Screenwriting

POINTERS


Action

Economy

  • Keep action narratives to a four- or five-line maximum to avoid 'blockiness' (but don't overdo the single-lines, either.)
  • Combine adjectives, nouns, and adverbs into well-crafted verbs (more on verbs below).
  • Use bullets to present a series of actions clearly and economically.

    EXAMPLE:
    EXT AIRPORT DAY

    Blazing sun. Hot tarmac. The CROPDUSTER grows as Deke nears it, running as if his life depends on it (which it does).

    • a machine gun blasts from the cockpit
    • Deke hits the dirt
    • he takes aim with his rifle
    • the Romanian Border Guards gain on him
    • Deke pulls the trigger, killing the GUNMAN
    • the airplane EXPLODES

Capitalization

Producers count capitalized character names to get a rough sense of budget, so ALL CAP a character name once, upon his introduction to the story, initial cap it from then on. For generic characters, e.g., AGENT, POLICEMAN, capitalize the first time ('all caps'), then 'initial cap' (just the first letter) succeeding times, example: Agent, Policeman. This says both 'We've already met this character, and this is the character we've already met.'

At slightly greater risk of offending a Hollywood reader, major props requiring huge outlays, e.g, a BATTLESHIP, can be capitalized, as can props that attention must be drawn to, e.g., a MACHINE GUN. Major sounds important to the story, such as POLICE SIRENS, may be capitalized as well as characters making significant sounds not in the dialogue, as in 'Kendra COUGHS loudly.'

CAUTION: anything beyond the capitalization of the character's name at first introduction to the movie is at the author's discretion. CAPITALIZATION overdone can greatly distract and perturb the reader.

Verbs

  1. Replace the verb 'to be' wherever possible with an active verb.
      EXAMPLE:
    • 'Two MEN are outside.' becomes 'Two MEN linger outside.'
  2. Make the progressive verb form (-ing) active.
      EXAMPLE:
    • 'He is dialing the phone' becomes 'He spins the dial.'
  3. Eliminate 'it' and 'there' where they are used impersonally or without meaning.
      EXAMPLES:
    • 'It is raining.' becomes 'Rain falls.' Or more simply 'Rain.'
    • It's your turn!' becomes 'Your turn!'
    • 'There are bottles everywhere.' becomes 'Bottles litter the room.'
  4. Pick out-of-the-ordinary verbs wherever possible, skipping the overworked ones such as 'to go' or 'to say'. Mix it up with the most overused screenplay verb 'to look'.
      EXAMPLES:
    • 'Bridget ogles Paul.'
    • 'She gazes off.'
    • 'Perkins glimpses Heaven.'


Punctuation


  1. Never use bolding.
  2. Single space only; no double line spacing.
  3. Use underscoring instead of italics, and only . .
    • with foreign terms, or
    • when to leave out the emphasis would lead to misunderstanding of something important
  4. Cut all . .
    • ellipses (". . ."), and
    • exclamation points
    . . from action narratives.
  5. Use special punctuation, meaning anything other than . .
    • periods
    • commas
    • colons
    • semi-colons
    • apostrophes, etc.
    . . sparingly.



Format

Transitions

Eliminate CUT TO:s, except when making an important scene change, as in a jump in time or huge jump in geographical location—which can also be handled without CUT TO:s. This goes for other transitions such as DISSOLVE TO:s, etc. Delete MOREs and CONTINUEDS at the top and bottom of pages (an option that might need to be deselected in screenplay software). Strike the CONTINUEDs in dialogue lines that are often used when an action narrative passage interrupts a character speaking. That the same character name heads off the continued dialogue suffices. Eliminate places where pages break long dialogue passages, which may result in a MORE and CONTINUED (in your software), by shortening the speech, or breaking it up with an action narrative.

Directorial Cues

Let the director determine when the titles roll, where to focus the camera, etc. Just lay out the 'establishing' or 'long' shot except in those cases where a certain shot is required for reader/viewer suspense or understanding of a special moment. A close-up of the shoes of someone we'll meet later might add suspense, for example.

Scene Numbers

Eliminate all scene numbering.


General

To receive the most sympathetic reading for your script in Hollywood, generally . .

  1. use screenplay format to your advantage—get it right. Best way to do this, and the easiest, is with screenwriting software—free, cheap, or dear.
  2. only put ink on the page that is absolutely required . .
    • cut all excess words, use only words absolutely necessary for telling your story
    • eliminate excess periods, whether . .
      • in scene headings
      • after pages numbers
      • in ellipses
      . . as they subliminally tell the mind to stop.
  3. check your spelling. Run spell check on your computer before sending anything out.

Do all this to minimize stress on the reader's eye and enhance clarity. If you tire the reader, he will be less sympathetic to your project. To ease the reader's load, and make things as clear as possible, to get a movie going in his head and not distract from it, should be your goal as a screenwriter.


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Other Screenwriting Pointers

  1. General screenwriting tips and suggestions.
  2. Tips and suggestions on screenwriting dialogue.
  3. Tips and suggestions from Screenwriting.info
  4. 'Screenwriting Tips from a Screenplay Contest Judge' by Gordy Hoffman.
  5. Screenwriting Tips...You Hack by Xander Bennett.
  6. Scriptologist.com directory of screenwriting tips.

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