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Screenplay Form and Content

Creative Commons Image on Flickr by mikesaidso

Just creating amazing characters in a memorable world who are struggling to obtain a goal(s) and writing the story with an original voicestill isn’t enough to start a screenplay. A novel, maybe, but not a script. The prose writer has freedom to use anything, go anywhere, use any tense, and explore any point of view. The screenwriter, however, is bound by form - not formula.

Screenplays have a very specific form, and if you ignore that form, it will not serve you, your story, or your audience, and it will definitely not help your screenplay. In fact, disregarding form will inevitably snuff out your script. And it will be a slow, painful death, essentially guiding the reader not to read.

So what’s the lesson learned? If you’re going to do something, do it right. Screenplay form is distinct and precise, and a script lacking this form almost always finds a home... right in the trash. 

Screenwriting is essentially filmmaking on paper. It is a visual storytelling after all, and the screenwriter must write in PRESENT TENSE - only what the audience can SEE and HEAR. The screenwriter must always use the Three C's: being CLEAR and CONCISE, yet still CREATIVE. Both in description and dialogue, creative brevity is the screenwriter’s steadfast ally and most powerful weapon.

The screenwriter does not have time to explore the story through long-winded, soul searching monologues, and the script can’t be bogged down with the subtle intricacies of every little detail. There is no time for that, and the screenwriter must be concerned with time - Always! When writing a script, you only have between 90 and 120 minutes to tell your story. That’s not a lot of time, so script economy becomes something the screenwriter must strive for. If it does not illustrate character or moving the story forward, kill it.

In this section, you will learn how to be more economical with your scenes as well as to avoid common pitfalls such as directing on the page. You will see the importance of the white space, learning to steer away from “I” pages and block pages. And detailed templates for film features, TV dramas, and sitcoms are provided to help you demonstrate the practical use of the many different elements of proper screenplay form. -

Gather Resources and Take Notes


More Form Tips and References

    • Solid advise with examples for content and format
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  • Adobe Story (Free)
    • This tool with guide you through the screenplay development process and has extra features for commenting and collaboration
  • (Free for two weeks)
    • This program also manages the whole film making process, including screenplay development
      • Each person on the production team tracks their work within the system so the producer can manage the project