Essential Screenplay Formatting Rules

By January 26, 2021February 4th, 2021Best Practices
Essential Screenplay Formatting Rules

When you watch a movie, you likely don’t think of the steps it takes to create an award winner. The greatest films of all time, from Shawshank Redemption to Aladdin, movies that are so different, yet started at the same point you are at today; writing your screenplay! A screenplay is the foundation of any movie. 

For first timers or seasoned veterans, knowing how to properly format a screenplay is essential to success. As a screenwriter, you’ll need to detail every aspect of a scene to allow readers to picture it. There are many technical and stylistic elements to consider when producing a screenplay. All professional screenplays should contain the following items. With this quick guide and the right tools, you’ll have everything you need to write a screenplay. 

Setting the scene

Headers are necessary to describe most things when screenwriting. Start with a scene heading, also known as a slugline. This is the where and when of the particular scene you’re describing. Describe the general actions and movements being taken by the characters and their surroundings.  

Character introductions

Throughout your page, character descriptions are necessary any time a new person is introduced to the story. This requires a very brief description which should include the character’s age, general appearance, and significant personality traits. 

How much to write?

All world building and characterization should be accomplished briefly in 1 or 2 lines. A general rule is to write one page or action and dialogue equivalent to one minute of estimated screen time. To save space, abbreviate whenever possible. 

Proper use of capitalization

You should always capitalize the names of people during dialogue sections as well as significant sounds, objects or physical actions. The key to capitalization in a screenplay is consistency. If you start capitalizing names and actions, but then suddenly stop, this will be immensely confusing to the reader. 

Keep the scene moving 

Use pauses and small actions between dialogue to give the conversation more life while maintaining the flow of the scene. Place (pause), (cont’d), (V.O.) for voice overs, (O.S.) for off screen, or other subtle actions, in parenthesis when appropriate. These extensions help to clarify who is talking and what actions are occurring concurrently in the scene. 

Add transitions from scene to scene. Describe these transitions as “cut to” or “dissolve to” the next scene. You can even “intercut to” between two different scenes or create a montage. Don’t forget about title cards and chyrons. They also need to be described. 


Describe camera movements and indicate the type of shot for each scene. Whether it’s a low-angle or a close-up, make sure to let the reader know how to picture the scene on screen. These elements should be placed as a subheader whenever there is a change in camera perspective. 

Fonts and margins

The standard styling for a screenplay is to use a 12pt Courier font and a 1 inch margin top, button, and right side. Then leave a 1.5 inch left margin to make room for hole punch document bindings. You can do this manually, or use a template system such as those found in WriteWay.

Once your content is complete, leave the formatting to WriteWay. Simply pick from a wide range of document styles and themes. WriteWay will automatically transform your work into a ready made project. From business documents to promotional materials, choose from a wide variety of industry standard templates. 

Making WriteWay Work for You

The WriteWay team is excited to show you all the new features and apps we are cooking up to help you create better content. Sign up for our Waitlist to get notified immediately when new products and features become available. Our tools help you streamline your workflow by providing a clean interface and dynamic document creation. Discover the WriteWay to get work done.

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