The differences between a novelist and a screenwriter are monumental; they write for completely different mediums, each equipped with their own unique challenges. Although both are worried about many of the same things (characterization, plot, dialogue), there is a distinctly different execution in formatting between the two. Like many others, I've always been interested in film culture and the workings behind the scenes; particularly the craft of screenwriting.
Today, I'd like to introduce you to the very basic structure of a screenplay scene. Please note, what I'm going to show you is the most simple version of the material, and therefore is not representative of all screenplays, and is the format for movies; it's also to be noted that I am not a professional screenwriter, and am still learning the craft, so a true professional may find flaws in what I'm about to share.
When beginning a scene, the first thing written is the "slug line" - and a slug line typically includes the following three elements:
- EXT. or INT. (Exterior or Interior)
- Does the scene take place outside (EXT.) or inside (INT.)?
- Can also use EXT. / INT. or INT. / EXT. if you're transitioning between the two
- EXT. + Physical Location
- EXT. MEMORIAL MALL
- EXT. + Physical Location + Time Mark
- Day or night
- CONT. (if following directly after another scene)
- Moments later, minutes later, next day, etc.
- EXT. MEMORIAL MALL - DAY
After the slug line comes the scene descriptions, or the action beats, and the dialogue.
- Action Beats
- Always use present tense
- Can use CAPS to emphasize important beats or objects or events
- Example: The Silver Loop bus SPINS on the black ice into the memorial mall as students flee.
- Dialogue - indent from slug line and action beats
*You should observe that as a screenwriter, it is not your job to describe the camera action; that's for the director to figure out.
Now that we've got all the pieces to the puzzle, let's put them together:
EXT. MEMORIAL MALL - DAY
The Silver Loop bus SPINS on the black ice into the memorial mall as students flee.
BOILERMAKER BUS DRIVER
Brace yourselves, everyone, I'm losing control!
*If you want the dialogue to come before any action, you can include "fade in", "cold open", or "over black" at the beginning of your page.
How to Practice:
If you want to try improving your screenwriting format skills, the first step is to get yourself a screenwriting program; Trelby and Final Draft are a few examples. Then get yourself a copy of one of your favorite screenplays - watch a scene from that movie, try to recreate the screenplay, and then compare your version to the actual copy. It would also be a good idea to read intructional books or DVDs on the art form.