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Format for Writing Screen Plays

written by: Misty Faucheux•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/7/2010

You've written your screenplay - congratulations! But, now you're fretting about what the proper format for writing screenplays is? Well, fret no more. Here are some tips on how to format your screenplay.

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    Dialogue

    You’ve done the hard part by writing your screenplay. Now, what is the format for writing screenplays? Well, it’s actually easier than you think. But, there’s no need to just take my word for it. Here are some tips on how to format your screenplay.

    Basically, screenplays are broken into four main pieces: Character Dialogue, Scene Headings, Names and Scene Action. The purpose of this is to break up your screenplay into scenes, which assists in the flow of the screenplay and helps actors learn individual scenes.

    First of all, let’s discuss how you will set up your character dialogue or what the character (the “who" of the scene) is saying. Generally, this is done in one of two ways. Either the character name will be slightly indented or centered over the dialogue. The name is always in all caps. For example, see below:

    CAROLINE

    I want to go out to eat tonight. I don’t feel like cooking.

    Dialogue is always single-spaced so that more of it can fit on a page. Unless you’re writing a novel, quotes are not necessary, only the name of the character.

  • slide 2 of 5

    Scene Headings

    Next, we’re going to move onto the scene headings. These are often referred to as sluglines. The headings tell the “where" of the screenwriting scene or where the action is taking place. For example, see below:by Vikki Gregory's Flickr 

    EXT. FRONT PORCH – LATE NIGHT

    Scene headings go over the location of the scene (FRONT PORCH), time of day (LATE NIGHT) and whether or not the action is taking place inside or outside (EXT for exterior and INT for interior). This helps the director and production crew figure out where they need to set up the action. For example, if INT is used, they may be working on a sound stage or even inside a home.

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    Character Names

    Character names alert actors who should be speaking the lines. Like the above example, the character names will always be above the dialogue, and they will always be in all caps. If you just have stock character (i.e. shop girl, crowd member, etc.), you may just give them a generic name. This will also appear in all caps above the dialogue.

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    Action

    The final part of the entire scene is the action or the “what" of scene. The action describes what’s going on and which characters are involved. For example:

    Caroline passes the room in an anxious way, picking up random objects and just as quickly putting them back down. She jumps as Jack walks into the room.

    The action explains what the characters should be doing when there is no dialogue. The action description follows standard sentence grammar, but it should be single spaced and should always be in the present tense. Even if the action took place in the past, the action description will still be in the present tense. The scene heading will say whether or not the action took place in the past.

    If you wish the character to be doing an action while speaking, add parenthesis with the action information. For example, see below:

    Caroline

    (turning towards Jack)

    I’m ready to go.

    If someone is talking off in the distance, this is known as off screen (O.S.). This just needs to be added after the character name. The same can be done for voice over (V.O.), which means that the character is talking from some place that is not seen, i.e. within the character’s head.

  • slide 5 of 5

    Scene Sample

    Now that you know what the basics mean, let’s put it all together.

    EXT. FRONT PORCH – LATE NIGHT

    Caroline passes the room in an anxious way, picking up random objects and just as quickly putting them back down. She jumps as Jack walks into the room.

    CAROLINE

    I want to go out to eat tonight. I don’t feel like cooking.