Screenplay Writing – Screenwriting Basics

Screenplay writing, or screenwriting, is a bit different than writing a short story or novel. However, there are some similarities too.

Before you start writing dialogue and formatting your screenplay, you have to brainstorm, outline and research just like you would do for a book. Get the basics down before you start. You need to know your characters inside and out. You have to know the plotline, settings, theme, and overall message and purpose for the screenplay.

Not only do you need to know that information, but producers need to know these details before reading the entire script. Once you have developed the story on your end, you need to write a log-line. This is a two-sentence description of the story. Your log-line needs to include characters, setting, plot, and style. Then, you need to write a synopsis. This one-page summary gives the producer a set up of events that bring the story from beginning to end. My favorite part about screenwriting is the treatment. Writing a treatment is like writing a short story for your screenplay that only includes the most important details. I like doing this before I get started with dialogue because it gives me an overall guide as to what the characters will need to be thinking, doing, and feeling. 


Screenplays are written in third person, present tense. This makes it easier for the actors, directors, and producers to follow it. You are pretty much writing a manual for the movie/play staff on how to make this written work come to life. But there are specific things you need to know about formatting your screenplay in order to achieve that. 

The start of a scene needs to show the setting first. This should be in all caps and written as either INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior) and then a description of the place and the time of day. When you introduce a new character, this should also be in all caps and about three inches from the side of the left page. Next to their name, include their age and important character traits. After you introduce the character for the first time you can just write their name in all caps when it’s their turn for dialogue. The words the character says should be underneath their name, not next to it.

To transition to a new scene, choose CUT TO or FADE OUT. Use extensions when needed for situations like O.S. (off-screen) events or V.O. (voice over) scenarios. Remember, this is a how-to manual for producers, directors, and staff. You have to tell them  what needs to be done and said in order for the finished product to match the movie playing in your head as you write. 

Also, don’t forget to copyright it. Protect your intellectual property by copyrighting your work before sending it to anyone. 

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