If you are fond of watching dramas and series, you must wonder how they are written. You can also write a screenplay if you wish to. The screenplay is a film’s script, including acting instructions and scene directions.
In today’s world, there is no such person who is unfamiliar with the film world. People are die-hard fans of watching plays, dramas, short movies, shows, and series. Life would be colorless and bland without shows and the acting world. A screenplay is a written work by screenwriters for a film, television show, or video game instead of a stage play. A screenplay that is written for television is also known as a teleplay.
Screenplays can be original works or transformations from existing pieces of writing. A screenplay is a form of narration in which the characters’ movements, actions, expressions, and dialogue are described in a particular format. Visual or cinematographic cues may be given, and scene descriptions and changes. To learn how to write a screenplay, go through this article.
What is a screenplay?
A screenplay is a written work by screenwriters for a film, television show, drama, or other moving media that express characters’ movements, actions, and dialogues. It is an entirely different beast from a novel essay, poem, or short story. A screenplay demands intense clarity and creativity in your visual descriptions, which can be a challenge. If you know what a screenplay requires, it will help the process.
Screenplays or scrips are the blueprints for the movie. A screenplay is written in a specific format to differentiate between characters, dialogues, and action lines. Some scripts also add in transitions or kinds of shots. However, this is not necessary if someone else will be directing the film. In fact, some directors prefer you leave them out.
The screenplay writing format used in a movie script has its own set of industry-standard norms, which varies slightly from the scriptwriting style used in a shooting script. A shooting script is a more specifically formatted version of the pre-production and production script to convert the screenplay into a movie. Camera directions, music cues, and transitions can all be incorporated into this version. A proper screenplay format consists of the following components:
- Scene headings/slug lines
- Action lines
- Character names
The elements of a screenplay come together on the page in a particular format. Proper screenplay formatting is a necessary evil. It may seem tedious, but it’s just something you have to accept. Movies are budgeted and scheduled directly from the script length, the number of scenes on a single page, etc. This is why understanding and implementing the format is so crucial. The best way to fight this is to use official screenwriting software. These programs are organized to handle all of the formattings so you can focus on the creative. It helps you keep away from distractions and interruptions in your creative flow.
How to start writing a screenplay?
Writing a screenplay is a gratifying process, but it is not an easy task. It takes a severe amount of time and dedication to develop a good screenplay, and if your goal is to sell it, completing the first draft is only the beginning. You will have to refine the story, often with several more drafts, get an agent, and submit your screenplay to studios and producers. You can have someone like it enough to risk a substantial amount of money to buy unless you plan to finance and produce it yourself.
The major Hollywood studios purchase a combined 100-200 original screenplays each year. Almost 25,000 and 50,000 new screenplays are registered with the WGA every year. You can see how challenging the task is. But if your screenplay is well-written, it can stand out in the competition. Usually, most people don’t invest enough time in learning how to develop a good screenplay; they just try and write one.
Your screenplay will start well ahead of the pack by dedicating yourself to the craft. There are steps to follow when developing and writing your screenplay. Remember, there are no rules, so they can happen in any order or not at all. It’s up to the story and, ultimately, you. Follow the steps mentioned below to start writing a screenplay:
1. Craft a logline
A logline is a summary of your story, usually, no more than a single sentence, that describes the protagonists and their goals, antagonists, and conflict. The protagonist is the hero/main character of the story, while the antagonist is the villain/evil guy/opposing force. The goal of a logline is to convey both the assumption of your story and its emotional undertones. What is the story about? What is the style? How does it feel?
Years back, a logline printed on the spine of the screenplay allowed producers to get a quick feel for the story, so they could decide whether to invest time into reading it or not. Although it’s usually communicated verbally or included with treatment, it serves the same purpose.
2. Write a treatment
A treatment is a more extended 2-5 page summary that includes the title of your screenplay, the logline, a list of main characters, and a short synopsis. Like loglines, treatments are mainly used for marketing purposes. A producer may read a treatment first before deciding if the screenplay is worth their time. The synopsis should highlight the significant beats and turning points of your story.
Anyone who reads it should get an excellent idea of the story, the characters, and the style. They should learn enough to empathize with the characters and want to follow them on their journey to see how it plays out. Writing a treatment also allows you to view your story as a whole and see how it reads on the page. It can help you understand what’s working versus what needs work before you get too deep into the details of writing each scene.
Since your treatment is used for marketing your screenplay, be sure to include your name and contact info, too.
3. Develop your characters
Think about the story you want to reveal to the world. What’s it about? Are you aware of the theme yet? Create characters who will contrast the central question and who will have to undergo a significant transformation to answer it. Plenty of character profile worksheets online can help bring your character’s personalities to life.
When developing your characters, the most important thing is that you make them empathetic and exciting. Even the evil guy should have a reason he’s bad, although it may be unjustified.
4. Plot and outline
Break your story into its narrative-arc details and map out every scene beat by beat. You can use flashcards or notebooks for this. Moreover, you can use Trello for outlining your screenplays. Create a board for each screenplay, then make a list for each narrative-arc component, with a card for each scene. Make a checklist of the story beats and write notes about the character or plot on each card.
Do whatever works for you. That goal is to plot out your story. The more detailed your outline, the less time you will waste down the road. As you plot, keep in mind that stress drives a story. Building and releasing tension is key to keeping the audience engaged and moving the story forward. When hope is faced with fear, tension arises. This is what forces a hero to change.
5. Write the first draft
Using your outline as a map, write your screenplay scene by scene, including the dialogue and descriptive action. The first ten pages of a screenplay are the most paramount. A reader or producer usually has a lot of screenplays lying on their desk, and they don’t have time to read them all. They give a screenplay ten pages to pull them in. They’ll likely continue reading if the screenplay has interesting characters and the formal structure elements. If not, it may go in the trash.
The screenplay is a specific format of writing. There are a massive amount of elements common to any story, regardless of medium. Screenwriting is different in the way that every word of descriptive action must be written in the present tense and describe something the audience can see or hear. Hollywood follows a legally strict format when it comes to screenplays. You should go through the screenplay and go back to fix the dialogue or update the action description until you have written the screenplay all the way through.
6. Step back and take a break
Once you have finished the first draft, it’s a great idea to relax and take your mind off it. When you finally return to it, you can read it with a fresh set of eyes.
When you have completed the draft, you have a much better picture of your story as a whole. Go back and distill the action, tighten the dialogue, and edit the script. You may have to do this several times to make it look the best. When creating a final version, using white space on your page is better. It’s more effortless to read and seems quicker to get through. When a producer has to read multiple screenplays a day, it’s discouraging to see a screenplay filled with pages of mindless action descriptions and extended monologues.
Overall, writing a screenplay is a challenging task. It takes sacrifice and dedication to the craft. In the end, it’s a rewarding process in which you get to create characters and watch them come to life as they make choices to navigate the barrier course you placed before them. Take some time to study the craft, and your screenplay will be done in no time.
To write an excellent screenplay, you can also take assistance from some books considered by most industry professionals to be must-reads for any aspiring screenplay writer. These books offer a valuable insight into different aspects of developing a story, creating interested characters, and crafting a thoughtfully motivated screenplay. Consider these:
- ‘Screenplay’ by Syd Field
- ‘Story’ by Robert McKee
- ‘The art of dramatic writing’ by Lajos Egri
- ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder
Screenplay writing software
Screenplay software is a word processor specialized for the task of writing screenplays. If you want to be taken seriously as a screenplay writer, you must follow the standard format. Screenplay writing software takes care of formatting so you can focus on words, characters, and story. It is the actual creative work of writing. All you need to worry about is crafting exciting scenes. Here is a list of screenplay software that you can choose from:
- Final draft 10
- Movie magic screenwriter
- Celtx basic screenplay software
- Highland software
- Fade in
- KIT scenarist
Final draft 10
Final draft 10 has been an industry standard for decades and is used by top writers and filmmakers. Its SmartType function remembers scene details like characters and locations that you can reinsert as you write. In addition, Final draft 10 includes robust tagging and reporting tools. You can break down scene elements such as actors, wardrobe, and props to feed into production reports later.
Moreover, it also includes organizational tools like a story map, beat board, and alternate dialogue. Even if you have a keen sense of writing dialogue, it can help give you options later. Another Final draft 10 feature includes real-time collaboration, an index card view to aid scene arrangement, over 100 templates, and a mobile version. Final draft writing software has nearly everything you need, barring some pre-production tools like storyboards and shortlists.
Movie magic screenwriter
Movie magic screenwriter is well-known in the industry and is the best screenwriting file format of the ‘Writer’s Guild of America West.’ If you want high-end screenwriting software used by top names in the business, this is the right choice. Its feature set is robust, diverse, and includes formatting for film, television, plays, books, and even comic books.
It consists of a custom NaviDoc inference, which juxtaposes your script with organizational materials like outlines, scene cards, etc. It also comes with real-time collaboration, professionally authored templates, an index card view, revision tracking, breakdown reports, etc.
Celtx basic screenplay software
Celtx is one of the best affordable options. It’s a cloud-based screenplay writing tool that boasts five million users. It comes with a wide variety of template formats, and you can flip them from one to the other. If you work from an existing script, it offers a variety of import formats, including Final Draft, Word documents, Microsoft, and PDF. Among its other features, Celtx screenplay writing integrates with other pre-production tools like call sheets, storyboards, shot lists, and a scheduling solution.
Apart from its unique features, it allows for collaboration, although it’s not real-time. This is a solid alternative to Final Draft.
As its title presents, this is a great screenplay writing app for remote writing partners. But WriterDuet offers more than real-time collaboration. It also includes an in-app chat box and a commenting feature that can be private or shared. It even has an admirably thorough revision tracking feature, which breaks down script changes by calendar date. Other cool WriterDuet features are asset tagging, mobile integration, templates, alternate dialogue storage, draft saving, and organization.
Highland software works with the fountain file format, a text-based file compatible with several best screenplay writing software options. Fountain documents are plain text, so when you write one, you don’t fiddle with formatting and can write it anywhere, such as GoogleDocs, NotePad, etc. This is where Highland’s free screenplay software comes in. Highland is a formatting tool that takes the fountain file and exports it to Final Draft or PDF. It will also import Final Draft or PDF files “melt” down to the universal fountain format. It was designed with the goal of getting writers focused on the actual writing as much as possible.
Fade in software
Fade-in software is more affordable in contrast to final draft and movie magic screenwriting software. It comes with a lot of features. It offers robust customization tools to be very hands-on with the format of your screenplay, including margins, spacing, and the like. It also provides a script breakdown tool, index cards, templates, revision tracking, and reports, including cast and dialogue reports per character. One excellent Fade feature is an action-to-dialogue calculator within their script statistic reporting tool.
Scrivener is more than just a screenwriting app. It’s a word processor designed for novel writing, flyers, articles, brochures, and screenwriting. The scrivener specialty is more extended writing projects, and it automatically outlines your work, which is a nice touch.
This software is essential, bare-bones, practical, and gets the job done. The open-source nature gives it a punk rock vibe, also.
If you are looking for free, professional screenwriter software, StudioBinder is the best option. StudioBinder free scriptwriting software is the option for any filmmaker or writer where you can just sign up and start writing your screenplay. It’s intuitive, easy to use, industry-approves, and allows you to focus on writing instead of formatting. The most significant benefit is that it’s free. It is an end-to-end production management platform, so you will have that option if you want to write a script that ultimately moves into preproduction and production.
Furthermore, you can use your screenplay to auto-generate shooting schedules, shot lists, storyboards, and call sheets with the help of a few clicks. Build and manage production documents, share anything with your team, let collaborations comment and edit, and maintain all your contacts in the software.
How to write a screenplay template?
A screenplay template is relatively simple, but it’s one of those things that can seem a bit daunting until you learn how to do it. The basis of a screenplay template is as follows:
- 12-point Courier font size
- The 1.5-inch margin on the left side of the page
- The 1-inch margin on the right side of your page
- The 1-inch margin on the top and bottom of the page
- Each page should have approximately 55 lines
- The dialogue block starts 2.5 inches from the left of the page
- Character names must have uppercase letters and be placed starting 3.7 inches from the left side of the page
- Page numbers are placed in the top right corner with a 0.5-inch margin from the top of the page. The first page should not be numbered, and each number should be followed by a period.
How to write a screenplay 101?
Screenwriting is a format that is uniquely delightful and also challenging to write. Unlike a novel or short story, a screenplay is a collaborative blueprint and is an invitation to collaborate to create a cinematic narrative. Here is how you can write a screenplay 101:
Craft a logline
Before launching into a 100-page script, let’s start with a single sentence called a logline. A logline is the one-sentence synopsis of an exclusive script. It reveals to the reader what your story is about. Tweaks to a logline can come and are often expected, but having a solid logline that clearly and compellingly conveys the narrative is a critical first step in scriptwriting.
Write a beat sheet
An intermediary step that many find very helpful in scriptwriting is the creation of a beat sheet. A beat sheet gets its name from its intended purpose of describing the major beats of a story. You must have heard of some version of the phrase “boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy gets the girl back” is a highly condensed beat sheet. It is usually longer than a logline but shorter than an outline. A beat sheet provides a writer the chance to start fleshing out the major plot points of their script as they proceed to the next scripting step.
Flesh out an outline
Once the writer feels the basic plot is in good shape, it’s time to dive into the outline. The outlines bring together several scriptwriting elements, including locations, description of the action, and even bits of dialogue, especially a dynamic line or two that they don’t want to forget. An outline is often considered a fundamental necessity before heading into the screenplay writing phase. Like an architectural blueprint or aeronautical chart, it’s the document that writers use to guide their way as they create their screenplay.
Draw up a treatment
A treatment is a prose telling of the script. Some writers might be enthusiastic about jumping from a beat sheet or outline right into the script. It’s essential to keep in mind that some agents, managers, and execs might ask first to read the treatment since it’s often a tenth or less the length. So, you should not underestimate the importance of treatment.
Create the first draft
You are ready to begin creating your first draft. Writing a screenplay becomes incredibly effortless with the above initial steps completed.
How to write a script?
If you have decided to write a script, learn what a script is. If it is your first time creating movie magic, know that a script can be an original story, straight from your brain or based on a true story or something someone else wrote, like a novel, theater production, or newspaper article. A movie script presents all the parts, including audio, visual, behavior, and dialogue, that you need to tell a visual story in a movie or TV.
It’s usually a team effort, going through oodles of revisions and rewrites, not to mention being nipped and tucked by producers, directors, and actors. It generally starts with the hard work and brainpower of one person. The first step to stellar screenwriting is to read as many great scripts as you can stomach. It’s a good idea to read some in the genre that your script will be in to get the lay of the land. If you are writing a comedy, try searching for the 50 best comedy scripts and starting from there. Lots of scrips are available for free online. It’s also useful to read books that go into the craft of writing a script.
A quick way to get in the scriptwriting zone is to rewatch your favorite films and figure out why you like them. Make notes about why you adore certain scenes and bits of dialogue. Examine why you’re drawn to certain characters. If you lack ideas of films to watch, check out some ‘best movies of all time lists and work through those instead. After that, flesh out the story.
The bottom line
Writing a screenplay is an exciting task. You can put your thoughts or any story you create in your head and then visualize that on TV. You have to be brainy to write such a story that the producers cannot even ignore and are willing to pay you your desired cost. Write the excellent script so that it compels producers to grab that and develop an interest for them to continue reading. To write an engaging story, you should keep your characters fascinating and empathic. The hero should have a reason why he is so. Even the evil guy justifies his personality for being like that. So read some outclass scripts to have an idea about how to get started.