A Comprehensive Guide For Writing Your First Movie or Television Screenplay

by Creating Change Mag
A Comprehensive Guide For Writing Your First Movie or Television Screenplay

Screenwriting is often regarded as one of the most challenging and complex forms of writing. There are so many things to consider, from formatting to storytelling, that it can be overwhelming for even the most experienced writers. But don’t despair! In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about how to write a screenplay for beginners. By the end, you’ll have all the tools you need to write the next Hollywood blockbuster!

What is a Screenplay?

Let’s start with the basics. A screenplay is a script for a video, movie, TV show, or video game. Unlike other forms of writing, screenplays have very specific formatting requirements. Compared to novels, for example, scripts are shorter, have less description, and move at a faster pace.

In terms of length, a screenplay should be around 110 pages. This is the average length of most movies. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, some feature films can be as short as 80 pages, while others may be closer to 130 pages. The reason for this is that one page of a screenplay equates to one minute of screen time. So, a 110-page screenplay should be around 1 hour and 50 minutes long.

Playwrights, who write scripts for stage productions, also use a similar page-to-time ratio. However, their pages are usually around 30% longer because stageplays have more description and dialogue than screenplays.

Shooting Script vs. Spec Script

There are two types of screenplays: shooting scripts and spec scripts. A shooting script is a screenplay that has been revised and approved by the director, producers, and studio execs. It’s the final version of the script that will be used during production. It usually contains specific directions for camera angles, locations, and other production elements.

On the other hand, a spec script is a screenplay written without input from a studio or production company. Most writers start with a spec script when they first try to break into the industry. If a spec script is good enough, it might generate interest from a production company and eventually be turned into a shooting script.


One of the most important aspects of script writing is formatting. If your script is not correctly formatted, it will likely be rejected outright by agents, producers, and other Hollywood professionals. It only takes a glance for them to see you’re an amateur screenwriter, so it’s essential to get it right the first time.

Here are the basics of screenplay formatting:


In order to make your screenplay as readable as possible, you should use a Courier or Courier New font. This is because Courier is a fixed-width font, meaning each character takes up the same amount of space. It makes it easy to determine how long each line will be on screen.


Your screenplay should be written in 12-point font.


Each line of dialogue should be double-spaced. This makes it easier to read and allows for annotations and notes to be added later on.


The margins of your screenplay should be 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) on all sides.

Page numbers

Your script should be paginated, meaning each page should be numbered. The page number should be located in the upper right-hand corner of each page, 0.5 inches (1.27 cm) from the top and 1 inch (2.54 cm) from the right edge.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of screenplay formatting let’s move on to the different parts of a script.

Title Page

The title page is the first page of your screenplay. It’s important to note that the title page is not numbered.

The title of your script should be centered on the page, written in all capital letters, and should be either Courier or Courier New font. Below the title, you should include your name and contact information. Your contact information should include your mailing address, phone number, and email address. You may also choose to include your agent’s information if you have one.

First Page

The words every beginner script writer dreads: “FADE IN” will begin your story. Naturally, the last page of your screenplay is “FADE OUT.” But what comes in between the two? Every screenplay has four major parts: the slugline, action, dialogue, and parentheticals. Let’s break each of these down.


Screenplays are broken down into individual scenes, and each scene has its own slugline. A slugline is a piece of text that comes before each scene. It includes the location and time of day of the scene. Here’s an example:


The slugline always starts with either INT. (for interior) or EXT. (for exterior). This is followed by the location of the scene. If the location is a specific place, like a house or office, you would include that information here. You can leave that out if it’s just a general location, like a city or forest.

After the location, you’ll see a dash (-). This is followed by the time of day. The most common times of day are DAY and NIGHT, but you may also see MORNING, AFTERNOON, or EVENING. Note that interior scenes aren’t required to have lighting cues.

Sluglines are sometimes called scene headings. You would start a new scene heading if a scene transitions to another location or time. Everything that happens in a scene should happen after the slugline. This includes action and dialogue.

person formatting screenplay


Action is everything that happens in a scene that is not dialogue. It’s the narrative description of what’s happening. Action is written in the present tense and should be as concise as possible. Here’s an example:


Julia enters the room, carrying a tray of food. She sets it down on the table and starts to eat.

You’ll notice that there is no dialogue in this action. That’s because scene action is meant to describe what’s happening, not what’s being said. Action can be interspersed with dialogue, but it should never interrupt the flow of dialogue.

Try to only include actions that are relevant to the story. Don’t get bogged down in the details of every little thing that happens. The goal is to move the story forward, not to provide a Jane Austen-level description of the world. We typically only write what is visible or audible to the characters in a scene.

For example, if a character is feeling nervous, we wouldn’t necessarily write that in action. We would show it through their dialogue or behavior. It’s also important to avoid using camera directions in action. Camera directions are words like “PAN” or “ZOOM IN.” These are the domain of the director, not the writer. It’s their job to decide how to shoot the scene, not yours.


Action is always written in reference to a character. In the example above, Julia is the character whose action we’re following. Whenever we introduce a new character in a scene, their name should be written in all capital letters the first time they appear. After that, we can refer to them by their last name or nicknames.

The same paragraph is also a good place to give a brief description of the character, if necessary. This is called a character cue. Character cues are optional, but they can be helpful if the character looks or dresses in a specific way or has an unusual physical characteristic. Here’s an example:


NICK, 30s, scruffy and unshaven, slumps at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee.

When writing a character cue, always start with the character’s name. After that, you can include a brief physical description. You don’t need to include a character cue if the character has been established in a previous scene.


Dialogue is the spoken word in a screenplay. It’s what the characters say to each other. Dialogue should be natural and easy to read. It should sound like something people would actually say in real life.

When writing dialogue, we move to the center of the page. This makes it easy to see who is speaking at a glance. Each piece of dialogue is its own paragraph and is indented about an inch from the left margin. Character names are written in all caps and should be above the dialogue. Here’s an example:


Julia arrives at the park and sees Nick sitting on a bench.


Hey, there you are!


Hey. Sorry, I’m late.

Notice how each character’s dialogue is indented slightly, and their name is written in all caps. Also, notice how the dialogue is kept short. Long blocks are generally frowned upon in screenplays. They’re hard to read and can be confusing for the reader. Monologues can be an exception to this rule, but you should use them sparingly.

It’s also important to remember that dialogue is not just about what the characters say but how they say it. Dialogue can be used to reveal a character’s personality, emotions, or even their subtext (the hidden meaning of what they’re saying).

Finally, remember to keep your dialogue realistic. You are not writing poetry; you are script writing. Avoid writing long speeches or flowery language, as most people don’t talk like that in real life. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.


Parentheticals are short pieces of stage direction that appear within the dialogue. They give the actor additional information about how to say their line. Here’s an example:


NICK slumps at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee.



I can’t believe it’s already Monday.

In this example, we see that the character is sighing before they speak. This is important information for the actor, as it helps to set the tone for the line. Parentheticals should be used sparingly. They are not necessary for every line of dialogue. Only use them when absolutely necessary to convey important information to the actor.

Sarcasm, anger, and other emotions can also be conveyed through parentheticals. For instance:


NICK slumps at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee.



Great. Another Monday.

Without parentheticals, it might be difficult to gauge the delivery of this line. 


Finally, some writers end each scene with a transition. A transition is a short piece of stage direction that tells the reader where and when the next scene takes place. Common transitions include CUT TO: and FADE TO. They are placed on the right of the page. Here’s an example:


NICK slumps at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee.



I can’t believe it’s already Monday.



Nick arrives at his job and sits down at his desk.

With that said, there is no “right” way to transition between scenes. Some writers prefer to use CUT TO:, while others prefer to DISSOLVE TO: or FADE IN:. Some writers even just write the next scene heading without any transition at all. It’s up to you. Just be consistent in whatever method you choose.

And that’s the basics of how to format a screenplay! Every page of your 100+ page manuscript should look something like the example above. Of course, there will be variations depending on the type of scene you’re writing (action, dialogue, description, etc.), but the general format should remain the same.

Once you have a handle on the basics of screenplay formatting, you can start to experiment with your own style. Just remember to keep it simple and easy to read. After all, that’s what screenplay formatting is all about.

The Basics of Screenplay Storytelling

Now that you know how to format a screenplay, it’s time to start thinking about the story itself. What are the essential elements of a good script? What makes a great story? While there are no easy answers to these questions, there are certain elements that all good screenplays share. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most critical aspects of screenplay storytelling.

what is your story sign


The plot is the backbone of your story. It’s what drives the action and propels the characters forward. A good plot should be original, interesting, and easy to follow. It should also have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

There are many different ways to structure a plot. One popular method is known as the three-act structure. Aristotle first popularized this method in his book Poetics. Basically, it states that all stories can be divided into three distinct parts:

The Setup:

The story introduces the characters, their world, and the central conflict of the story.

The Conflict:

This is the heart of the story, where the central conflict is explored, and the characters are tested.

The Resolution:

The story comes to an end, and the central conflict resolves.


Regardless of how you choose to structure your plot, it’s important to be able to distill your story down to one sentence. This sentence is known as the logline, and it’s a great way to pitch your story to potential producers and investors.

The logline should be short, sweet, and to the point. It should give the reader a general idea of your story without getting too specific. 

“Two imprisoned men become close friends over many years, finding comfort and redemption in acts of everyday decency.”

As you can see, this logline for The Shawshank Redemption is short, sweet, and to the point. It tells us what the story is about without giving away too much information. If you can’t reduce your story to one sentence, your plot may be too complicated.


No matter how great your plot is, it won’t mean anything if you don’t have strong characters to populate your story. Your characters should be three-dimensional and easy to relate to. They should also be unique and exciting, with their own distinct voices.

When creating your characters, it’s crucial to think about their backstory and motivation. What drives them? Who or what are they fighting for? Do they have any fears or desires? Answering these questions will help you create fully-formed characters that feel real and believable.

Many writers recommend creating a character profile for each of your major characters. This profile should include information about the character’s appearance, personality, and background. Doing so will help you keep track of your characters and make sure they stay on track throughout the story.

Finally, a character arc is essential to all great character-driven stories. This is the journey that your character goes on throughout the course of the story. It’s what changes and grows your character, and it’s what makes them interesting to follow.

A good character arc will take your character from point A to point B in a believable and satisfying way. It should also be relevant to the story’s central conflict. Without a character arc, your story will feel flat and uninteresting.

Where to Submit a Completed Screenplay?

Now that you know how to write a screenplay, it’s time to get your work out there. There are a few different ways to submit your script for consideration. First, you can attempt to sell it to a production company or studio.

As you might imagine, very few studios accept unsolicited material, so it’s essential to do your research before submitting your work. They usually only work with established agents, so your best bet is to get an agent/manager to represent you and your work.

If you don’t want to go the traditional route, you can also submit your screenplay to film festivals or contests. This is a great way to get your work in front of industry professionals and potentially have your screenplay optioned or produced. Popular film contests include the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Austin Film Festival, and the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

Finally, you can self-publish your screenplay online. This is a great option if you’re looking for feedback or just want to get your work out there. Sites like InkTIp, The Black List, and Stage 32 allow you to upload your screenplay and connect with other writers, directors, and producers.


Before you become the next Tarantino or the Coen brothers, you need to learn more than beginner script writing. At CreativeLive, we offer a number of comprehensive screenwriting classes that can teach you everything you need to know in more detail.

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