Writing a screenplay can be daunting, and there is a ton to consider. However, before you even think about what goes into the document, what is script writing anyway?
Script writing is a very different beast than writing in any other format. Knowing what it entails is critical if you want to have any semblance of a career in the field. So let’s dive into the fundamentals.
Watch: Anatomy of a Screenplay — Ultimate Guide
Subscribe for more filmmaking videos like this.
What do we mean by script writing?
So you have an idea for a movie, but it’s all in your head. You want to get it all on paper, what do you do?
SCRIPT WRITING DEFINITION
What is script writing?
Script writing (or screenwriting) is the process of writing stories in the screenplay medium. Script writing is writing down the movement, actions, expression and dialogue of the characters in screenplay, in screenplay format. The process of writing a novel, a poem, or essay, is entirely different than script writing. In order to express yourself effectively for the screen, particular formatting methods are required. Screenplay format is used to express the story visually. Scriptwriters or screenwriters write for film, television, video games, and now even online web series. Script writing can be done for hire or on speculation in hopes to sell their screenplay or find an agent.
- Externalize a character's internal motivations
- Tell a story visually
- Use proper screenplay format
The process of screenwriting is the constant reminder that you are writing for the screen.
So if you write the line, “he remembers their past fights…” what would that look like on screen? In actuality, it tells us nothing. Why?
Well, no one can see his thoughts, so that's not an effective form of communication when writing for the screen. Externalizing the internal is critical to telling a story visually.
What could you do in this scenario? One way to externalize this would be to add in a montage scene or a series of flashbacks of all the times they fought.
With that in mind, let’s move on to why we have this medium to begin with. Why couldn't we just write down our movies like we write down our novels, essays, and poems?
WHY Script Format
Why script writing format?
Thinking visually isn’t always easy. Breaking the habit of describing what the characters are feeling doesn't always come second nature. And knowing how to pace a scene for the screen is equally as challenging.
Luckily basic screenplay formatting helps remedy this.
First things first, formatting helps with geography.
Sluglines or scene headings tell the reader where the action is happening. And action lines tell us what the actors are doing.
This formatting tells the reader where the characters are, or even where you’re taking your audience---a major component of learning to write for a visual medium. See the graphic below to get a better idea.
Notice too, how the characters' names are indented clearly identifying who is speaking when.
One page typed, in this standard screenplay format represents about one minute on screen. Why should I know this?
Well when we're writing, this is helpful to understand scene pacing. We could think something is working, but a fight lasting for a few pages may not translate well on screen, and could feel drawn out.
Also, knowing how to format your screenplay makes it easy to read and therefore easier to sell. Formatting helps agents, managers, and studio readers visualize your movie.
Be careful with overdoing dialogue. Get creative with action lines. How a character acts is usually a better indicator of how they feel than what they say out loud.
Writing a screenplay is hard enough, don’t waste time in Word, formatting it yourself.
If you’re interested, you can write for free in StudioBinder.
How to Write a Movie Script
You can now answer what is script writing, and hopefully feel a bit better about the next step. Our next post, dives deeper into formatting rules, page count, and other tactical concerns you may have at the beginning.
So open up your software, and read our step-by-step guide on how to get your vision down on paper.