If you want to write a screenplay, you’ll need a story to tell as well as knowledge of the storytelling techniques used in cinema, which is a visual medium. Reading any scripts you can get your hands on can be beneficial, and some people benefit greatly from purchasing screenwriting books. Many people also watch a lot of movies and pay attention to the structure of film stories because they are often paced differently than novels or short stories. Understanding the screenwriting format is another important aspect of learning to write a screenplay. This will almost certainly be covered extensively in any books you read, and it may differ slightly between screenwriters, but there is a standard way of presenting a screenplay, and understanding how it works can be beneficial.
Because film is a visual medium, it can be difficult for a filmmaker to get into the minds of his characters without using narration or imagery, at least in a literal sense. As a result, screenplays tend to focus on character behavior and dialogue descriptions. In a movie, these elements are frequently far more important than they are in a novel. In fact, scene descriptions, action descriptions, and dialogue are the only three types of writing found in the average screenplay.
After a scene heading, also known as a slug line, the scene descriptions are usually presented. “INT. Office – Day,” for example, is a typical slug line. The “INT” stands for “interior” in this case; it could have been “EXT” for “exterior.” These distinctions are primarily useful for allowing a future filmmaker to divide scenes into those that will be shot indoors and those that will be shot outdoors, which is an important consideration in filmmaking. The screenwriter will describe the scene beneath the slug line; it is usually written in third-person present tense, rather than past tense, as most novels are.
The action must be described in the second part of attempting to write a screenplay. This is usually done in the third person present tense as well. “Carrie opens the drawer on her desk and removes the document, handing it over to Bill,” for example, is an example of an action description. As part of the storytelling, there will be some subtle — or specific — camera directions mixed in, but screenwriters who expect someone else to direct the material will often avoid these to make the screenplay less distracting and easier to read.
In most screenplays, dialogue takes up the majority of the space. Although it depends on the type of film being written, there may be several pages of dialogue between each action or scene description. The character’s name is usually placed in the center of one line, with the character’s actual lines written below.
Dialogue is usually half the width of the action descriptions on the page. For example, the action and scene descriptions could be set up to be 6 inches (15.24 cm) wide on the page, while the dialogue could be about 3.5 inches wide (8.89 cm). In parenthesis on a separate line between the name and the dialogue, there are sometimes brief descriptions of the behaviors a character should be exhibiting while speaking.
Another important factor to consider when writing a screenplay is the issue of pacing. Films are designed to tell a story in one sitting, so they move at a much faster pace than other forms of fiction. Screenplays, for example, move faster than novels, and time-compression techniques like montages are used to quickly summarize things that would otherwise be dealt with in detail in another type of fiction.