A screenplay is an entirely different beast than a novel, essay, poem, or even short story. A screenplay demands extreme clarity and creativity in your visual descriptions, which can be a challenge. But knowing what a screenplay requires at a basic level, will help the process. This post is for any individual wanting to know the elements of a script and what one looks like. We’ll follow it up with an article about how to write a screenplay, but for now, we have to be able to answer exactly what is a screenplay? Here’s a brief rundown.

Define Screenplay

Screenplay 101

If you want to make that transition from writing to scriptwriting, you have to know what a screenplay is.


What is a screenplay?

screenplay is a written work for a film, television show, or other moving media, that expresses the movement, actions and dialogue of characters.

Screenplays, or scripts, are the blueprint for the movie. A screenplay is written in a specific format to distinguish between characters, action lines, and dialogue. 


  • Scene headings/slug lines
  • Action lines
  • Character names
  • Dialogue
  • Parenthetical(s)

The elements of a screenplay come together on the page in a specific format. In the following diagram, you'll see the various required elements and their basic layout.

Proper script formatting is a necessary evil. It may seem tedious (it is) but it's just something we have to accept. Movies are budgeted and scheduled directly from the script length, how many scenes are on a single page, etc. This is why understanding and implementing format is so crucial.

The best way to combat this is to use official screenwriting software. These programs are designed to handle all of the formatting so you can focus on the creative. Follow the linked image below to see a sample script, including formatting and required elements.

Screenplay elements and layout

As you can see, each element has defined parameters on the page. Trying to format all of these elements manually is not only a pain, it can seriously interrupt your creative flow. 

Some scripts also add in transitions, or types of shots. Though this isn’t necessary if someone else will be directing the film. In fact, some directors would prefer you leave them out. 

Now that we've defined what a screenplay is and some of its basic elements, the next step is to understand proper screenplay formatting

Up Next

How to write a movie script

Now that we've covered the definition of a screenplay, it's time to start writing one! In this next post, we'll go into further detail about the required elements like scene headings and action/description, and industry standard screenwriting format. We'll also answer some general questions that every screenwriter has (e.g., How long should my script be? Do I need a cover page?). Let's get to it!

Up Next: How to write a movie script →
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  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

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