Countdown to Script Frenzy – Part 1: How to Format

by limebirdlaura

Script Frenzy is coming up! It is run by the same folks that do NaNoWriMo, and beginning April 1st the goal is to write a 100 page script in 30 days. I thought the next few posts I make I’d focus on some basics of script writing for those of you who think, “Yeah, I’d like to write one…but I don’t know where to start!” If you already know these fundamentals, add some more tips and tricks in the comments that could be helpful. I have the memory of a 286 year old, so I’m always bound to forget something!

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to write a post like this, because let’s face it it’s… B-O-R-I-N-G. But I want to get everyone ready for Script Frenzy who may be interested in trying their hand at a script, and the best place to start is how to format the darn thing. So, let’s just get into it, quick like ripping off a bandaid.

The fundamentals of every script are the sluglines (the scene headings), your character’s dialogue, and the action.

SLUGLINES

Every new scene in your script will start with a new slugline. It’s very important that the slugline contains three things, in this exact order:

  1. Whether the scene is interior (INT.)  or the exterior (EXT.)
  2. Where it takes place.
  3. When it takes place.

A completed slugline would look something like this:

INT.  SARAH’S BEDROOM – AFTERNOON

You could also do it like this:

INT.  ROBINSON HOUSE – SARAH’S BEDROOM – AFTERNOON

Or even:

EXT.   HOSPITAL PARKING LOT – 3:34 PM

DIALOGUE

The dialogue will always be in the center of the script. It will start with the character’s name, in all caps, and then under the name you will have the character’s dialogue.

VALERIE

Why won’t you play? Please?

With your dialogue, you can use a parenthetical to help show things like simultaneous action as the character speaks, or even the character’s tone. They will be in parenthesis directly under the character’s name.

SARAH
(waving Valerie away)

For the hundredth time,
stay out of my room!

ACTION

Like I previously talked about, all the action in the script will be in present tense.

An example of this:

Sarah slams the door shut behind her. She frantically fumbles with the lock, but the door flies open knocking her back.

An important part of the action is saying which character’s are present in the scene. If it is the first time a character is introduced in the script, their name needs to be in CAPITAL letters, and in parenthesis next to their name you’ll need to include their age. The actual format for age is different for different folks, some will say a hyphen instead of parenthesis, like ALEX – 27. Some will say a line, such as Alex, a man in his late 20’s…But I was always taught parenthesis so that is what I go with.

So now that we’ve talked about the bits and pieces, here is an example of a scene put together (inspired by my 100 word challenge entry).

FADE IN:

INT. SARAH’S BEDROOM – AFTERNOON

SARAH (12) runs into her room and slams the door behind her. She frantically fumbles with the lock, but the door flies open knocking her back.  VALERIE (13) rushes into the room, frowning.

VALERIE

Why won’t you play? Please?

SARAH

For the hundredth time,
stay out of my room!

Sarah glances at her desk in the corner and then nonchalantly walks toward it. She begins to pile papers on top of one book.

VALERIE

Whatcha been readin’?

SARAH

Homework, now go away!

Valerie seamlessly glides to Sarah’s desk and knocks the papers off the book, revealing the cover.

VALERIE

Into the Light: A Beginners Guide to Ghost
Removal? You’re trying to get rid of me?

SARAH
(stammering)

No… I – uh…

Wind rushes through Sarah’s room swirling paper and debris around the two girls. Valerie scowls as she rushes toward Sarah, and disappears in a mist inside of Sarah, becoming one with her.

Sarah falls to the ground with her eyes closed. She suddenly opens her eyes and has a devilish grin on her face.

SARAH
(in Valerie’s voice)

Now we will always be able to play together.

A single tear rolls out of Sarah’s eye.

FADE OUT.

Formatting is very particular with the scripts. I suggest using a screenwriting software such as the free Celtx, or the not free Final Draft.  Final Draft was “required” for all my college courses, but every single professor started each new screenwriting class out by telling us to forget Final Draft and use Celtx instead, if that says anything. I’ve never used Final Draft, but so far Celtx hasn’t let me down. At any rate, screenwriting software will format the script for you, but no matter what, any script absolutely without a doubt has to be formatted to these specifics:

Courier font type
12 point font size
Printed on 8.5 by 11 inches paper
Page Margins will be:
Left: 1.5 inches
Right: 1 inch
Top: 1 inch
Bottom: 1 inches

There are no exceptions to those rules. If it’s not in 12 point Courier you will be banished to a land where people speak in 3rd person for the rest of your life! Laura is sure that you don’t want that. (I’m not entirely sure of that last claim, but I thought it would be good for my rapport if I threatened you a little…mwuahahaha)

OK there you have it, the basics to how your script should look. Now pick your head up off your keyboard, stop drooling, and go sign up for Script Frenzy already…if you dare! (See if I dare you maybe then you’ll do it. How about a triple poodle double whammy sideways upside-down dog dare? Then will you do it?) Stay tuned for more screenwriting tips and tricks as we get ready for Script Frenzy.

Has anyone tried Script Frenzy before? Is there anything about the formatting that I’ve left you wide-eyed and confused on? Feel free to ask in the comments or the forum!

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24 Responses to “Countdown to Script Frenzy – Part 1: How to Format”

  1. Thank you Laura. I’ve never studied scriptwriting or had a clue how to go about it, but this is sooooo clear if I do ever try my hand at it I’ve got a fantastic template. I really like the way you’ve shown us the differences between story and script with your 100WCGU ghost story as well!

  2. Gosh I wish I had time to do this, this year. NaNoWriMo is always such fun and I have a script in my head I need to get loose. Unfortunately, April is far, far too close to the due date of the twins currently having a boxing match in my tummy. Hmm… I suppose I could still start it and finish it another time though?
    Particularly when you’ve made it so easy with this template.

  3. I have final draft but I’ve just downloaded celtx to compare, I like the corkboard (though I only downloaded the free version!). I’m tempted to give Scriptfrenzy a go just because I’m on holiday for the first 2 weeks in April so I might have some extra time, though I’m more likely to lie around by the pool for the whole time not writing anything!

    How would you write a text message in a script? Or something that a character is reading? I’m sure I was told at uni but I can’t remember!

  4. Write by the pool! hehe.

    Wow you know, I’m not sure about that! I’ll have to see if I can find how to do that. Good question!

  5. Awesome post Laura! So useful, and you’re really tempting me! I’m just not sure if I’d manage it simply because I would spent half the time looking up to do stuff! Haha. Hmm….

    Oh btw… HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 😀

    B x

    • Thanks Beth 🙂 Now I’m just closer to pushing 30 like my husband enjoys reminding me (He’s 32, I wonder if that is too early to tease him about pushing 40… hehehe).

      You could try writing something short on Celtx to see if it might be too complicated or not. I know it’s kind of confusing at first just because there are so many different specifics to screen writing or play writing and it can take a bit getting used to. I like Celtx because it does all the formatting for you, and even if you messed something up (like put a character’s dialogue as action, instead of dialogue for example) you can just highlight it and tell it you wanted it to be dialogue, not action, and it will fix it. It does take some tinkering around with to get used to but once you do it’s super handy!

  6. Wow! So very cool! I had no idea there was a specific recipe for writing script. Never thought of writing script myself, but as always, your posts somehow get me excited about trying things I didn’t even know existed or never thought of on my own. Most definitely a very effective blog! Thank you!

    -Cindy

  7. Thank you so much for providing this helpful information to those of us who have ideas but are cluless about how to write a script!

  8. A good grounding in the basics here to get people started. There is one other point I would make – not to do with formatting as such, but a common error that a lot of people make when first attempting scriptwriting. The action parts of the script should only include things that could be shown by the actors. It sounds obvious, but so often people will write something like ‘Sarah remembered her last visit to the school and hoped that this one would pass without incident’ or whatever. Don’t talk about peoples thoughts or feelings in the action, although you can of course talk about facial expressions or some other physical means of conveying a feeling if it’s relevant. Similarly when describing a place or a scene, only describe what could actually be shown – a long description of the history of the place might be interesting, but unless it can be shown in some way then it’s irrelevent to the script; if the history or background story is relevant, then you have to find some other way to include it e.g. the characters talk about it, or there his a plaque on the wall of the building describing when and how it was built or something like that.

    • Oh very good points! Thank you for adding them. They always say in class we can’t tell, we must show! It’s a good mantra to live by 🙂

  9. I LOVE this, Laura! I have never tried scriptwriting, and having this info helps me decide if it is something that will interest me down the road. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate in ScriptFrenzy this year…but now I know it is something that I might enjoy. Thank you!

    • Thank you Kate 😀 I’m really glad it was helpful. I like taking part in short script contests to be honest. Things that are like 5-10 pages max. I think it’s really a lot of fun.

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