How to Write a Script Pt.1

Script Format

Writing a script can for some seem like an easy job, and to others something they really want to do, but are not really sure how to. 

But let me tell you this first before I start explaining things: writing a script is not an easy job. Yes, you can probably write a long script in one day, but chances are, it's not going to be good. 

Writing a good script takes time and practise. 

Don't ever expect your first script to come out a masterpiece; instead, take time to polish it over and over again. 

Also, don't ever expect that your first draft is the final draft. It never is. 

First of all, let's go over the typical formatting of a script: 
  1. Left Margin: 1.5 inches
  2. Right Margin: 1.25 inches
  3. Top and Bottom: 1 inch
  4. Tabs: Starting from the "0" mark on your ruler, set tabs at: 
    • Dialogue: 2.60 inches
    • Parenthetical's: 3.25 inches
    • Character Names: 4 inches
    • Transitional's: 7 inches, flush right

The industry standard font is "Courier" 12 type. 

You can either have this saved as a template on your computer, or, like many other writers, you can use software that has this format pre-made for you. My recommendations for screenwriting software is Celtx or Scrivener. The online Celtx version is free to use. 

Screenwriting Format Sample

Copyright: Cecilie Godsk Jensen

This script was written on the Celtx app for Mac. 

As you can see the scene description is out to the left side, character names in the middle, parenthetical's and dialogue underneath and transitional's in the bottom right corner (there is none in this script however).

"Continued" means the script continues on the next page. 

When I say transitionals, it's things like "DISSOLVE TO," "CUT TO," "FADE TO." 

These transitionals are used to inform the production team how you, as the writer, see it being transitioned to the next scene. However, only use it if it has an importance to the story. It's not the screenwriter's job to decide where the cuts will be unless it affects the story. 

The parentheticals are used for describing a character motion or emotion during that specific line. So in this example, my character Gale (Chuckles) as he says his line, but you can also write things as (Wryly), or (Gleefully) to tell the actor what the emotion of the character is while delivering that line.

Another important thing to note about scriptwriting is, when writing a script you will always write in present tense, active voice. So writing things like "We see a dog in the yard" is a no-no; instead, you would write "There is a dog in the yard." 

Never use "We see", "We hear", "We do" when writing. 

A good quote on this: 

"I never write shot descriptions. Never say "We pull in" or "we see". How presumptuous to say that sort of thing. The only useful thing about the screenplay form is to tell you whether it's day or night, inside or outside. Everything else should be like a novel - clean and sharp and interesting to read" 
- John Milius (Apocalypse now, Clear and Present Danger, etc.)

To touch on a thing John Milius mentions in this quote. He mentions the only shot description you would include in your script is whether it's day or night, inside or outside. This is done as a scene header, and is formatted like: 
"INT. LOCHOS BASE - NIGHT"

You always write this in caps to make it stand out. 

INT. stands for "Internal", so inside. Outside is EXT. which stands for "External." This is the first thing you write, and after that is the location, so in my example, it's a base. Lastly is "DAY" or "NIGHT." (Don't write things like "MIDDAY," "EARLY MORNING" or things like that, as you would do this in the scene description, not in the scene header.) 

The last thing to look at for now is the matter of names and character introduction. 

When first introducing a character, you do it like this: NAME (AGE), so for example, ALEX (22). You do this every time you introduce a character, this is to tell the production team how old your character is supposed to be. 

And then throughout the rest of the script, you will always write the characters name in caps. So: 

"ALEX (22) walks over to the fridge. She opens it to look if there's something edible inside. GALE (25) walks up behind her, giving her a scare. ALEX jumps and GALE starts laughing." 

Another important thing to note about character introduction is that you usually won't describe EXACTLY how they look unless they are details that are relevant to the storytelling!

As for the title page, which you should ALWAYS include when submitting your script, should look something along the lines of this:

Title Page Sample

So you write the title as the first thing, underneath you will have the "by" or "written by" followed by your full name. In the bottom right corner, you include you or your representative/managers contact details, as given in the example. In the bottom right corner you can include the copyright, so the © symbol, the year of submission and then your full name again. 
It's important to note that you should never add what draft number the script is. No one besides you really need to know how many numbers of drafts you've gone through. 

As for the binding of the script, you should use brass brads, either two or three to bind the script together. Don't use colourful covers, book binding methods, or spiral binding. Keep it simple and clean. 

Also, for the submission script, make sure all spelling, grammar, and punctuation is correct. Have others check through it for you, preferably more than once. Don't write anything on the submission print, and don't add anything such as smileys or golden starts or notes to the reader. 

Thank you so much for reading this first part about screenwriting.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me.

Next part we will be looking at: Story structure and what you do before you start writing your script.

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