Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Subplots & the Midpoint

Don't really know what a subplot is? No problem... Some writers don't. LOL. A subplot is basically everything else going on with your Protagonist that you're not including in the main storyline. All your other main characters are not unlike your Protagonist. Each has their very own main storyline, goal, motivation, action, events, obstacles, crisis, and resolution. 

Subplots. You've got a couple, right? If you do not, now might be the time to consider them. A lot of stories very naturally spin off a subplot or two and that's a good thing but there's nothing wrong with a planned subplot either. In fact, it's okay to manipulate your spun off subplot into a planned subplot that helps serve the story better. 

Consider using subplots to do some of your dirty work when it comes to the following...
  • Theme
  • Introduction of new characters
  • Development of the relationship between the Protagonist and the Stakes character
  • Develop/Reveal character of both the Protagonist and secondary characters
  • Increase Protagonist's conflict
  • Exposition
  • Breaking up scenes that run too long
  • Heighten or release tension built up by the main story
Many writers call the subplots the "B," "C", and "D" stories. They are similar to your main or "A" story but usually lack some of the same story or structural elements. While there is certainly no definitive rule, subplots do not require the same story or structural elements as the main story and often rely on exposition to fill in said story or structural elements. 

Often, by simply exploring and analyzing your main plot from as many different perspectives as possible can spin off a new subplot. This is perhaps, best accomplished by using those amazing secondary characters that you've developed. 

Tell us your secondary character's story... 

Just as your Protagonist is a character in conflict, so should your secondary characters be in conflict of some kind and hence, we follow this secondary character's struggles via the subplot and this subplot helps pull the main story into full focus by the end of the screenplay. 

Consider the importance of all your subplots... 

Many times I will read a screenplay that puts a weaker subplot in front of a more important subplot. Meaning that there is so much emphasis on a weaker subplot that either it needs to be fleshed out so that it becomes more important or maybe it needs to be the main story. You do not want your subplots to be more interesting than the main story. 

An outstanding movie to watch if you want to see a movie that caters to the importance of subplots is BEAUTIFUL GIRLS. I've learned so much from this movie that every time I watch it, I am amazed. The same goes for THE GREAT ESCAPE. 

Intersect your subplot with the main story plot and allow this subplot to create new complications for your Protagonist. Subplots can run parallel to the main storyline or they can run in complete contrast to it but ALL SUBPLOTS SHOULD SUPPORT, INFORM, AND EVENTUALLY WRAP UP OR PAY OFF INTO YOUR MAIN STORY PLOT. 

Do not leave your subplots UNATTENDED. Don't get us all spun up in a B, C, or D story and then forget to tie it up. Either tie it up or get rid of it.


What's the midpoint in a screenplay? How about this...
  • Revelation
  • Reversal of fortune
  • Point of no return
  • Change of direction
  • Protagonist's full commitment to goal
  • Burning of the bridges
  • Could be a huge HIGH
  • Could be a huge LOW
  • Protagonist "thinks" he or she knows everything they need to know
  • Brings up a completely new Central Question
  • Protagonist ceases to be pushed around
  • Protagonist has a new plan
  • Protagonist begins the shedding his or her flaw(s)
  • Glimmer of hope for the Protagonist
The above is not an all-inclusive list of course, this is just off the top of my head but hopefully you get the IDEA. The IDEA being that any of the above can work as the midpoint of a screenplay. 

Probably one of the most asked questions I get is the midpoint being the POINT OF NO RETURN. Lots of confusion here... Let me see if I might be able to shed some light on the point of no return. 

Some screenwriters argue that the entire screenplay should be a point of no return because hey... If the Protagonist doesn't move forward or simply goes back home, we have no story. True. And even if we write a Protagonist that defies this strategy and goes back home - he or she is very likely to find that the problem has simply followed them back. LOL. 

I personally like to think of the midpoint as the point in the story where the Protagonist has just a spark of what it's going to take to go on. Before this however, he or she's been letting the river carry them forward while they tread water - maybe even trying to swim back in the other direction. Get it? 

Or how about this, I can't tell you how many times I've actually seen this IN A MOVIE... 

The protagonist heads down a river - straight for a waterfall. The biggest waterfall the world has ever seen. Or not. But a big one. The protagonist does everything in his or her power to thwart going over the waterfall. 

Think about that for a second... You're thinking fast. You're paddling like crazy. You tell anyone else with you to work harder. You do not want to go over that waterfall. 


But you do. 

There is that point at the edge of the falls where by God you just have to GUT IT OUT BABY because you're going over no matter what you do. You can either have a heart attack NOW and die or PREPARE for the plunge of death. 

You decide to prepare. 

And you go over... Down, down, down you go... KERSPLASH! We're sitting in the audience. Of course the Protagonist made it. He or she HAS to make it, right? Or else there would be no story. But still... Even though we've seen this a hundred times before we still have that tension and uncertainty of not knowing whether or not the Protagonist is going to survive the fall. 

Maybe the boat explodes - maybe it doesn't. Everything and everybody disappears for just a couple of seconds... Cuz they're underwater, right? 

And here they come... Bouncing to the surface. Our fear(s) laid to rest. Don't you kind of get the idea that if the Protagonist can survive a huge waterfall like that, then they can probably just about survive ANYTHING? 

Sure... We think so... But more importantly, the Protagonist thinks so. He or she may not know WHY they think so. It's all association. Before the waterfall, the worst thing that ever happened to him or her was being arrested. A car wreck. A divorce. Loss of a job. 

Get it? 

Eveything makes you stronger but you don't consciously think of it in those terms - YOU JUST FEEL STRONGER. 

And even if the midpoint is a LOW POINT - like a waterfall, the survival makes you stronger. Having said that... Don't feel like you have to actually USE a WATERFALL to get your midpoint across. It's old and tired yet we still see it. 


Because it works. 
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  •  Introduction
  •  Development
  •  Climax
  •  Conclusion
  • Character development 
  •  Mid point development

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search terms: characters, theme, plot, conflict, protagonist, story resolution,

A Glossary Of Screenwriting Terms & Filmmaking Definitions

This comprehensive glossary is provided as a reference for novices learning the craft of screenwriting or professionals with a limited understanding of film-financing and production terminology. When you are writing a script there are certain technicalities you need to understand outside of the creative process such as script formatting and using the correct film language, and while at first learning the "rules of screenwriting" may feel like a distraction from actually writing your story and script, it won't take long for you to get into the groove, especially if you let screenplay writing software such as Movie Outline do most of the work for you.

Screenwriting Terms & Filmmaking Terminology

The scene description, character movement, and sounds as described in a screenplay.

For example:

The sounds of TYPING rise above all the rest as MAX sits at his computer writing his essay. He stops to sigh. Looks at what he's written. Reaches over to the mouse. Highlights it all. And erases it.
Use only when necessary. This suggests a shot be taken from a plane or helicopter (not a crane). For example, if a scene takes place on a tall building, you may want to have an aerial shot of the floor the action takes place on.
A type of shot. This usually occurs in scenes taking place in large settings.

For example: if you're at a playground and little Billy is playing in the grass while his sister Jenny is playing on the structure. To get from a detail shot of Billy playing to Jenny playing you'd use "ANGLE ON STRUCTURE" to suggest a new shot featuring Jenny. You're still in the same location, but the director knows to point the camera a different direction.

Note: this is often implied by simple scene description. Use ANGLE ON with good purpose.

Many scripts will use the parenthetical (beat) to interrupt a line of dialogue. A "beat" suggests the actor should pause a moment, in silence, before continuing the scene. "Beats" are often interchangeable with ellipses "..."
b.g. (background)
Used to describe anything occuring in a rear plane of action (the background as opposed to the main action or attention is focused in the foreground). Always use this term in lower case initials or written in full ("background"). For example: two people talk as Bill and Ted fight in the b.g.

In a screenplay, the name appears in all caps the first time a character is introduced in the "Action." The character's name can then be written normally, in the action, the rest of the script.

For Example: The limo pulls up to the curb. DAISY, an elderly woman sits in the car as MORGAN, the driver, steps out and opens the door for her. Daisy is dressed in evening-wear, ready for an Opera. Character's names always appear in all CAPS when speaking.

For Example:

You've been a darling, Morgan. Here's twenty dollars.
See also INSERT and Shot.

CLOSE ON is a shot description that strongly suggests a close-up on some object, action, or person (an expressive body part such as the face, or a fist).

May also be seen as CLOSEUP / C.U. or CLOSE SHOT
We move in for a new angle nearer to the subject. This is more of an editing term, but can be mentioned in the screenplay when necessary.
Sometimes, instead of DAY or NIGHT at the end of a SLUGLINE/Location Description, you'll see CONTINUOUS.

Basically, continuous refers to action that moves from one location to another without any interruptions in time. For example, in an action movie, the hero may run from the airport terminal into a parking garage. The sequence may include cuts, but the audience would perceive the action as a continuous sequence of events from the terminal to the lobby to the street to the garage to the second floor to a car etc. CONTINUOUS is generally optional in writing and can be dropped altogether.

For Example:


JANET looks over her shoulder. The MEN IN BLACK are still after her, toppling innocent passersby and sending luggage flying across the linoleum floor. Janet faces forward again and nearly runs smack into a nun. She apologizes and pushes through the glass doors.


Janet stumbles to the curb, stopping short of the honking traffic. As a bus flies by, blasting her with wind, she steps out into traffic. A car SWERVES to avoid her! She GASPS, looks back. The men in black are there.

Here CONTINUOUS is used for the slugline (EXT. STREET - CONTINUOUS) and represents no time passing between changes in location.
The Hitchcock zoom, also known as the contra-zoom or the Vertigo effect is an unsettling in-camera special effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception in a way that is difficult to describe. This effect was used by Alfred Hitchcock in his film Vertigo. It rarely appears in a screenplay.

In the Hitchcock zoom, the setting of a zoom lens is used to adjust the field of view at the same time as the camera moves towards or away from the subject in such a way as to keep the subject the same size in the frame throughout.

Thus, during the zoom, there is a continuous perspective distortion, the most directly noticeable feature of which is that the background "changes size" relative to the subject. As the human visual system uses both size and perspective cues to judge the relative sizes of objects, seeing a perspective change without a size change is a highly unsettling effect, and the emotional impact of this effect is much greater than the description above can suggest.

The Hitchcock zoom is commonly used by film-makers to represent the sensation of vertigo, or to suggest that undergoing a realization that causes them to reassess everything they had previously believed. A notable use of this effect is in Jaws when Chief Brody sees the mayhem in the water from the beach, or in Goodfellas, where director Martin Scorsese uses the Hitchcock zoom in a scene during the climax of the film: Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) are sitting in a restaurant, talking. Henry realizes that Jimmy is setting him up and betraying their lifelong friendship; as this happens, the perspective in the background changes in a slow, gradual manner.
This is a term used for superimposed titles or text intended to move across/up/down/diagonally on screen. For example, the text at the beginning of Star Wars  movies "Crawls" up into infinity. Or, the written words "(crawl)" in Unforgiven.
This is like a "Fade to black then Fade to next scene." In other words, as one scene fades out, a moment of black interrupts before the next scene fades in. It is not to be confused with DISSOLVE, since CROSSFADE always involves a black or blank screen.
The most simple and common transition. Since this transition is implied by a change of scene, it may be used sparingly to help intensify character changes and emotional shifts. The transition describes a change of scene over the course of one frame.

Very simply, this is what people are supposed to say according to the script.
The person who visualizes the movie based on the script, creates shots, suggests how the actors should portray their characters, and helps to edit the final cut. Basically, the person in charge of putting converting a script into a movie.
A common transition. As one scene fades out, the next scene fades into place. This type of transition is generally used to convey some passage of time and is very commonly used in montages such as seen in Bugsy.
A mechanism on which a camera can be moved around a scene or location. Simple dollies involve a tripod on wheels. Dolly shots are moving shots.

A shot, usually from a distance, that shows us where we are. A shot that suggests location. Often used at the beginning of a film to suggest where the story takes place. For example, if our story takes place in New York, we might use a shot of the Manhattan skyline as an establishing shot.
Exterior. This scene takes place out of doors. This is mostly for producers to figure out the probable cost of a film project.
Means the camera is placed a very long distance from the subject or action. Generally, this term would be left out of a screenplay and left to the director to decide. Use only when necessary.


This is commonly used as a DISSOLVE to a COLOR. Commonly, you'll see this as:




This usually suggests it's not the end of the movie, but it is the end of a major movement in the film. The "Next Scene" is often days, months, or years after the previous scenes. Sometimes titles will appear in the blackness to declare a passage of time. But this transition is often a sign of a major shift in time or emotional status for the main characters. It may also be used to suggest a character has been knocked out or killed. Fade In is also sometimes used at the start of a screenplay.
A particular character or action is highlighted or "favored" in a shot. The focus is basically centered on someone or something in particular. Use only when necessary.
Feature Film
In the olden days of cinema, people watched a series of short films. Then, as films became longer, they would watch some short films and one long film. The long film became the main attraction, hence the term feature film. Today, feature films are generally defined as any film at least one hour long that people pay to see.
An extremely brief shot, sometimes as short as one frame, which is nearly subliminal in effect. Also a series of short staccato shots that create a rhythmic effect.
Sometimes used as a transition or at the start of slugline to denote a sequence that happened in the past. This can be followed by BACK TO PRESENT DAY if required or the writer can use PRESENT DAY as the time of day at the end of the proceeding slugline instead of just DAY.
The picture stops moving, becoming a still photograph, and holds for a period of time.

When a writer pictures a certain close-up at a certain moment in the film, he or she may use an insert shot. This describes a shot of some important detail in a scene that must be given the camera's full attention for a moment. Inserts are mainly used in reference to objects, a clock, or actions, putting a key in a car's ignition.

For example: if there's a clock in the room. the writer might have reason for the audience to get a good glimpse of the clock and as such would use an insert shot to suggest the director get a closer shot of the clock at a particular point in the scene.

Note: often; writing important objects in CAPS will convey their importance in the scene and give the director more freedom and a greater feeling of importance. Use inserts only when truly important.
Interior. This scene takes place indoors. This is mostly for producers to figure out the probable cost of a film project.
INTERCUT: / Intercutting
Some scripts may use the term INTERCUT: as a transition or INTERCUT BETWEEN. At this point, two scenes will be shown a few moments each, back and forth. For example, if Laura is stuck in her flaming house and the fire department in on the way, a screenplay may call for intercutting between the flames closing in on Laura and the fire fighters riding across town to save her.

Note: this is a style that can be written around with standard scene breaks. It's more to prepare the reader for the upcoming slug line bonanza.
See also: INTO VIEW:

The audience can only see so much through the window of a movie screen. Use this term to suggest something or someone comes into the picture while the camera stays put. It's like a character or object coming from off stage in the theater. For example: Forrest Gump sits on the bench. OLD WOMAN INTO FRAME. She sits next to him.
See also: INTO FRAME:

The audience can only see so much through the window of a movie screen. Use this term to suggest something or someone comes into the picture while the camera pulls back (pans, etc) to reveal more of the scene.
Iris Out
See also WIPE TO:

Also written as: IRIS FADE OUT or IRIS FADE IN. Used at the end of Star Wars  scripts, this term refers to a wipe from the center of the frame out in all directions. It's as if the iris of a human eye were opening for dimly lit situations to take us into the next scene or the ending credits as is the case with Star Wars.

A transition which denotes a linkage of shots in a scene in which the appearance of real continuous time has been interrupted by omission. Imagine setting a camera down to film a person. You record him for five minutes. But as it turns out, you have only a one minute time limit on your project. You have no special editing tools, just a couple of VCRs. But you realize that most of the important stuff is said in a few short moments. If you cut out the unimportant parts and edit together the parts you want based on a single camera angle, you will have what are called jump cuts. Transitions from one moment to the next within a scene that appear jarring because they break the direct flow of filmic time and space. This transition is usually used to show a very brief ellipsis of time.

A good example of Jump Cuts can be seen in the movie Elizabeth when the queen practices her speech. The jump cuts make us disoriented and nervous along with the queen, giving us the tension and humor of the situation as if it were an out-take reel. Bad examples of Jump Cuts would be in B-movies like Mothra where they don't have the money to get scenes from various angles, so they cut from one important moment to the next from the same angle.

See also DISSOLVE:

A transition between scenes that is achieved by fading out one shot while the next one grows clearer.

A transition often used to compare two completely unrelated objects. It's film's version of metaphor. This involves cutting from one object of certain color, shape, and/or movement, to another object of similar color, shape, and/or movement. For example, a circular saw to a child's merry-go-round.

A commonly studied example of match cutting comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The classic cut comes towards the beginning of the film. After the apes have used a bone as a weapon for gathering food, an ape throws the bone into the air. As it falls, we match cut to a space ship carrying nuclear warheads. Both the bone and the ship are of similar shape and color, and both happen to be moving towards the bottom of the screen. The cut relates all of technology to the development of weaponry as it cuts out all of human history.

This contains similar qualities to the MATCH CUT. A match dissolve involves two objects of similar color, shape, and/or movement in transition from one scene to the next.

For example: if Scene A is following (tracking) an arrow whizzing through the forest, one might match dissolve to a tracking shot, in Scene B of a bullet whizzing through the inner city.
From the French term "to assemble". In film, a series of images showing a theme, a contradiction, or the passage of time. This film style became common in Russia in the early years of cinema. Russians were the first to truly use editing to tell a story. Some early examples of montage include City Symphony's and Man With a Movie Camera. Modern day examples can be seen in Goodfellas and Bugsy.
Mit Out Sound (Original German) Moment of Silence (Made up English memory device). Now hardly ever used.

O.C. / O.S.
Off-Camera or Off-Screen. This is the abbreviation sometimes seen next to the CHARACTER'S name before certain bits of dialogue. It means the writer specifically wants the voice to come from somewhere unseen.

See Also: Swish Pan

Camera movement involving the camera turning on a stationary axis. Imagine standing in one spot on a cliff in Hawaii. You want to absorb the view so you, without moving your body or feet, turn your head from the left to the right. This is the same effect as a pan.
If an actor should deliver his or her lines in a particular way, a screenplay will contain a description in parentheses to illustrate the point. Parentheticals should be used only in cases where a line of dialogue should be read in some way contrary to logic. If used too often, actor's and director's egos get hurt, and things get messy. It should not be used for action decription.

For Example:
I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.
Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature. This can be used to bring out the personal aspects of a scene, or it can be used to build horror and suspense. An example of horror and suspense in POV can be scene in the opening shot ofHalloween.
The camera physically moves away from a subject, usually through a zoom or dolly action.
The camera focus changes from one object or subject to another.

For example:

The camera physically moves towards a subject.

Often used to reveal things for comic or dramatic effect. Could be described as a counter POV shot. Basically, the script suggests the camera come around 180 degrees to get a shot from the "other side" of a scene. For example, in the There's Something About Mary script, Tucker is playing a joke on Mary in her office in one scene that the writers didn't want to reveal right away. They use a REVERSE ANGLE to show that he's got two tongue depressors in his upper lip to represent teeth. This reverse angle is used for comic effect.

An event that takes place entirely in one location or time. If we go outside from inside, it's a new scene. If we cut to five minutes later, it's a new scene. If both, it's a new scene. Scenes can range from one shot to infinity and are distinguished by slug lines.
Shooting Script
This is the truly final draft used on set by the production people, actors, and director to make the movie from the screenplay.
One image. If there's a cut, you've changed shots. Shots can range from split seconds to several minutes. Shots are generally chosen by the director although the writer can use capital letters to suggest where the camera should be. When a writer absolutely must have a certain shot at a certain moment in a film, he has a few options each described in detail elsewhere in this list: INSERT, ANGLE ON, and CLOSE ON.
Slug Line
The text in all CAPS at the beginning of a scene that briefly describes the location and time of day.

For example:


Note: sometimes sluglines are abbreviated to something as simple as "LATER" or "BEDROOM" to maintain the pace and flow of a sequence.
An especially sharp transition. This style of cut is usually used to convey destruction or quick emotional changes. For example: If you were writing a horror movie but wanted to lighten the gore at the beginning, you might have:


A YOUNG GIRL races away from her tormentor but then trips and falls. The KILLER enters the forest clearing, taking a moment to savor this death. The Girl shakes her head, as if begging for the killer to change his mind. But no, he closes in, a black cloaked arm raising the knife into the air. The knife catches the moonlight for just a moment before it races downwards.

SMASH CUT TO:            


It's a bright and beautiful morning and a bunch of kids wander the courtyard on their way to class.

The sudden shift from a dark forest to a bright schoolyard on the first stab would convey the distress of the murder without showing it.

Note: this transition is often a director's choice. As a writer, use this sparingly if at all.
Spec Script / Screenplay
If a writer finishes his/her own screenplay outside the studio system (it isn't an assignment) then sends it to the studios for consideration, it is a spec script.
The space of the frame is split into two, three, or more frames each with their own subject. Usually the events shown in each section of the split screen are simultaneous. But Split screen can also be used to show flashbacks or other events. For example, two people are talking on the phone. They're in different locations, but you wish to show the reactions of both simultaneously. Split Screen is used prominently in 24 to show simultaneous action and events unfolding.
A camera built to remain stable while being moved, usually by human hands. Occasionally, seen in scripts to suggest a handheld shot be used in a scene, although a steadicam is smoother than a regular handheld shot and as such produces a different result.
Footage of events in history, from other films, etc. Basically, anything that's already filmed and you intend to be edited into the movie. For example, the Austin Powers movies use stock footage for comic effect. Some old B films use stock footage to keep their budgets low.
Abbreviation for superimpose. The superimposition of one thing over another in the same shot. Sometimes TITLES are superimposed over scenes. Or a face can be superimposed over a stream-of-consciousness montage shot.
Swish Pan
A quick snap of the camera from one object to another that blurs the frame and is often used as a transition. Sometimes called a FLASH PAN. Cuts are often hidden in swish pans, or they can be used to disorient or shock the audience.

A close-up of a person or thing used for dramatic effect. A tight frame encloses a subject with very little space surrounding it. Not in common use. Use only when necessary.
When you want to cut to later in a scene, you have the option of writing TIME CUT as the transition. For example, if two people walk into a restaurant and their conversation is important at first then veers off into topics not important to your story, then you might want to time cut from the drinks to the main course and then again to paying the check.
Tracking Shot (Track, Tracking, Travelling)
A tracking shot involves a camera following a person or an object. As long as the camera isn't locked down in place by a tripod, for example, and is following (tracking) a subject, then it's a tracking shot. For good examples of tracking shots, watch the one take episode of The X-Files, any episode of ER or the first shots of Touch of Evil  and The Player.
In the olden days of cinema, the advertisements for upcoming attractions were usually played after the end of the movie. Hence, they became known as trailers. But, as credits reels have grown in size over the years, audiences would often leave before watching these advertisements and "trailers" became "previews." But the name is still in common use. A trailer is a theatrical advertisement for an upcoming film attraction.
These describe the style in which one scene becomes the next. Used appropriately, these can be used to convey shifts in character development and emotion. In other words, a CUT TO: is not required at every scene change. Some major transitions include CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO:, MATCH CUT TO:, JUMP CUT TO:, SMASH CUT TO:, WIPE TO:, and FADE TO:. Occasionally a writer will make up his own transition. In these cases, the transition is usually self-defined (such as BRIGHT WHITE FLASH TO: suggests whiteness will fill the screen for a brief moment as we pass into the next scene).

Voice Over. This abbreviation often appears beside a CHARACTER'S name before their dialogue. This means the character voices that dialogue but his or her moving lips are not present in the scene. Voice-over is generally used for narration, such as in the beginning of The Mummy. Or a character's inner thoughts said out loud such that only the audience will hear.

A transition in which one scene "wipes away" for the next. Imagine Scene A is water and Scene B is the substance underneath. A wipe would look like a squeegee pulling Scene A off of Scene B. These usually suggest a passage of time from one scene to the next. The most common and obvious example of wipes is in the Star Wars  franchise.

The image seems to close in on a person or object making the person or object appear larger (or smaller) on screen. Technically, the lens mechanically changes from wide angle to telephoto or vice versa. Notice and recognize the difference between a zoom and a push in (camera moves closer to subject). Use zoom only when necessary.
If you need help with formatting your script, try my editing service for screenplays.

Editing: $45.00 Flat Fee

  •  Evaluating formatting to industry standards
  •  Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.

Critique: $50.00 Flat Fee
 Includes evaluating the basis elements of a script

  •  Introduction
  •  Development
  •  Climax
  •  Conclusion
  • Character development 
  •  Mid point development

Critiques also provide suggestions for improvements and enhancement. 

Payments are made by Paypal or cashier check by mail.

Feel free to contact me at ahicks4298@q.com or call at (360) 696-4298. address or ask for Frances.

Film script format, writing film scripts, screenwriting services, coverage service, screenplay formatting margins, screenplay writing, screenplay format example, Search terms: screenplays, screenwriting service, edit and critique service, writing screenplays, screenplay format, loglines, query letter, film scripts, movie scripts, screenplay format, screenplay synopsis, script synopsis, treatment, proofreading service for writers, novels, writing services, fiction writing, film script format, writing flim scripts, screenwriting service, coverage service, screenplay critique service, screenplay format margins, screenplay writing, screenplay format example, free writing tutorials,    

Screenplay Format: A Guide To Industry Standard Script Formatting

What Is Hollywood Screenplay Format?

If you ever want somebody in the film industry to read your story and seriously consider transforming it into a movie then there are a few rules you need to adhere to. Principally format. Producers, agents, readers, actors and development executives - your first audience - need to be able to sit down with your work and imagine your words transformed into pictures and dialogue on the big screen.

To do this, you have to help them. You have to take away as many obstacles as possible and make their reading experience enjoyable, engaging and most of all.. easy. Many people say that the first ten pages of a screenplay are the most important because if you haven't grabbed the reader by then, they may well put your script down and move on to the next in their pile.

That's where the screenplay formatting guidelines come in. Through the years an industry standard has developed for the presentation of scripts. From size of margins, to page numbering, to placement of text on the page. This all has to be taken into consideration when writing your screenplay so that the reader doesn't have to struggle through your words in order to understand their meaning. The whole concept of screenplay formatting is essentially an aesthetic one. To make each page of your script look clear and legible.

Dissecting Screenplay Format

Hollywood script format is simple once you understand the basics. A screen story is divided into many scenes and each of these scenes is a location. A location when written in a screenplay needs to be described by the screenwriter to the reader in a certain way so that they instantly understand the most important three pieces of information about it:
  • Whether it's inside or outside
  • Where the scene takes place
  • Time of day
These elements form the Scene Heading otherwise know as the Slugline or Slug.


Each introduction of a scene appears on a single line (called the slugline) which contains the location information and time of day. Almost all sluglines begin with INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior). There are very few exceptions except when either repeatedly cutting back to a scene or moving through locations within the principle location.

For example: INT. BAR - NIGHT

If you have already introduced the BAR as a location you can simply use "BACK TO BAR" as a subsequent slugline. Or if you have introduced a HOUSE as a location and are writing a sequence in which a character moves through each room, you can use BEDROOM or LOUNGE as the slugline in order to maintain the flow of the sequence.

SUPER can also be used to denote superimposed information, such as: SUPER: "Three years later"

INTERCUT BETWEEN can be used as a slugline for a phone conversation after the location of each party is established with prior sluglines. INTERCUT: can also be used to achieve the same effect but as a TRANSITION.

If in doubt, always begin sluglines with INT. or EXT. and end with DAY or NIGHT, unless a special time of day is dramatically essential, i.e. two lovers watching the sun rise: EXT. BEACH - SUNRISE.


A shot must not be confused with a slugline even though it appears in capital letters in a similar format. A shot focuses the reader's attention on something specific within the scene, such as a person or object.

For example:

ANGLE ON JACK, C.U. ON GUN or JACK'S POV. Sometimes screenwriters use a shot to draw attention to something, then follow this with a little description and then write BACK TO SCENE and continue the main scene action.


This appears immediately after your slugline, is preceded by one blank line and runs from left to right margin, spanning the full width of the text on the page. The Action sets the scene, describes the setting, and allows you to introduce your characters and set the stage for your story. Action is written in real time. Write cleanly and crisply what the audience sees on the screen. Only create atmosphere through "flowery" description if that atmosphere is essential to your scene, otherwise it is redundant and slows the script down.

For example: If you're writing a horror and are introducing a haunted house, it is necessary to set the tone and so a few sentences of description adds to the reading experience. It also allows the reader to get a "real time" sensation as if watching the movie on screen. But if two characters are in the middle of a heated debate, keep action description to an absolute minimum in order to maintain the flow of the conversation and scene.

When writing action, the best thing to do is to imagine you are having a conversation with someone over a coffee and recounting an interesting story. This way you only explain the key points that move the story along and do not focus on the irrelevant aspects. Try to write in small paragraphs, no more than four or five lines per paragraph, then double-spacing to the next paragraph. In fact, by isolating action and images in their own paragraphs, the writer suggests visual emphasis in the story; subliminally contributing to the visual direction.

Capitalize a character name on introduction only and give them a specific age and gender. This information is critical for not only comprehension of the story, but casting and budgeting as well. Capitalize all major sound effects, avoid describing clothing or hairstyles, unless it's crucial to the story and do not write action in parentheses after a character name, i.e. GEORGE (lighting a cigarette). Also, try to avoid using the word "camera." Use "we" instead. For example: instead of "The camera follows..." use "We follow..."


This appears in caps, tabbed toward the center of the page and is followed by dialogue. A character name can be an actual name (JACK) or description (FAT MAN) or an occupation (DOCTOR). Sometimes, you might have COP #1 and then COP #2 speaking. It is okay to identify the speaking parts like this, but actors will like you more if you personalize their part with a name. Try to be consistent. Don't call a character JOE here and MR. JONES there.


This appears tabbed between the left margin (where sluglines and action are) and the character name margin. Writing good dialogue is an art in itself and sometimes novices tend to over-write it, making scenes slow, chatty and "play-like." Remember, people don't talk as formally as they write but on the other hand, keep slang and vernacular to a minimum and don't write out accents or regional dialects.

Your dialogue should reflect the personality of each character and give an insight into them. Try to personalize dialogue from one character to the next (but don't over do it) so that the reader can distinguish between the key players in your story. Make it sound real and conversational, so that the audience feels like a fly on the wall, and try where possible to subtly express inner feelings or conflicts rather than using dialogue that's too "on the nose".

People rarely say exactly what they mean. There is always subtext. Even when people are being candid, there's still subtext. Indicate the truth and let the audience fill in the gaps or read between the lines. This is far more interesting than being told outright what to think. For instance, in the Hollywood movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise's character says "You complete me" rather than "I love you" to Dorothy and this was set-up earlier through an encounter with a young couple in love who used sign language. The key is to make the audience think where possible rather than handing everything to them on a plate, and this means being clever with your dialogue which sometimes may not even be necessary if the same sentiment or message can be expressed visually.


Parentheticals (or "wrylies") appear left indented (not centered) within brackets beneath the character name and are used to express an attitude for the actor who is speaking.. i.e. upset, crying, laughing, irritated, angry etc. Parentheticals should be short, to the point, descriptive, and only used when absolutely necessary.


Scene transitions such as CUT TO: and DISSOLVE TO: are optional and when used should be right-indented (but not flush right) and preceded by one blank line and followed by two blank lines. When breaking pages, the scene transition must remain with the shot just completed. In other words, it is never permissible to start a new page with a CUT TO: or a DISSOLVE TO:. It must be placed at the bottom of the previous page.

Transitions should be omitted if you are rapidly cutting between scenes, since inserting them would disrupt the flow of the sequence; such as in a montage or a chase through each room of a house. Transitions are primarily used to denote a major shift in time or location, and sometimes, like using MATCH CUT TO:, for effect.

Screenplay Format Summary

To instantly grab the reader and keep them page turning, use crisp visual writing in simple sentences, in short paragraphs, with dialogue scenes that are short and snappy and with no mention of the camera (unless absolutely necessary) and without directing the actors or usurping the duties of the costume designer, set designer, cinematographer, etc.

Remember, a screenplay is not a literary document. It is a blueprint for a movie. So make it lean and easy to read. If a brilliant script isn't an easy read, it will never make the first cut. The purpose of these basic screenplay formatting principles is so the reader can freely focus on your characters and story without being distracted by unnecessary description, improper format and convoluted dialogue. And always remember to spell check your script!

If you need help with formatting your script, try my editing service for screenplays.

Editing: $45.00 Flat Fee

  •  Evaluating formatting to industry standards
  •  Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.

Critique: $50.00 Flat Fee
 Includes evaluating the basis elements of a script

  •  Introduction
  •  Development
  •  Climax
  •  Conclusion
  • Character development 
  •  Mid point development

Critiques also provide suggestions for improvements and enhancement. 

Payments are made by Paypal or cashier check by mail.

Feel free to contact me at ahicks4298@q.com or call at (360) 696-4298. address or ask for Frances.

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