A Quick Guide to Correct Screenplay Format
Pro Tip: Start with a logline
By Jen B.
Do you wonder what screenwriting format is correct? Which type of headings need to be added? What basics do you need to follow?
These are common questions that screenwriters get confused about. Some think that these basics have little value but for some people it’s everything. There is a lot of division on this particular topic but one thing that needs to be done right are- the scene heading.
The correct use of scene headings is a valuable skill that makes a screenplay much better. There are multiple kinds of headings such as master scene heading, secondary scene heading, special scene headings and many more. They define a scene and inform the audience about the location. With these scene headings you can accurately convey your message to specific audience. Remember clarity is a screenwriting principle and no formatting style is complete without scene headings.
Here are 6 easy and simple tips to master the art of writing appropriate scene headings. These simple points can make your life much easier.
1) Differentiate between Slug lines and Scene headings
Don’t confuse scene headings with slug lines. There is a fine line between both of these categories and one needs to understand them briefly. Scene headings describe the general location headings that tell you about where your characters are, whether it’s an indoor or outdoor location and what time of the day it is.
Whereas slug lines are used to bring attention to a specific detail or piece of information. These are part of paragraphs under the main heading. So before starting your script understand both concepts for a better screenplay. Getting a hang of these separate headings can take a little time but once they become a part of your writing technique, you will find it easy to use them.
2) Don’t include everything
Sometimes your screenplay ideas are amazing but your writing style doesn’t support it. Most of the times people miss something in the start or confuse themselves over how to end a screenplay? Or have issues regarding the formats. Try adding the important information in a scene heading that carries weight. Skipping on dates, time and location information can cause issues that is why they belong in a scene heading. Most importantly avoid adding excessive descriptions and details. Limit the scene heading in such a way that it is straightforward and informative.
Don’t make your heading look like a paragraph, using one word headings improves the readability and outlook of a screenplay.
3) Practice daily
‘Practice makes a man perfect’, this is a popular motto used everywhere. Indeed no one can master a skill until he learns how to apply it. Similarly learning about how to write scene headings helps in bringing perfection to your screenwriting. Not only does your screenplay have master scene headings but it also has secondary scene headings. One doesn’t need to include all types of headings but knowing about them will prove helpful in future.
Master scene headings are the main headings that describe the main location. Whereas the places within that location come under secondary scene headings. You need to know that adding detailed descriptions will take away the purpose of a heading. Similarly focus on making new headings out of the old ones to further enhance your skills. Instead of writing “spacious and colorful dining room” limit it to “Dining room”.
4) Write Special scene headings
Another heading commonly used by screenwriters is the special scene heading. It’s written after the master scene heading and includes flashbacks, montage, dreams and other related topics. Whether you want to show a dream sequence or take the audience back to the past, special scene headings serve the purpose. People reading your draft can easily differentiate amongst various scenes.
Addition of these headings helps to make other scene headings clearer. It makes the format more accurate and precise.
5) Using the correct language
Overusing some words can weaken the script. Sometimes screenwriter’s use words like continuous to show that characters are moving on out of locations but its overuse is not appreciated. Even sometimes it is interpreted in the incorrect manner. Therefore, instead of continuous one can replace it with the word same. That way your audience can understand things better and helps to develop understanding of the concept.
Using the right terminology can do wonders for an average script. You can impress the producers and screenplay agents with your quality language skills.
6) Avoid Repetition of words
A screenplay requires a lot of attention and hard work. You cannot simply come up with a good story in a day. No matter how strong your idea is, if you are unable to deliver it in writing than there isn’t a great chance of success. A good screenplay uses new terminology and avoids repetition. Using some words again and again makes the script loose its charm. Writers need to use a wide variety of words so that each and every portion of the story looks different.
These are just some of the many ways that help you correct your screenplays. Scene headings help to breakdown the script so they need to be accurate and effective. They depict the locations, storyline, setting and much more. Remember everything comes down to the producer, he doesn’t want to read every single detail of a screenplay but needs to get an idea about what you want to deliver. Make your script easy to read for producers. This is the place where a correctly formatted screenplay saves the day. Better format makes a producer much happier. If you want to become a professional screenwriter than focus on generating simpler, straightforward and consistent scene headings. Of course other elements of a format also matter but once you get this part right, most of your work is done.
As you can see achieving the correct screenplay format may seem difficult but once it becomes a part of your system, life becomes easier. These are some basic screenwriting rules which help you write a more logical, balanced and creative screenplay.