The Basic Lesson about Scriptwriting for Amateurs

You might think that scriptwriting is easy to do – just sit back and write your script, right? Well, it’s not; even if you are a novelist or such, writing a script is quite hard – and writing a good script is even harder.

You’ll need a lot of free time on your hands in order to properly handle the characters, the dysfunction, and the long storyline. But it’s all worth it if your goal is to make a script that will satisfy you when you’ll read it.

Therefore, if you’ve just got into the whole scriptwriting thing, we are here to help and give you our basic lesson on scriptwriting for amateurs. Grab your pen, or your keyboard, and start taking some notes!

The Formatting

First, we’ll start with the formatting you’ll have to apply to a script, as it is very different from the one of the novels, or short story. But, if you’ve just started writing, it’s recommended to focus more on the writing itself than the formatting – however, the latter is an aspect that should not be mistreated, as you will have to do a lot of changes if your script is not formatted properly.

Now, a starting point to formatting is to get familiar with the basic script terms that you are most probably going to use when writing it. They are as follows:

  • SR, SL, and SC – Stage Right, Stage Left, and Stage Center
  • Enter and Exit – points out when a character enters or exits a scene
  • Beat – marks a pause in dialogue
  • Lights Fade and Lights Rise – marks the change of scene or of focus in a certain scene
  • Fade to Black – marks the end of a scene or the end of the play
  • and Ext. – Interior and Exterior, marking whether a scene takes place inside or outside
  • Offstage – marks things that happen in a place where the audience can’t see or hear them; usually dialogue of characters that are not visible
  • Aside – marks the moment when a character stops speaking with any other characters and voices his or her thoughts about a certain situation or addresses straight to the audience.

Now that we’ve got terminology out of the way, let’s move on to some other basic formatting tips.

Formatting Tips and Tricks

Character names and descriptions should be aligned with one another in the center – but they must not be centered. Tricky, right? All you have to do to achieve this is to align those as left justified, but starting from the center – you can hit the tab key six times for the names of characters and increase the indent of a paragraph after selecting it until it reached the middle of the page.

Moreover, the names of the characters must always be written with capital letters. When it comes to descriptions, they should be separated by parentheses and written in the third person, present tense.

Even though you might want to write your name and the title of your play written on the first page of the script, they should instead be written on its cover page.

Thing like the character list, author, title, description, and setting can be easily centered via the center justification tool. As for the dialogue, it must be aligned to the left and never ever indented.

The Description

In a script, descriptions are very important, as they help directors get a better understanding of your vision. However, they must not be burdened with a lot of detail and such, as this would make it hard for those that are making the movie to find and create settings or actors that would perfectly fit your descriptions.

Descriptions should be a sort of guidelines for the directors that are going to make a movie out of your script. Therefore, they should be straight to the point – adding too many details means extra work that has to be done by those using your script.

For example, filling a scene with all of the items you think necessary for it will compel the directors to add them and limit their creativity – and, in some cases, a thing you might have added does not fit there.

It is recommended that you only mention things that are crucial to the story, and let the film crew add in the rest of the details. Mentioning that a certain character has silver hair, even though it has no impact on the story, will force the casting crew to either come up with a decent wig or just find an actor that fits your description exactly.

Therefore, add only the necessary!

The Dialogue

Dialogue is the core of every single script – as it literally takes up the most space in one. Everything revolves around the dialogue – the storyline, the lore, the thoughts of characters and much more.

Naturally, one of the most important rules when it comes to dialogue is to make it sound as natural as possible – avoid using expressions that would normally be used in the writing of a novel, and instead opt for a familiar, friendly way of characters talking.

Of course, you’ll also have to pay attention to the ages of your characters, as a younger one will definitely address in a certain way to an older one. You should also avoid offering direct descriptions of things inside the dialogue – instead, be subtle and hint those details to the audience using various ways of expression.

The length of the dialogue is also important – a short piece of dialogue means that the character saying it is calm, normal, and just talking. A long, extended monologue means that a certain character is either angry, stressed, or frustrated.

The key here is to hint at things, and not directly expose them to the audience. Write I had a very long day; work was not that easy today instead of Work made me really stressed today.

Mastering the formatting, the description, and the dialogue is the first step to writing a good script. Of course, you will learn a ton of other tips and tricks along the way – but most of them come as you experience, so reading them beforehand won’t help a lot.

All you have to do is keep on practicing – and whenever you have your script used in a play, be proud of it!