Screenplay Writing for Beginners – Learn The Oldest Tricks in The Book

Regardless of you being an experienced writer or a beginner, the question of what distinguishes the script and screenwriting from a novel, short story, or essay writing must’ve crossed your mind.

The differences might seem evident to you; however, there is more to understand about scripts than you would’ve initially thought. 

Here, we shall discuss some basics to help you get started, whether you’re new to the genre, or have been in this field for quite some time.

1. Formatting: Making It Professional

Formatting is the most prominent visual distinction across a book/short story and a play. You’ll see loads of blank spaces in a script with bold headings and truncated phrases. 

People often get caught up in the technicalities of writing and often ignore the simplest of things like proper formatting. 

Formatting takes time and should only be done once you are sure about your final script. 

Mentioned below is a fundamental outline for script formatting to help people understand the primary picture about it –

  • Basic Script Terminology 

SR = Stage Right 

SL = Stage Left 

SC = StageCenter 

Enter = Character enters the scene 

Exit = Character exits the scene 

Beat = A pause in dialogue 

Lights fade/rise = scene or focus change in a scene 

Fade to black = End of the play or a scene 

Int. = Interior, scene taking place indoors 

Ext. = Exterior, scene taking place outdoors 

Offstage = sounds or dialogue from unseen characters where audience can’t see them 

Aside = Character shifts from speaking with other characters to voice thoughts regarding the current situation or to directly address the audience.

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  • Formatting Tips 

All descriptions as-well-as character names need to be aligned with each other in the center. However, they mustn’t be ‘centered.’ 

You want your names and descriptions to be left-justified, but they need to start in the center. 

  • Naming Should be Capitalized

Descriptions are always separated by parentheses and used in the third person present tense. 

The title of the play and the author’s name need to be listed on a cover page. 

The title, author, setting description, and character list needs to be centered using the center justification tool in MS Word.

The only naming that is left aligned and never indented is the dialogues. 

2. Description: Being Creative

When writing a book or a short story, it is common for the audience to anticipate a description from you. 

For script writing, you only need to provide basic direction between dialogue. These scripts are meant to be acted, directed, and designed by people other than the writer. 

Therefore, providing a lengthy description of what a character is wearing would likely land a negative impression of you. Keep things generalized so that the creativity of the people working onboard can thus be let loose.

You might’ve been taught to be specific in various other forms of writing; however, in screenplay writing, scripts operate differently. Jumping into discrete intricacies would restrict the actors and other crew members.

The more description you try to fit in, the more it just narrows down the type of actor that can be hired by a director. 

You also need to take care of the action and props used. Your play should not include elements that are difficult to produce, for instance, a scene that includes an infant, or something that includes gruesome scenes.

The problem with writing such intense scenes would be that these parts cannot be easily recreated on stage and often pull the audience out of the tension that you so desperately wanted to create with your play.

By taking these factors into account, you ease up the job of the performers and the stagehands and make your scripts more desirable. 

3. Dialogue: A Vital Element of Screenplay Writing

You might get the formatting right and write adaptable descriptions and action sequences; however, in the end, the only thing conveying the story to the viewers is what the actors are speaking. 

In the case of novel and short story writing, you can rely on description and action to describe the story.

It would be great if you write good dialogue to make it sound realistic and practical. Include dialogue that looks more like a daily conversation between people. 

You want the audience to believe who they’re watching, and thus, you need to make it realistic. You shouldn’t use dialogue as a supplement for description. 

Not everything can be conveyed through dialogue and shouldn’t be either, which is why props exist. Only get specific when it’s crucial to the story. 

Pauses in speech can be marked in the play, but don’t exploit them to the point that the audience has to wait out minutes before watching the next scene. 

If you want to include a pause, try changing the time gradually and see for yourself if it feels natural. Consult the director and the actors and finalize according to everyone’s mutual agreement.

Always trying to toss the rules out of the window is not a good idea as it often breaks the link-up with the audience and thus, breaks their interest.

While you are writing the dialogue, write it by stepping into the shoes of the audience. The way someone says something can matter a lot, especially when viewed from the audience’s perspective.

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4. Start Simple and Work Your Way Up 

It can be challenging to jump into a full-blown script immediately; thus, it’s okay to take small steps. 

The best course of action for beginners is to start short and straightforward or start by penning down specific sequences. 

Remember to have a give and take with your dialogue. Your script must show some progress gradually as the story advances. 

Try writing short sequences where certain scenes are affecting how the character acts and portrays to the audience.

The best way to create characters is to observe a public place. You can get some meaningful insights into people’s clothing type, how they talk, and the kind of behavior they exhibit publically.

Final Words

Implement the tips mentioned above and gain some ideas to frame your next screenplay. 

Find a short story and try adapting it into a play. Keep the dialogue the same, with significant tweaks with the setting and characters. 

Try keeping it natural and short if you are just a beginner. You must always remember to know the differences between screenplay writing and novel or short story writing as the scenes portrayed can vary dramatically.

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