Screenwriting: What Defines a Script?

Screenwriters know that they have to make a script out of their story. Yet, many wonder what defines a script and what should be included in a script. Good screenwriting needs outlines, characters, dialogue and action.

Step 1: Defining a Screenplay

While a screenplay may have the same elements of a novel or even a short story, screenplays are laid out differently. Screenplays have more of a visual element in that they are set up like outlines and that they basically outline the dialogue and action of an entire film.

Screenplays must be formatted a certain way with indentations, capitalizations for names, parenthesis for descriptions and headings to set up the scene. If a screenplay isn't set up this way, it's not a screenplay. And, more than likely, a director or producer is simply going to toss it in the trash. It's hard enough to get screenplays made into movies. Screenwriters shouldn't commit faux pas when it comes to formatting.

Step 2: Elements of a Screenplay

While there are a lot of items that need to be put in a screenplay, the major elements of a screenplay include the following: Action, Dialogue, Characters and Headings. Without these elements, the screenwriter doesn't really have a screenplay.

The Action of a screenplay tells what's going on in the scene. This can include things like what the character is doing and perhaps where the character is at. The Action is always written in the present tense. The description of the action doesn't need to be indented, but the sentence shouldn't be longer than six inches.

The Dialogue is what the character is saying and it is central to the screenplay. Most of what the screenwriter will be writing is dialogue since the dialogue should be able to express most of what the character is thinking, feeling and the like. Dialogue is everything that the character is saying, even if the character is not on stage or doing voice-overs while scenes, montages or even credits are playing.

Dialogue must be left-indented 1 inch and right indented 1.5 inches and it must a total of 3.5 inches in length.

Characters are the ones that are saying the dialogue and performing the action. In-depth descriptions of characters are not necessary as dialogue, action and what props exist on the character will generally give the director and the actors enough information on how to interpret the character. Character names, however, must be in all caps. For example, a character by the name of George would have to be capitalized like this whenever he is introduced: GEORGE.

Even minor characters with no name need to be associated with at least a description. For example, the milk man would be called MILK MAN in the script. Character names must be located above their description and dialogue and the names need to be left-indented 2 inches and must be 4 inches wide.

Headings are also important to screenplays. These are generally one line that describes both the time of day and the location, and these are in all caps. For example, EXT. LIQUOUR STORE - NIGHT.