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6 Useful Terms Every Screenwriter Should Know:

“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” – Jean-Luc Godard

The British director Alfred Hitchcock, known for his suspense thrillers, planned every detail before filming began, shooting the film almost exactly as it was written. He famously said, “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script, and the script.”

Screenwriting is a profession that involves its own technical language. Here are a few of the terms essential to understanding the craft:

  1. Scene heading: Also known as a slug line, a scene heading appears at the top of each new scene and includes the following information: “EXT.” or “INT.” (abbreviations for “exterior” and “interior”), the location, and the time of day. For example: “INT. HOUSE - NIGHT”

  2. Action line: Action lines describe what a character is doing in a scene.

  3. Parenthetical: A parenthetical is a small direction included before a character’s line that suggests how the line should be delivered.

  4. Transition: “FADE IN” precedes the very first line of your script. “FADE OUT” marks the end. Other transitions, like “DISSOLVE TO” or “MATCH CUT TO,” may be used throughout your script.

  5. Voiceover: Abbreviated to “V.O.,” voiceover is used when an unseen narrator interjects into the scene.

  6. Camera angle: Though typically avoided by writers, camera angles can be noted in a screenplay if they’re essential to the way a scene unfolds, perhaps enabling the delivery of a joke or big reveal.

How to write a Script?

Writing a feature script—or even the script for a short film—can seem overwhelming, but it’s manageable if you break it down into methodical steps. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your movie script:

1. Write Your Logline

A logline is a single sentence that answers the question: What is my story about? It should encompass the plot’s major dramatic question—

Answer the following questions to help create a logline:

  • How does your protagonist get involved in the story?

  • What conflict arises to challenge your main character and move the story forward?

  • What is the world of your story? What makes this story different, interesting, or suspenseful?

In 50 words or less, combine the above information into a single sentence.

2. Create an Outline

Begin creating an outline by writing down the main events of your script in order. You can do this in a traditional outline format over one or two pages, or if you have space, you can write your sentences on index cards and post them on a wall to make it easier to view and manipulate the parts. Each event should be a single, short sentence (e.g. “Danny gets shot in the leg”). Your sole dramatic question is the force that will shape the main plotline of your story. Screenwriters call this the throughline.

3. Build a Treatment

Consider your treatment a beefed-up prose version of your outline, one that reads more like a short story. If you’re shopping your script around, treatment is what you might use to gauge interest; it can also be a good exercise to see if the story works the way you’re hoping it does in your head. Your personal artistic vision comes into play with the treatment, so build out your world and your characters as lush as you’d like

4. Write Your Screenplay

Happy with your treatment? Here’s where the hard work comes in. Try to remember all the rules you’ve heard before: Show, don’t tell. Write in the present tense. Try not to do too much editing while you write. Let your ideas flow and then structure them once you’ve got everything on the page.

5. Format Your Screenplay

Script templates are easy to find online, and there’s plenty of screenwriting software that will automatically arrange your writing into a screenplay format. Industry-standard for a script format is 12-pt Courier font, with a 1-inch right margin, 1.5 inches left margin, and 1-inch margins at top and bottom.

6. Edit Your Screenplay

Writing is a kind of explosion. When you get to the end of it, you get to walk around and look at the shrapnel and the damage it did. You get to see who died. And you get to see how it worked—that’s the editing process.

In the editing process, your goal is clarity. When you return to what you’ve written, pretend that you’re someone who’s never read it before. What would their response be? Don’t focus on perfection, keep your attention on the story. If you can’t get any objectivity, give it to a trusted reader. Ask them for advice, but don’t automatically accept their suggestions.


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