wherever appropriate, which makes your life easier and script better.
7. Consider Using a Quality Scriptwriting Software
There are a bevy of professional, quality, and affordable scriptwriting softwares available online. Not only will investing in scriptwriting software make it easier to format your work, but it will also teach you a great deal about the correct, standardized script format used throughout the entire entertainment industry.
Screenplays have a rigid and strictly adhered-to format, and the sooner you become fluent in this scriptwriting language, the better.
Having a reliable and intuitive software to assist you through the screenwriting process will make your life much easier, and instead of being bogged down with formatting, you can focus your energy and attention into the storytelling.
If you haven’t yet, you should try using a script writing software like Celtx. This will automatically format your script in Hollywood style format, which is often considered as “industry standard“.
Like any new challenge or project, there will be ebbs and flows of inspiration and willingness to see your screenplay through to the end.
It’s useful to anticipate difficult moments where you feel at a loss as to how to continue and finish this massive endeavor. That’s ok! And what every writer on the planet experiences regularly.
Don’t worry about finding a blockbuster-worthy moment straight away; often the best insights and creativity are found in day-to-day encounters. Keep an eye out, take note, and switch on your creative antenna in the process.
If you prepare for moments of “ writers’ block ,” then you’re better preparing yourself for successfully overcoming that hurdle.
Also, if you hit a writers’ block then you’re in good company as countless notable scriptwriters experience this too. Recently Taika Waititi reassured an audience that opening your laptop, staring at a blank document, feeling sad, and then closing your laptop is “still classified as writing”.
Writing an amazing script will require constant dedication – be patient with yourself and stick at it!
Andrew Stamm is based in London with his wife and dog. He spends his working time as Partner and Creative Director at Estes Media, a budding digital marketing agency, and performs freelance scriptwriting services on the side. Off the clock he loves to bake, hike, and watch as many niche films as possible.
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How to Write a Script – Top 10 Tips
Be it a blockbuster movie, an indie gem, a play on The Fringe or the West End - scripts are where it (usually) begins. Scriptwriters not only get to watch loads of TV and call it ‘work’ – they get to create new worlds, re-invent old ones and give life to new voices.
Playwright and Scriptwriting Tutor, Frazer Flintham , gives us his top ten tips to get you on your way, showing us that you don't necessarily need to spend ten years in the British Library - you can sometimes just grab a script and a bag of crisps and start munching...
1. Finish your script.
This is so important. So many people spend years tinkering over one idea and never move on. The more work you complete, (no matter how toe-curlingly bad) and move on, the better you’ll be.
2. Read along as you watch.
Choose your favourite TV show or film. Get a copy of the script and a grab-bag size of your favourite crisps, and read the script as you watch. It’s a great way to decipher what the writer intended and what the director bought to the piece.
3. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
Run out of ideas? Listen to a piece of music, put a random name into a search engine and see what images come up. Pick a story from The Metro, and use these as starting points for a character, a scene, a story. And let your imagination go.
4. Make sure your characters want something.
From your protagonist, to the waitress in the café serving tea. When you know what your characters want, your next job is to make it hard for them to get it.
5. Show. Don’t tell.
Whatever a character wants or feels, it’s always more interesting to learn this through their actions, as opposed to dialogue.
6. Write to your strengths.
If you’re naturally funny – then bring that into your work. If you’re not a fan of research then don’t start with something that requires 10 years in the British Library.
7. Starting out - write about what you know
Work. Family. Childhood. Or things that get you excited. Things that make you so mad you want to throw bricks. Write the script instead.
8. Free your characters from cliché
Worried you’re writing a clichéd character? Characters we may have seen before? Then switch an element of that character around. Change their sex, age, class, occupation. This can often turn a cliché on its head and lead us to something interesting.
9. Make mistakes, and learn from them.
‘Writer’s block’ is mostly ‘writer's fear’. The fear of getting it wrong. That nobody will like it. The idea that any writer sits down at their laptop one morning, and by 5pm they have a hit on their hands is nonsense (or luck).
10. Less is more.
My top tip for scenes… ‘start late, and get out early’. Scenes don't need to be fully-realised stories - don't worry about describing how we got here, just get on with it!
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How to Write a Script
Last Updated: December 20, 2022 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Melessa Sargent and by wikiHow staff writer, Hunter Rising . Melessa Sargent is the President of Scriptwriters Network, a non-profit organization that brings in entertainment professionals to teach the art and business of script writing for TV, features and new media. The Network serves its members by providing educational programming, developing access and opportunity through alliances with industry professionals, and furthering the cause and quality of writing in the entertainment industry. Under Melessa's leadership, SWN has won numbers awards including the Los Angeles Award from 2014 through 2021, and the Innovation & Excellence award in 2020. There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 31 testimonials and 82% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 3,362,594 times.
Writing a script is a great way to stretch your creativity by making a short film, movie, or TV show . Each script starts with a good premise and plot that takes your characters on a life-changing adventure. With a lot of hard work and correct formatting, you can write your own script in just a few months!
Creating a Story World
- For example, “What if you went back in time and met your parents when they were your age?” is the premise for Back to the Future , while “What if a monster rescued a princess instead of a handsome prince?” is the premise to Shrek .
- Carry a small notebook with you wherever you go so you can take down notes when you get ideas.
- Combine genres to make something unique. For example, you may have a western movie that takes place in space or a romance movie with horror elements.
Picking a Genre
If you like big set pieces and explosions, consider writing an action film.
If you want to scare other people, try writing a horror script.
If you want to tell a story about a relationship, try writing a drama or romantic comedy .
If you like a lot of special effects or what could happen in the future, write a science fiction film.
- For example, if one of your themes is isolation, you may choose to set your script in an abandoned house.
- The genre you pick will also help you choose your setting. For example, it's unlikely that you'd set a western story in New York City.
- Don't forget to figure out a memorable name for your character!
- If you're writing a horror story, your antagonist may be a monster or a masked killer.
- In a romantic comedy, the antagonist is the person your main character is trying to woo.
- For example, if you wanted to write a logline for the movie A Quiet Place , you may say, “A family is attacked by monsters,” but it doesn't give any details. Instead, if you wrote, “A family must live in silence to avoid being captured by monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing,” then the person reading your logline understands the main points of your script.
Outlining Your Script
- If you don't want to use index cards, you may also use a word document or screenwriting software, such as WriterDuet or Final Draft.
- Have events in the future take place early in your film if you want to make a mind-bending movie with twists, such as Inception .
Also be sure to consider how many acts to include. A TV script should be 5 acts if it's for a commercial network like CBS, NBC, or ABC. A non-commercial script, such as for Netflix or Amazon, should be 3 acts. Feature scripts are also usually 3 acts.
- For example, if the scene is your character just shopping for groceries, it doesn't add anything to the story. However, if your character bumps into someone at the grocery store and they hold a conversation related to the main idea of the movie, then you can keep it.
Consider how many acts should be included. Melessa Sargent, the President of Screenwriters Network, says: "A TV script should be 5 acts if it's for a commercial network like CBS, NBC, or ABC. A non-commercial script, such as for Netflix or Amazon, should be 3 acts. In either case, a teaser is included and is considered the first act. Feature scripts are also usually 3 acts."
Tip: TV scripts usually hit act breaks when they cut to commercials. Watch shows similar to the story you're writing to see what happens just before they go to a commercial break.
Formatting the Script
- If the script is based on any other stories or films, include a few lines with the phrase “Based on the story by” followed by the names of the original authors.
Try scriptwriting software to make formatting your script easy. It can help a lot, especially if you've never written a screenplay before.
- Use any additional formatting, such as bolding or underlining, sparingly since it can distract your reader.
Tip: Screenwriting software, like Celtx, Final Draft, or WriterDuet, all automatically format your script for you so you don't need to worry about changing any settings.
- For example, a scene heading may read: INT. CLASSROOM - DAY.
- Keep scene headings on a single line so they aren't too overwhelming.
- If you want to specify a room in a specific location, you can also type scene headings like: INT. JOHN'S HOUSE - KITCHEN - DAY.
- Avoid writing what the characters are thinking. A good rule of thumb to think about is if it can't be seen on a screen, don't include it in your action block. So instead of saying, “John thinks about pulling the lever but he's not sure if he should,” you may write something like, “John's hand twitches near the lever. He grits his teeth and furrows his brow.”
- When you introduce a character for the first time in an action block, use all caps for their name. Every time after you mention the character name, write it as normal.
- If you want to make it clear how your character is feeling, include a parenthetical on the line right after the character name with an emotion. For example, it may read (excited) or (tense). Make sure the parenthetical is 3.1 in (7.9 cm) from the left side of the page.
Writing Your First Draft
- Tell others about your goal and ask them to hold you accountable for finishing your work.
- Choose a set time each day to sit down and write so you don't get distracted.
- Turn off your phone or internet connection so you can just focus on writing.
"Feature scripts should be between 95-110 pages. TV scripts should be 30-35 pages for a half-hour show or 60-65 pages for a 1 hour show."
- Make sure each character sounds different and has a unique voice. Otherwise, a reader will have a hard time distinguishing between who's speaking.
- If you're writing a TV script, aim for 30-40 pages for a half-hour sitcom and 60-70 pages for an hour-long drama.
- Short films should be about 10 pages or less.
Revising Your Script
- Start work on another script while you wait if you want to keep working on other ideas.
- Try to read your script out loud and don't be afraid to act out parts based on how you think they should be performed. That way, you can catch dialogue or wording that doesn't work as well.
Tip: If you can, print out your screenplay so you can directly write on it.
- Start each draft in a new document so you can cut and paste parts you like from your old script into the new one.
- Don't get too nit-picky with yourself or you'll never finish the script you're working on.
- There are no set rules to writing a screenplay. If you feel like your story should be told a different way, try them out. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
- Read scripts to movies you enjoy to learn how they were written. Many PDFs can be found online with a simple search. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Read books like Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Screenplay by Syd Field to get ideas and information about how to format your stories. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
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- ↑ https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/how-i-write-a-script-part-1-story-concept-ab6d5a25fc27
- ↑ https://www.scriptmag.com/5-tips-choosing-writing-genres-free-download
- ↑ https://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/2982-how-to-create-a-convincing-setting-in-your-screenplay/
- ↑ https://www.well-storied.com/blog/the-four-main-types-of-epic-antagonists
- ↑ https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/how-to-write-a-screenplay-2/
- ↑ https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/how-i-write-a-script-part-6-outline-697aedb321ef
- ↑ http://www.elementsofcinema.com/screenwriting/three-act-structure/
- ↑ https://screenwriting.io/what-does-a-screenplay-title-page-look-like/
- ↑ https://screenwriting.io/what-is-standard-screenplay-format/
- ↑ https://scriptwrecked.com/category/scene-headings/
- ↑ https://scriptangel.com/8-tips-to-writing-great-action-lines/
- ↑ https://screenwriting.io/how-long-should-it-take-to-write-a-screenplay/
- ↑ http://reelauthors.com/screenplay-coverage/how-to-write-great-dialogue.php
- ↑ https://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/9296-mastering-the-art-of-revising-and-editing-your-screenplays/
- ↑ https://screencraft.org/2014/05/18/revising-screenplay-rewriting-screenwriting/
About This Article
To write a script, always start with a scene heading that's aligned to the left margin whenever you go to a new location. You should also include action blocks whenever you want to describe the setting and character's actions, which should also be aligned with the left margin. For example, you might write, "John takes a sip of his coffee and smiles." When you want to include dialogue, center the character's name in all caps, and center the dialogue under their name. To learn how to come up with a good story and realistic dialogue, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Screenwriting Tips: How to Write a Creative Script
Screenwriting is a visually exciting writing form that is well known for its distinctive format typed in a 12-point Courier typeface. While essays and other academic papers require an author to follow a specific structure, it’s a total flip of the script when it comes to screenwriting! Unlike an essay or novel, when writing a script for the moving picture, everything must be written in specific visual way so that way the Film Director, Director of Photography, and Film Editors can easily translate the words into moving pictures. It’s all about visual translation!
When writing a screenplay, an author must first plan the characters and solidify the key story beats (events) prior to writing. And once the story outline is prepared, the writer must keep in mind that all components of a script should follow traditional script formatting.
Whether it is a film, show, or video game; a well-written script should convey:
visual character descriptions and location detail
shot type and transitions
If you’re feeling a little confused or nervous about getting started, don’t worry! This post can help you build and/or strengthen your writing skills . Awesome tips on how to write an interesting script are just a few words away!
Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet
Write everything down
All films, TV shows, and even YouTube videos start from an idea in someone's head. So if a really good idea crosses your mind, write it down immediately! Use a notebook, laptop, or even a smartphone - there’s lots of screenwriting apps you can try too. If all you have on you is a napkin, grab that napkin! That being said, be sure to transfer the idea into a word document or screen writing software once you’re able to. The point is when you have an idea, you owe it to both yourself and this fabulous idea to write it down.
Next, expand on your idea by writing a script with no interruptions. Try to eliminate thoughts like, "Is this idea really good?" or "What will others think about this?" By avoiding any doubts, you are giving your idea the opportunity to grow into something significant.
Even if your script seems poor in quality or unsatisfactory, remember that you can always polish it later. If you find yourself lacking skills in the exciting art of editing, you can hire expert writers.
Find Inspiration Anywhere
It's nearly impossible to come up with new ideas for creative scripts while sitting at home. If you experience difficulty generating new ideas, feel free to seek inspiration outside of your four walls. After all, the best stories come from experience. You must live so you can write!
Get some sun and vibe with nature, explore the internet, immerse yourself in movies or sports. If you’re a people or animal person, take Fido or friends for a walk. Some would say that even a little time with yourself or “you time”, can be a great way to get inspired. Still need a bit more inspiration? Here are the top five ways to find inspiration:
Spend a few hours outside.
Surf the WEB for new ideas.
Try doing something new to you.
Gather friends and brainstorm.
Make new connections and listen to others' stories.
Show, Don't Tell
Unlike novels, films don't provide depth on a character's thoughts, state of mind, or plans through the written word. Instead, films represent a character with the help of dialogue and visual actions. So it’s up to you to avoid worthless information and focus on how characters will look and speak on screen.
If you’re not sure how to visually write about your character’s traits start by reading real movie scripts that made it to the big screen. Seeing how the pros do it will help kickstart and inspire your own scripts.
If you’re a student, don’t be shy to use academic writing help services . Using them, you can delegate your assignments to professionals so you can focus on reading scripts and writing your own.
Everything I’ve written is personal- it’s the only way I know how to write
Use Your Strengths, Trust Your Voice
If you want to write a creative and interesting screenplay, identify and use your strong suits. If you know many jokes and funny stories, make your characters funny by tapping into your knowledge and experience. If you can hardly create funny stories but can misdirect an audience well, create a script that is full of unexpected turns and grand reveals.
In the case that you have zero talents mentioned above, you might be good at finding interesting information through research. Use your research skills to supplement a script with interesting facts that are worthy of captivating the attention of your audience.
Develop your characters, avoid cliches
Do you want your script to be boring and obvious? Assuming the answer is no, don't be afraid to make your characters unique and remarkable. Add some personality traits that can be applied to your specific characters. You can also create unexpected circumstances that reveal a characters' unforeseen sex, age, or nationality. Feel free to develop the personalities of your characters by picking traits and peculiarities randomly.
Anyway, if you’re a student who uses a fast custom essay writing service to create top-grade papers, use randomness. Feel free to develop the personalities of your characters by picking traits and peculiarities randomly.
Like real people, characters should have a realistic past that’s filed with unique dreams and goals in their lives. By observing this rule, you’ve established a foundation that helps rationalize their actions. Use this free Character Development worksheet below to help you.
Another option is to research typical character archetypes and see which one your character fits into. For example, there is the Leader, the Caregiver, the Seducer, the Castaway, and more.
Here is a script scene excerpt from Inception that features multiple character archetypes.
Excerpt from Inception
Also, build a creative plot by showing the path your characters take to achieve their goals. Feel free to add some obstacles on their path to success to make your script more interesting. Remember that all characters should have a proper place in a script. You can't merely add new people without an introduction or purpose. All characters should have at least one augmented reason to appear in your script.
Once you have your idea and characters, make the script writing easier by mapping out your story beats. A story beat is a significant event that impacts or transforms your character. Some people like to refer to beats as crucial checkpoints throughout the story, points that must take place to create your complete story - or character transformation.
So how do you write beats? You can use this film beat sheet template and watch this beat sheet example of the Matrix .
Once your film beats are made you can then start writing and formatting the script by including dialogue, action lines, transitions, montage, and more. New to dialogue? Practice writing dialogue with this step by step .
Here is a full breakdown on how to format your script.
Producing a creative and top-notch script is hard work, however everyone can do it! If your scripts' quality is unsatisfactory, that’s ok! There will be time to go back and refine! Do not be shy to make mistakes and learn from them. Never stop practicing if you want to achieve significant results in script writing.
May the next pages of your script be just as fulfilling as the life journey that brought you here to the writers table.
If you need further help with writing in general check out Speedy Paper .
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Writing an Engaging Script: Simple Tips & Ideas
- DESCRIPTION man writing a script
- SOURCE Motortion / iStock / Getty Images
Writing a script is quite different from writing a short story or novel. Scriptwriters don’t have a chapter or two to ease into their story; the first few minutes of their script needs to engage the audience right away. Keep reading for simple tips and ideas that can help you write an engaging script.
Simple Tips and Ideas for Writing an Engaging Script
Many people believe that a movie, television show, or play works best when it has famous actors in the cast. However, not even million-dollar stars can't make a show work if the script is dull or uninteresting. These ideas for storytelling and following the writing process can help you turn a script in your desk drawer into next year’s Best Picture!
Keep the Main Plot Simple
Complicating your plot structure is not the place to start when you want to make your script engaging. A strong start captures and holds the audience’s attention; a thrilling conclusion makes your script memorable. If there is too much going on, the general population won't get it.
If you really want to make your plot distinctive, play with flashbacks and flash forwards while keeping the plot steady. But the classic plot mountain is a classic for a reason – audiences love it.
Write a Character to Root For (or Against)
Whether you’re asking audiences to watch a short sitcom pilot or a full-length film, you want them to be engaged in your protagonist’s journey. They do not always have to be extremely likable, but they do have to be interesting. In fact, character flaws can add a touch more reality and make audiences empathize.
On the other side, antagonists should also be engaging enough for the audience to feel tension. If you, as the writer, care about the characters, then the audience will also care. Developing backgrounds, mannerisms, and catch phrases for each character is important in any script, but especially when writing multiple episodes of a television series.
Make It Visual
Scripts stand apart from prose because they allow the audience to see the story as it’s happening. Long conversations with witty dialogue may look great on the page, but it makes a boring scene to watch. Add visual details about what the audience can see, and make your settings and actions as interesting to watch as possible.
Trust Your Actors
If the casting process goes well, you’ll have a team of talented actors to bring your script to life. But too many parenthetical actions can limit actors’ ranges, making your movie, show, or play feel flat. Keep your story interesting enough that actors have lots of room to play around with their characters in the settings you’ve created for them.
Stick to the Page Limit
It’s difficult to engage an audience with a very long script. Generally, a page of script equals one minute on the screen or stage. Movie and play scripts should be around 100 words to catch producers’ eyes and the audience’s attention. Television scripts can range between 30 minutes to 80 minutes, depending on the episode length.
Avoid Chunks of Dialogue and Action
Scan your script. Do you see any sections that take up large parts of the page? Long chunks of dialogue and action run the risk of boring your audience. If you have a character speaking for more than four lines, interrupt the dialogue with a small action. Same goes for action: break up big chunks to keep the story moving.
Do Your Research
When you decide what kind of script you want to write, research it. If you want to write shows about the police, then study police procedures. A play about Queen Elizabeth requires research about the Elizabethan era. Watch movies, shows, and plays in the same genre to learn more about the world you want to create (without plagiarizing , of course).
Write on a Schedule
Some writers prefer early-morning sessions; others like to stay up late to write. Either way, find your most creative time of the day and reserve it for writing. If you get writer's block, go to another scene (or project) and come back to it later. Try not to take more than one day off in a row.
Become an Avid Viewer
If you want to write movies, you need to watch them. The same advice goes for television and playwriting. Watch everything: highly acclaimed movies, poorly received television shows, and small local plays. Determine what makes the good ones enjoyable and what makes the bad ones boring. Consult this list when you’re writing your own script.
Read as Many Scripts as You Can
Great novel writers are great novel readers. That doesn’t mean screenwriters and playwrights are off the hook! Read script after script to learn what works and what doesn’t. Which parts were the most engaging for you as a reader? If you were watching this script, what part would be your favorite?
Never Stop Revising
You need to revise, revise, and revise. This is key to improving your show. Rewrite and proofread, making sure every word counts. You may want to join a screenwriting or playwriting group that proofreads and critiques each others' work. While having a talent for script writing helps, any aptitude requires refining and skills need to get stronger. Keep at it and you may surprise yourself.
Getting Your Script Made
An engaging script can be the difference between a critical darling and a box-office flop. Once you’ve written a tight script that needs attention, you’ll need to know how to sell it. Check out an article on writing irresistible loglines that will create interest in your script before the reader even turns the page.
Script Writing: Everything You Need to Know
When script writing, your script, also known as a screenplay , should detail character dialogue, scene settings, and actions that take place throughout a film, TV show, or another visual story. Your screenplay should properly tell your film’s entire story from start to finish because it’s a blueprint of the plot and character development before the film comes to life on screen.
Quentin Tarantino explains his writing process:
How to Write a Script
Writing a script helps express your creativity and make a story come to life. It often takes time and dedication to craft well-rounded characters and a compelling plot. These steps can help you create a captivating script:
1. Read other scripts
Download a few scripts or screenplays to find examples of well-written dialogue, characters, and storylines and to learn what producers are looking for in terms of genre conventions and themes. It might help to take a few writing workshops to develop your skills or better understand how to craft a strong script.
As a writer, you want to consider the production probability of actually selling the script:
- Realistic budgets. Although it may be fun to write a science fiction film with heavy visual effects, production design , and costumes, these elements make the film more expensive.
- Intellectual property infringement. For feature films, unless the property is public domain or bought by the writer, the writer should focus on creating an original story. In contrast to television scripts that might create spec scripts for existing shows, using franchises like Star Wars or Harry Potter for sample scripts could cause liability issues.
For story marketability, writers are typically encouraged not to follow market trends since by the time the script has been polished, the trend may no longer be popular.
In general, you should write what is interesting to you with a story that you are passionate about.
2. Build your world
Think about the location of your story. Detail your world well enough to help audience members vividly imagine it. Consider the genre of movie that you want to create. A few elements to consider in world-building are:
- Time period: Does your story take place in the past, present, or future? Though the script doesn’t have to mention an exact date, keep it in mind as you write.
- Weather and climate: Is it hot or freezing? How does the weather in this world affect your characters and the overall plot?
- Story themes: Determine your themes and what your audience should gain from this film. Do you want them to leave feeling happy, or do you want to convey messages that make people think deeply?
- Location: Where are your characters and where do they go? Abandoned houses, New York City, etc.
3. Develop your characters
Determine who your main character is and note their:
- Obstacles keeping them from overcoming these goals
For other characters:
- How do they interact with the main character?
- Do they help your protagonist?
- Are they acting as an antagonist and keeping them from achieving these goals?
When building an antagonist, consider:
- What do they want from the main character?
- What does the main character want from them?
- Why does the antagonist want to keep your protagonist from achieving their goal?
4. Organize your story with a synopsis
A film synopsis outlines the story in the order that your audience will view it. The stages of your story typically include:
- An introduction to the main character and their world
- An inciting incident that gets the story moving
- The first turning point that presents the character with a new situation or challenge
- A call to action where the hero’s goal gets specific
- A point of no return when your protagonist risks or loses everything
- The all is lost point where the hero faces great danger and will have to rise to the occasion
- A second turning point where the stakes become higher as the character redeems themselves
- The climax when the story comes to a resolution
5. Write your first draft
As you build your first draft, follow your synopsis, and start building your story.
- Write out scenes that create conflicts and challenges for your character
- Create other scenes showing how they overcome them
Take risks while you write this first draft, and try to get your ideas out as best as you can. You can revisit these ideas later during your rewrite to see if they work well with your plot.
Consider writing a 1-2 sentence logline that summarizes the plot of your script so anyone can easily understand what the main ideas of your story are. Ex: the logline for A Quiet Place might be: “A family must live in dead silence so they can avoid monsters with incredible hearing abilities”
5.1. Formatting Elements to Include in a Script
Many cinema production programs teach students how to properly format scripts so that filmmakers, actors, and production crew members can easily read it. Since production companies receive new scripts every day, they may disregard a script that’s not properly formatted.
You can either format the script yourself or use a scriptwriting software like Final Draft , WriterDuet, or Amazon Storywriter that automatically formats it for you. Here are some elements to include :
- One and one and a half-inch margins: The right, bottom, and top margins should all be one inch. Additionally, your left margin should be 1.5 inches to leave plenty of space to bind your script.
- Fade in/fade out: In the upper right-hand corner, your script should always start with “Fade in:” to signify the beginning of the film. The end of the script should have the words “fade out” or “fade to black.”
- Scene heading: Also known as a slugline, write the time of day and scene location in capital letters, like “EXT. LILLY’S HOUSE – DAY” or “INT. GROCERY STORE – NIGHT.”
- Action lines: Using present tense, include brief visual descriptions of physical actions occurring in a scene. An example could be, “Jane’s phone buzzes. She picks it up to find a message from John.”
- Character dialogue: The names of your characters should be in uppercase letters and centered to identify the person speaking. Place the character’s lines underneath their name in the script, also centered.
- Parenthetical: If a character has a specific mood or action while speaking, include a parenthetical phrase under their name, above the line. For instance, to show the seriousness of a character, you can write “(straight-faced).”
- Extension: This is a parenthetical direction used for character dialogue that is off-screen. For characters who are in-scene but talking off-screen, use “(O.S.).” For character dialogue that only the audience hears, use “(V.O.)” for voice over.
- Mores and Continueds: Use (MORE) and (CONT’D) between pages to show the same character is speaking
- Transition: Film editing instructions like CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO, SMASH CUT, QUICK CUT, FADE TO (only for production scripts)
- Shot: Used when the scene has changed like ANGLE ON, EXTREME CLOSE UP , PAN TO, POV (only for production scripts)
- Intercut : Cut instructions between scene locations
Here is more video detailing the basic elements to format a screenplay:
Length of a Script There are many different types of scripts, so the length depends on what genre and visual storytelling project it’s for. As a general estimate, one page of a properly formatted script equals one minute of screen time. Many scriptwriters use 12-point Courier font for proper formatting and to more accurately estimate the length of the production.
Here are the typical length estimates for a variety of visual storytelling projects and genres:
- Feature film, drama: 100 to 120 pages
- Feature film, comedy: 90 to 100 pages
- Animated films: 90 to 100 pages
- Television, comedy: 25 to 35 pages
- Television, drama: 45 to 55
- Short film : Varies depending on the story, up to 60 pages
6. Reread the first draft
Reread your script and cut any parts that seem irrelevant to the overall story. It can help to print the script out and highlight or mark sections to address in the rewrite. Make note of sections that have:
- Irrelevant dialogue or weak plot points that don’t push your story forward or directly affect your protagonist achieving their goals
- Confusing scenes that need extra clarification
- Information that requires more research or fact-checking
- Long monologues you can shorten to be more to the point
7. Rewrite your script
Scripts usually need a few revisions before you’re ready to send them to a potential buyer. Each action should push the story forward. Continue rewriting until you accomplish this. Make sure your rewrites are addressing:
- Plot holes: Correct any errors that go against the logic within your plot. Rid your story of any contradictions or inconsistencies that make your story less credible.
- Character motivations: Everything a character says or does should have a reason behind it that fits their personality, needs, and goals. If their words or actions aren’t motivated by their needs or goals, you may need to rewrite or cut them.
- Adding or cutting scenes: While reviewing your marks, start cutting scenes irrelevant to the plot and add new ones that strengthen your story. With each line and scene, ask yourself what would happen to the story if you cut it. If the story works without it, it may be best to cut it and add stronger elements that drive your plot.
Scriptwriting takes a significant amount of time, discipline, and motivation. By understanding what a strong script looks like and knowing how to outline your story properly, you can feel more confident in your ability to start and finish a strong script.
You can learn all skills related to film making by applying to the Nashville Film Institute here .
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How to Write a Script for a Play - Part 2
Show the story in actions and speech.
- They can't see the silent tear.
- They certainly can't see a single black hair.
- They don't know what thoughts or memories are in her head.
How to write a script - Pare it down
How to write a script - write and rewrite.
- Read and watch lots of plays if you want to write them.
- Write regularly, even if you don't feel inspired. If you sit down every morning at eight o'clock to write, sooner or later, the inspiration will come. On the other hand, if you wait for inspiration before so much as picking up a pen, you might have a very long wait.
- Don't expect your first draft to be your final one. Things almost never come out perfectly on the first try. So don't be scared by the blank page. Write down something. Then come back and improve it. Reading your dialogue out loud will help you hear where revision is needed. Are there places that sound unnatural? Conversations that move too slowly? Parts that will be difficult for an actor to pronounce or an audience to understand?
How to write a script - Further reading
How to write a script - next steps.
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