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How to Write a Movie Screenplay
By Carl Hose
OverviewA screenplay is a movie in written form. Unlike novel writing, a screenplay must not only include the elements of good story, it needs to have proper format before any producer or movie company will bother to look at it. Any writer who wishes to get into the business of screenwriting needs to have both a creative mind and the ability to work within the confines of a strict format when telling his story. Learn how to write a properly formatted movie screenplay you can deliver to an agent or a producer with the assurance it won't get tossed into the trash due to formatting faux pas.
Step 1Ensure all of the elements of your screenplay are formatted properly. The best way to do this is to use screenwriting software that automatically formats for you as you type, which leave you free to plot your story and develop your characters without having to worry about format. Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter are the two big names in screenwriting software, but they are cost prohibitive for many beginning screenwriters. Fortunately, there are free options available, such as Celtx and the web-based Scripped (see Resources). Both are full-featured screenwriting programs that format your script to industry standard automatically. Both programs also offer extensive tools to help you develop your storyline and your characters while you write.
Step 2Study the basics of script format. Although your screenwriting software formats for you, it will be necessary for you to understand what the elements of a script are and how they are used to tell your story. Refer to a book such as the "Elements of Style for Screenwriters" or to a free online source for an in-depth look at each screenplay element (see Resources). It's a good idea to keep one of these handy as you write youy screenplay.
Step 3Write your movie script in present tense and include only what you will be able to see or hear on the movie screen. This means action and dialogue. Write the action in standard upper and lower case. Introduce all dialogue with the speaking character's name and the dialogue beneath it. Scenes should be written in all capitals and indicate whether the action is inside or outside, where it takes place, and time of day. An example is: INT. HOUSE - DAY.
Step 4Avoid including scene numbers and directing the camera unless you are a director writing a script. Writers should focus on structuring plot and building believable characters. The script a writer should turn out is called a spec script as opposed to the shooting script. This means you will focus on action and dialogue to tell your story.
Step 5Keep the script linear whenever possible. This doesn't mean you can't use flashbacks, but keep them to a minimum. There are always exceptions to the rule, depending upon the story you are telling, but a script that jumps around too much is going to have a harder time being read and picked up by a production company, especially from a new screenwriter.
Step 6Break up long action passages. Movie people like to read through a script quickly and tend to ignore lots of text run together. An ample amount of white space on your page will make it easier for producers and directors to digest your story and to envision it on the screen.
Step 7Follow the same rules of good storytelling you would for a novel, but confine it to the structure and rules of screenwriting. Leave directing to the directors and focus on your plot.