Anatomy of a Screenplay: How to Properly Format Your Screenplay

Sep 13, 2023

Screenplay formatting is an essential part of the writing process for any screenwriter. If you want your screenplay to be taken seriously by producers, it’s essential to use the correct screenplay format. It is non-negotiable. No matter how good your writing is, without proper formatting, your work may not get approved. 

There are six main elements of screenplay formatting to keep in mind:

  1. Scene Heading
  2. Action Line
  3. Character Name
  4. Parentheticals
  5. Dialogue
  6. Transitions
Screenplay Formatting

The elements of screenplay formatting

 

1. The Scene Heading

The scene heading is the first thing you encounter in a screenplay. It is your screenplay’s GPS, telling everyone where the action is taking place. They are written in uppercase.

There are two primary types of scene headings:

  • INT. (Interior): This indicates that the scene is set inside a building or a specific location. For example, “INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT.”
  • EXT. (Exterior): This signifies that the scene is happening outdoors. For instance, “EXT. PARK – DAY.”

You might also encounter special scene headings like “INT/EXT” for scenes that move between inside and outside, often used for vehicles like cars or airplanes. 

After the INT. or EXT., you add the name of the location and the time of day, such as “INT. KITCHEN – MORNING.”

 

Screenplay Formatting - Scene Heading and Action Line

Scene Heading and Action Line

 

2. Action Line

Action lines come right after the scene heading. They provide vivid descriptions of what the audience will see and hear on the screen. They describe what is happening in the location or what the characters are doing and let readers visualize the scene.

Action lines are also used to describe sound effects in the scene, which are written in capital letters. If you want something important to stand out in the scene, you can write it in caps to draw the reader’s attention. For example:

“NICOLE rushes into the room, her eyes wide with fear. She slams the door shut, and the loud BANG echoes through the house.”

 

3. Character Name

The character’s name comes next. It has its line and is written in all caps to emphasize the speaking character. You can use (V.O), (O.S), or (O.C) for characters speaking in voiceover, off-screen, or off-camera, respectively, indicating that the character’s voice is heard but they are not currently in the scene.

When a character speaks or takes action, their name is written in all capital letters above their dialogue. This makes it clear who is speaking or doing something in the scene. 

 

4. Parentheticals

Parentheticals often follow the character’s name to provide context and describe what a character is doing in a scene. They should be used sparingly and only when necessary to convey a specific tone, emotion, or action. Here’s an example:

SAM: (whispering) “Be quiet! They’ll hear us.”

 

Parenthetical Example - Screenplay Formatting

Example of a Parenthetical, Character name, and Dialogue | JOSH FECHTER

 

5. Dialogue

After the parentheticals, you’ll find the dialogue. Dialogue is where characters speak and convey the story through their interactions. It’s typically centered on the page and in a block format to keep all dialogues on the same parallel line. Each character’s dialogue is indented with their name in capital letters above. Here’s a dialogue example:

  • TOM: “Let’s go to the beach tomorrow.”
  • LISA: “That sounds like a great idea!”

 

6. Transition

The final element is the transition. 

Transitions are used sparingly to indicate changes between scenes or the passage of time. Common transitions include “CUT TO” or “FADE OUT”. These are placed on the right side of the page. 

Screenplay Formatting: transition

 

These are the essential elements of screenplay formatting that you’ll encounter while writing your script. Properly formatting your screenplay not only makes it look professional but also ensures that everyone involved in the production can easily understand and follow your vision.

Remember to use the screenwriting tool in the Albantsho Suite to help you auto-format your script correctly and adhere to worldwide industry standards – 2-point Courier font, 1.5-inch left margin, and 1-inch top, bottom, and right margins, etc.

 

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