A Beginner's Guide To Scriptwriting

Hi there! Have you ever wondered what scriptwriting is all about? Well, scriptwriting is all about creating a screenplay. A screenplay is essentially a blueprint for a film. All the movies you've ever watched are all based on screenplays.

A screenplay isn't easy to write. It's not just about dumping down your thoughts about the movie into a piece of paper. It's not "just a step" in making a movie.

Script writing happens to be the most creative aspect of film making - all the plots, juicy content and stories come out of the screenplay.

If you've seen a screenplay before, you'll realize it's usually a formal kind of document. The standard typeset is Courier 12pt font written on a piece of 8 1/2" x 11" bright white, three-hole punched paper.

That's the standard way which script writers have always written their stories.

A sample script describing a scene

The best screenplays are able to capture, in words, exactly what is happening in a story. In this article, I'll share with you some basic elements of what makes up a good script.

1. Scriptwriting Elements

First, let's talk about what makes up a script. A script usually begins with a scene heading. The scene heading sets the scene and serves as an introduction into what you see on camera. It's usually a brief, one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene, also known as a slugline.

Here are a few key elements of a script:

  • Subheader
  • Action
  • Character
  • Dialogue
  • Intercut

A Subheader is a section of the script - usually used when you don't need to describe a whole "scene". So, for example, you may have a scene described as "In the heart of San Francisco, the door a flower shop opens slowly".

For a Subheader, you may say "The Sales Counter" to describe a sub-scene centred around the sales girl within the shop.

Action describes the events of a scene. In the above, when we say "the door to a flower shop opens slowly" - we're describing an action.

A Character is the name of the actor or actress in your scene. You'll give him or her a name, e.g. "Anthony", "Jessica", "Harold".

A Dialogue always appears below the Character's name. So I may write something like:

ANTHONY

"Hello and good morning! I'd like to buy some flowers, please."

An Intercut is a set of instructions for a series of quick cuts between two scene locations. So if you're filming a flower shop scene, you may want to switch to a street scene - you can use an intercut to describe how the cut will happen.

To help you visualize what all these look like in a script, take a look at this link.

2. Importance Of Scripts

Ok, next up - we'll take a look at why scripts are important. Primarily there are two key reasons why scripts are useful.

Guage the length of a movie. The first use of a script is to help you gauge the length of a movie. If you get a script that's thousands of pages long - you can be sure you've got an epic film inside.

Formulate ideas. The next use of a script is to help pen down ideas. Until they are written down, ideas in films are just ideas. Having a script helps to crystallize all of that and assists in streamlining discussion and communication amongst all stakeholders in the movie.

3. Other Types Of Scripts

Now, besides the written document, there are other forms of scripts that are used. One of them is audio scripting - where you record a narration of the scenes in your movie. This is useful, but can be very difficult to visualize or listen to. As a layman, who has no background to the movie, you may need to listen to the audio again and again in order to understand what the "scenes" are.

Another option is to do video scripting. This is where you record drafts of scenes you want to shoot. This is very good as preparation work, since you get to go on location and understand a lot more about the conditions of your shoot. The downside is that it's time consuming and sometimes takes as much as effort as shooting the real film.

If you're new to scriptwriting, my take is to start off with a simple written script. Forget the audio or video approaches - understand how a paper script is traditionally developed first. Once you get more used to the format, then consider other approaches.

4. Scriptwriting Software

Another aspect of script writing you should know about is scriptwriting software. One of the first pieces of scriptwriting software was invented in 1983 by the Write Brothers, Stephen and Christopher.

These programs allow you to create scripts on your computer, just like using a word processor. The good thing about these programs is that they format and organize your content for you, so you can see how the dialog, descriptions and camera positions fit together. By focusing on these items for you, you can be left to doing the important stuff - writing a good story.

These days, some of the more popular scriptwriting software programs include Movie Magic Screenwrite (also by the Write Brothers), Final Draft and ScreenForge. All of them are good in their own way, you should try them out to see if they fit your requirements.

Wrapping Up ...

Ok! I hope the above has helped you understand what scriptwriting is all about. Writing a good script is more than just formatting and using good software.

The key is to develop a great story that enthralls your audience and get it documented. If you're serious about making a film, then it pays to learn more about scriptwriting, or perhaps even take a professional course.

Once you're comfortable with scriptwriting, it will open a lot of doors for you - you can understand others' scripts better and also develop some of your own to share with others.

That's all I have for now ... until next time, have fun writing those scripts!

Edit Digital Videos With Ease

If you've been looking for a good video editing program, you may want to check out Corel VideoStudio ProThis software allows you to quickly create and share a movie using built-in templates, special effects, titles and transitions. You can apply unique effects such as stop-motion animation, time-lapse and chroma key to create brilliant digital videos.