Capitalizing words in screenwriting, Needed or Not?
Pro Tip: Start with a logline
By Jen B.
In writing, use of CAPS can easily get distracting and annoying. While CAPS should always be used sparingly, they are seen to be used in screenwriting, sometimes also as an essential component. So when is it fine to use CAPS in a screenplay and when does it get over the top and annoying for the readers? What are the screenwriting do’s and don’ts when it comes to CAPS? We’ll unravel that below.
1) Scene Heading:
CAPS being used in scene headings is a basic requirement in a screenplay format and compose of screenplay terms that include the setting of the scene. It tells us the setup either INT. Or EXT. (inside or outside) alongside the location and time of the day written as DAY or NIGHT. So, a scene heading will be written as:
INT. TV ROOM- DAY
This gives an idea that the scene is located Inside in the TV room and is shot in daylight. Usually, screenwriting websites and screenwriting software’s like Final Draft, Celtx or Writer Duet have this inbuilt as the screenwriting format so they will do this automatically for the writer.
CAPS are also used in order to put emphasis on certain actions. While it is undesirable to use CAPS for every action, it is good to use them sometimes so that the reader knows that this action is important.
Jack SITS on the sofa and TURNS on the television. His eyes SHIFT towards the empty chair.
If the writer wants to focus on Jack’s eyes shifting towards the chair then he does not need to write every action in CAPS, it will be better to write it this way.
Jack sits on the sofa and turns on the television. His eyes SHIFT towards the empty chair.
Here, the reader knows that there is an emphasis on the important action and the director will keep this in mind.
2) Introduction of Character:
Whenever an important character is introduced for the first time, the name will be written in CAPS. This helps differentiate the important characters from the others and makes it stand out. This can also help casting directors to know what characters do they need to cast and directors to know this character is of importance and when they first appeared.
As the door opens, we see a man walk in the room. This is JACK (20) .
However, the CAPS should only be used once in this case. When Jack or any other character is later mentioned in the script, only the first letter should be capitalized. Though following scriptwriting format, when a dialogue will be mentioned indicating the character says it, the name will be in CAPS.
Emphasis also plays a part in objects. If there is a specific object you want to bring more attention to and it is crucial to the story then it could be written in CAPS too. Considering a line written earlier:
Jack sits on a sofa and turns on the television. His eyes SHIFT towards the empty CHAIR.
If the empty chair is pivotal to the story’s development then that object can be capitalized so it instantly catches the eye of the reader and they get to note it down.
4) Sound Effects
Industry insiders discourage the use of special effects or transitions in writing now hence, they should not be written. These details are unnecessary in scriptwriting stages and are more related to the director’s work. Therefore, writing the special effects or visual F/X should be avoided. Also, transitions like FADE TO and WIPE TO, are no longer the industry standard but CUT TO is still sparingly used. However, in some instances a sound effects can help the director or reader experience the story more clearly.
The door opens. CREAK. We see a man walk in the room. This is JACK (20).
Writing the sound effect separately indicates that it holds importance and it should be there. If the story has been silent then such nuances can add to the experience. Adding this sound here indicates that it is vital in setting up the tone of the scene and it continues to be of importance. If it doesn’t however then it should not be mentioned, in that case it will only serve as a distraction. This should not be used for every sound made or even the sounds should not be mentioned extensively. Overall, technical jargon should be avoided or used sparingly in a script.
Words are also capitalized in slug lines. The purpose of using CAPS in slug lines is to call attention to that location or action. For instance, we can break the above examples as follows:
INT. TV ROOM- DAY
The door opens. CREAK. We see a man walk in the room. This is JACK (20)
Jack sits on a sofa and turns on television. His eyes SHIFT towards an empty CHAIR.
Here the slug line shifts the reader’s attention to what is important therefore, it is also capitalized.
Words can be capitalized either in headings, slug lines, character names, actions or objects but wherever they are, they shouldn’t be repeated often. While CAPS can bring the right attention to a word/s, they can very quickly become irritating and distracting. Hence, the lesser they are used (except for where inevitable like scene headings and character introductions) the better. Though, if the writer intends on putting emphasis on actions, objects and sounds that should not be ignored by the reader then they should use them accordingly.