If you’ve ever watched your favorite book turn into a movie, you may have wondered how to write a screenplay. What do the writers keep that belongs to the original story? How do they know what to cut? And perhaps most controversial of all, what do you add that doesn’t line up with the book?
Maybe you grew up in the ’90s and early 2000s and watched Harry Potter go from black words on a white page in the theater of your mind to record-breaking movies. This series was long, so how did Michael Goldenberg and Steve Kloves determine how to write a script for the movies? You may want to know the following:
- What is a script?
- script format
- step by step guide
Scripts are an important aspect of today’s books. Whether you aspire to be like Delia Owens or Veronica Roth, it’s critical that you become familiar with exactly how to write a screenplay. You never know, your novel may be the next to hit the big screen!
What is a script?
A script is a specific written format for directors, actors, and crew members and acts as a guide when filming begins. Whereas a novel is usually told in the first or third person, plunging deep into the meanings, description, and specific movements of characters, a screenplay takes a different approach.
Scripts are such a vital part of the filmmaking process that actors are often not even allowed a hard copy for their first full read. Producers often use secure apps (like Amber) to prevent actors from leaking the script.
Key aspects of a script include what viewers will see and hear on the big screen and include:
- Framework and brief description
- specific noises
- Camera transitions and shots.
Think of it this way: if you’re a director and want an overview of your next big project, you need to know where you’ll need to shoot, an idea of the shots you’ll be taking, and the lines of your actors.
When actors are asked for a role or if they want more information about a specific upcoming movie, they should read the script (or screenplay).
You can find some scripts online and read them to better understand the exact format. In fact, you can even find some (like hamilton) at your local Barnes & Noble. However, read on for a simplified version of the script format.
How to write a script: format
Formatting a script correctly is imperative for everyone. The actors need to be clear about which lines they need to memorize and who says what. Videographers need to be aware of important shots. Directors need a 30,000 foot view of the movie they are about to make.
He Nashville Film Institute (NFI) gives a great breakdown of what to include when wondering how to write a screenplay. Some of his points are below.
#1 – Gradual appearance
No matter what movie you shoot or what book you turn from page to page, your script will start with a “fade out.” If you have a voiceover (VO) with no pictures, this is where you’ll insert it.
#2 – Scene title
When writing the scene heading, be sure to capitalize and include the following: general location, specific location, and what time of day the scene takes place. These details are vital for the cast, crew, and of course the director to be aware of.
#3 – Lines of action or scene descriptors
Your description must include:
- Character description every time a new character is introduced
- A brief description of the settings for setting the images.
- Important actions performed in the scene (such as “The bear ROARS”).
Here is a free version of the script 2016 movie, Lion.
#4 – Dialogue and parentheses
This is where you center, in all caps, the name of the speaking character, include a short description (in parentheses) as needed, and then write their exact dialogue. For example:
I can’t believe you made it.
Well, here I am.
#5 – Shots
This step is very rare and is only included if absolutely necessary. If it is imperative to include a specific shot to better communicate the scene, this is where the writers do it.
How to write a screenplay: step by step guide
When starting your first screenplay, just like starting a manuscript, making sure your format meets industry standards will help others take your work seriously. He NFI outlines a step by step guide on how to do it. A brief description is below:
- Use Courier 12 point font
- The left margin should be 1.5 inches.
- Right margin 1 inch (between 0.5 and 1.25 inches), irregular
- 1-inch top and bottom margins
- About 55 lines per page, regardless of paper size.
- Names of dialogue speakers (in capital letters)
- Transitions are capitalized
- Dialogue 1.5 inches from the margin
Now that you have a general idea of how to format your script, it’s time to start writing. This is where you need to think as a videographer or moviegoer rather than just a writer. Ask yourself the following questions as you write your scenes:
- Are there crucial shots I need to communicate?
- How will the story look better on screen?
- What scenes will not be added to the movie version?
- Who are my most important characters?
- What characters should I cut?
- How do I best write dialogue?
TIP: You may want to print these questions out and keep them close by as you write your first script.
The transition from writer to screenwriter
Don’t worry if writing a script feels awkward or awkward at first. Writers are used to writing every aspect of what happens in a story. Because? Well, writers don’t have the sound or visual element so they have to write in detail everything their readers need to know.
How to write a script well depends more or less on what the viewers see and hear on the screen. Of course, dialogue is critical to the success of your screenplay, too, but the transition from writing novels to writing screenplays probably feels less awkward when it comes to dialogue.
Some key aspects to keep in mind are:
- Include pictures, but leave the details to the team
- Include tips in parentheses, but leave the details to the director and actors.
- Include crucial shots, but leave creative liberties to the director
- Include dialogue and remember that it should sound even better verbalized than on the page.
- Include only the most important scenes
- Cut any scene or character that does not contribute to the film adaptation
Learning to write a screenplay will be a massive mind shift, but it can also bring great rewards. Many writers dream of one day seeing their novel on the big screen. Learning to write a screenplay, and doing it well, is one step closer to making another author’s dream come true, or even your own.
Refuse to let discouragement set in and instead move on. Learning a new skill is difficult but very rewarding!