How to Write a Script on Google Docs (Step-by-Step Guide)
Do you have an awesome idea for the next best film or television show? Well, first you must write the screenplay.
But let’s rewind just for a second.
Before you even put hands to keyboard, you must plan out how your film or TV pilot is going to pan out. First, plan out your script. Write your logline , create your script breakdown , and know your story inside and out.
So, you’ve completed all the above? Great, now it’s time to move on to the script itself. Most of the time, you’ll hear sound advice to use professional screenwriting software to write your script.
Why? It’s because screenplays are formatted very differently from any other piece of writing, whether it be a novel, blog post, short story, or news article.
Screenwriting software is specially designed to format your script to industry standard, so you can focus purely on the creative side of crafting your film or TV show.
Here at Celtx, we have our own practical and easy-to-use screenwriting software where you can write your first script for FREE! Find out more here!
Write a Script Using Google Docs
If you’re eager to use Google Docs to write your first screenplay, then look no further.
Here is an 8-step guide on how to write a script on google docs .
- Open Google Docs and create a new document.
- Preset Spacings Using the “Show Ruler” Tab
- Setup Page Numbering
- Set Your Font to Courier or Courier New
- Set Font Size to 12
- Familiarize Yourself with Proper Script Elements
- Install the Fountainize app onto your Google Docs Profile
- Start Writing
Throughout the rest of this article, we will walk you through each of these steps and get you on your way to writing a script on Google docs.
Prepare Your Document
Make sure to start with a fresh document. The last thing you want is to be tagging your script onto another piece of work.
On your Google Drive Account, ensure you are in the ‘Docs’ section. Then select a blank document, the first option available.
Once you have your blank document, fill in the title. This could be the title of your project, or if you’re not sure on what it is yet, name it something easily identifiable for you to recognize when you’re sifting through your documents later. For now, will call it Celtx’s Screenplay.
Next, you’ll need to preset the spacings you’ll need for each individual element of the script.
Line spacing, margins and alignment is crucial, depending on whether you’re writing scene headings, action, character names, dialogue, parentheticals (the list goes on).
Before you start, you’ll first need to set the top, bottom, and right-hand margins of your document. Set these three all to one inch each. Next, the left-hand margin needs to be set to one-and-a-half inches. You can amend all of these using the grey slider on each of the margin rulers.
If these are not showing, click VIEW in the top menu and make sure SHOW RULER is ticked.
Once you have your margins correct, it should look like this:
Page numbers are equally as important within screenplays, always in the top right-hand corner of the page except on the first page. Professional screenwriting software will automatically allocate page numbers for you, but there’s an easy way to apply it in Google Docs.
Simply click INSERT in the top bar, then scroll down to HEADERS AND FOOTERS where two more options will appear. From here, select HEADER.
A separate space for a header will appear at the top of your page with a new OPTIONS button in blue font. Click here and then on PAGE NUMBERS.
A pop-up will appear on the screen, asking you to determine whether you’d like the page numbers in the header or footer of the document. Select HEADER and ensure the SHOW ON FIRST PAGE tick box is unticked. NUMBERING should begin at 1.
Once all this is done, click on APPLY.
You’ll notice that all page numbers default to the left-hand side. Simply double-click in the header space, then align it to the right-hand side, by using the ALIGN tool in the top menu bar.
Your final step is to apply your font before you start writing. Courier or Courier New are the only two accepted fonts within the industry, and all screenwriting software, like ours here at Celtx , will be automatically set to one of these.
To set your font, click the FONT drop-down menu (usually preset to Arial) in the top bar, then scroll down to COURIER or COURIER NEW depending on your preference and in font size 12, which can be changed using the + or – signs.
Use Proper Script Elements
As we’ve previously mentioned, several different elements make up your script. Seven, in fact! Each has its own alignment, which you’ll also need to set up within your Google Docs screenplay. There’s a little more involved than our previous steps, but it can be done!
To find out more about each individual script element, check out our detailed blog post here .
Each script element has its own line, which in turn has its own purpose and separate alignment and formatting. Let’s go through each.
Left alignment All capitals
Left alignment Regular case
Center alignment All capitals
Off-Center alignment (under character) Regular case in parenthesis
Off-Center alignment (under character) Regular case
Right alignment All capitals
Left alignment All capitals
Our first three elements (scene heading, action and character name) are all relatively simple to format. Where it becomes tricky is when you begin to add dialogue and transitions. This is mainly since parenthesis and dialogue both need to be slightly off-center under the character name.
When it comes to our final two elements, transition and shot lines, these should be used in moderation when writing your script. Shot lines aren’t necessarily needed at all, so you won’t need to worry about these when you’re first starting out.
As you can see from this sample here, each line has its own alignment. This method can take a lot of time, as you’ll need to format each line individually, either as you go or in one big edit once you’ve written all your content.
Another option you have is to create your own preset on Google Docs, so the formatting can be changed with a click of your mouse. To do this, you’ll need to use the STYLES tool embedded in the program.
Now, there is some initial work to set your styles up. You’ll find Google Docs have some presets already, but these can be easily changed. First, write out one of each script element and format them accordingly, as in our sample above.
Highlight the FADE IN transition first. Then find the STYLES menu situated next to the FONT menu. With the transition highlighted, click on UPDATE ‘NORMAL TEXT’ TO MATCH.
Next, format and align your scene heading correctly. Highlight this, then do the same, this time selecting the TITLE option in the STYLES menu.
Keep going through each of your elements one at a time, and apply each to a new style. Now when you want to apply a style to a line, you just need to click on the relevant style you want. This makes the writing process a little quicker when devising your screenplay on Google Docs.
Neither of the above solutions is perfect, so if you can get your hands on some professional software like Celtx, it’ll eliminate the need for any self-formatting.
This leaves you to focus on the important things: the story, the characters, and most of all, the writing itself.
How to Use a Screenplay Formatter in Google Docs
If you don’t fancy presetting your script formatting manually, then there is another option! Well, we know what you’re thinking: is there a screenplay template in Google Docs? The answer to that is yes. There are several third-party extensions you can use, the most well-known being Fountainize.
You’ll need to add this template to Google Docs through the ADD ONS feature. To apply a template, click EXTENSIONS in the top menu bar, then GET ADD-ONS.
A new window will appear displaying the GOOGLE WORKSPACE MARKETPLACE. In the search bar, type in SCREENPLAY, then the ENTER key on your keyboard. As you can see below, three results come up. Fountainize is the most widely used, as we’ve already mentioned, so let’s choose that one.
Click on the Fountainize icon, then INSTALL to add the extension to your Google Docs profile.
The app may ask for permission to install, which you can accept via the next screen.
Once Fountainize has been successfully installed, you can apply its features by returning to EXTENSIONS in the top search bar. You’ll see the application now appears at the bottom of the drop-down menu. Click SHOW SIDEBAR to activate and begin using the application.
The sidebar lists all the application’s features, including instructions on how to write your screenplay in Google Docs.
With the free version of Fountainize, you can also preset up to five characters with their own shortcuts, to make writing dialogue a little quicker.
Once you’ve written out your entire script, you can then format it using Fountainize. Simply click the FORMAT button at the top of the sidebar. This does take a little while to process, but again, it allows you to focus on writing and less on formatting the script yourself.
Finally, Fountainize has several other cool features to help you along with the writing process. These include FOCUS MUSIC to help you get your creative juices flowing, as well as a change log to track any amendments you make as you’re writing, even with time and date stamps.
If you’d like to add more than five characters to your CHARACTER SHORTCUTS or a TITLE PAGE to your project, you can UPGRADE via the option at the bottom of the sidebar.
How Else Can Google Docs Help Me Write My Screenplay?
There are a huge number of built-in features of Google Docs that can help you navigate your screenplay.
Did you know you can outline using Google Docs? Select VIEW in the top menu bar, then ensure SHOW OUTLINE is ticked.
Another sidebar will appear on the left-hand side of the screen. From our example, you can see our two existing scene headings appear as two sections of our script.
Be warned that the outline won’t always be consistent, as you will have used a third-party formatting application in Google Docs or your own formatting to write the script.
Collaboration and Revisions
Google Docs has many collaborative tools already built into its interface, which can be very useful if you choose to send your screenplay out to others. Plus, if you’d like to give yourself notes along the way, this is a great option.
You can leave notes on the script itself, highlighting specific words, phrases, or sections. Collaboration in real-time with others is also a fantastic feature of Google Docs that you wouldn’t necessarily find with all screenwriting software.
To add a comment to your script, highlight the piece of text you’re focusing on. Find INSERT in the top menu bar, then scroll down to COMMENT.
A text box will then appear next to your highlighted section. Type in the notes you need, or invite someone else to collaborate on the document using the @ key on your keyboard.
Now, most screenwriting software will also have slick revision and collaboration systems built into them.
What are the Limitations of Writing a Screenplay on Google Docs?
As you’re starting out in your screenwriting journey, you’ll hear and come across many rules to the craft (like the formatting we’ve discussed here). But as you become more confident, you may wish to play around with these rules and break them in innovative ways.
Google Docs makes this very difficult, as you may want to make choices in your work, as it is restrictive in the options it offers. It’s ultimately not a program geared to screenwriting specifically, so you may find yourself frustrated when you’re unable to realize your vision.
Lack of Proofing Capabilities
Unless you spend hours scouring your script for errors, it will be very difficult to ensure your script is perfect in terms of formatting when you write in Google Docs.
Yes, you can proofread for regular spelling and grammar, but not for formatting errors. With potentially a huge script over 100 pages long, it is simply impractical to manually check through your script every single time you edit it.
Transfer to other Screenwriting Platforms
If you decide to use screenwriting software later in your writing journey, you’ll need to transfer your script. But even with using a third-party application like Fountainize, this doesn’t mean the formatting will easily transfer over.
Software like Celtx accepts PDF versions of scripts and will automatically re-format them. However, due to the formatting style of Google Docs, your script may come out on the other side looking a little skewed.
So, should you write your first script in Google Docs? If you are already familiar with and enjoy working on this platform, then go for it!
Just be aware that in general, screenwriters will always use specifically designed software, so it is important that you practice using it if you’d like to continue your writing journey and create more scripts.
Screenwriting softwares allows you to focus on what’s important – the story – and processes all the formatting for you. Additional planning tools, such as beat sheets, Script breakdown, Title Pages, and a nifty Navigation system, allow you to look beyond the script and into the filmmaking process. Pretty cool, huh?
When you’re ready to take the plunge into screenwriting software, it can be a headache to decide which one you want to use. Most have a free option for their memberships, with a range of monthly or one-off costs.
There is a wealth of screenwriting programs and tools out there, so allow us to help you out with our Top 15 Screenwriting Software for 2023
Natasha is a UK-based freelance screenwriter and script editor with a love for sci-fi. In 2022 she recently placed in the Screenwriters' Network Short Film Screenplay Competition and the Golden Short Film Festivals. When not at her desk, you'll find her at the theater, or walking around the English countryside (even in the notorious British weather)
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How to Write a Script (Step-by-Step Guide)
So you want to write a film script (or, as some people call it, a screenplay – they're two words that mean basically the same thing). We're here to help with this simple step-by-step script writing guide.
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Lay the groundwork
1. know what a script is.
If this is your first time creating movie magic, you might be wondering what a script actually is. Well, it can be an original story, straight from your brain. Or it can be based on a true story, or something that someone else wrote – like a novel, theatre production, or newspaper article.
A movie script details all the parts – audio, visual, behaviour, dialogue – that you need to tell a visual story, in a movie or on TV. It's usually a team effort, going through oodles of revisions and rewrites, not to mention being nipped ‘n' tucked by directors, actors , and those in production jobs. But it'll generally start with the hard work and brainpower of one person – in this case, you.
Because films and TV shows are audiovisual mediums, budding scriptwriters need to include all the audio (heard) and visual (seen) parts of a story. Your job is to translate pictures and sounds into words. Importantly, you need to show the audience what's happening, not tell them. If you nail that, you'll be well on your way to taking your feature film to Hollywood.
2. Read some scripts
The first step to stellar screenwriting is to read some great scripts – as many as you can stomach. It’s an especially good idea to read some in the genre that your script is going to be in, so you can get the lay of the land. If you’re writing a comedy, try searching for ‘50 best comedy scripts’ and starting from there. Lots of scripts are available for free online.
3. Read some scriptwriting books
It's also helpful to read books that go into the craft of writing a script. There are tonnes out there, but we've listed a few corkers below to get you started.
4. Watch some great films
A quick way to get in the scriptwriting zone is to rewatch your favourite films and figure out why you like them so much. Make notes about why you love certain scenes and bits of dialogue. Examine why you're drawn to certain characters. If you're stuck for ideas of films to watch, check out some ‘best movies of all time' lists and work through those instead.
Flesh out the story
5. write a logline (a.k.a. brief summary).
You're likely to be pretty jazzed about writing your script after watching all those cinematic classics. But before you dive into writing the script, we've got a little more work to do.
First up, you need to write a ‘ logline '. It's got nothing to do with trees. Instead, it's a tiny summary of your story – usually one sentence – that describes your protagonist (hero) and their goal, as well as your antagonist (villain) and their conflict. Your logline should set out the basic idea of your story and its general theme. It's a chance to tell people what the story's about, what style it's in, and the feeling it creates for the viewer.
6. Write a treatment (a.k.a. longer summary)
Once your logline's in the bag, it's time to write your treatment . It's a slightly beefier summary that includes your script's title, the logline, a list of your main characters, and a mini synopsis. A treatment is a useful thing to show to producers – they might read it to decide whether they want to invest time in reading your entire script. Most importantly, your treatment needs to include your name and contact details.
Your synopsis should give a good picture of your story, including the important ‘beats' (events) and plot twists. It should also introduce your characters and the general vibe of the story. Anyone who reads it (hopefully a hotshot producer ) should learn enough that they start to feel a connection with your characters, and want to see what happens to them.
This stage of the writing process is a chance to look at your entire story and get a feel for how it reads when it's written down. You'll probably see some parts that work, and some parts that need a little tweaking before you start writing the finer details of each scene.
7. Develop your characters
What's the central question of your story? What's it all about? Character development means taking your characters on a transformational journey so that they can answer this question. You might find it helpful to complete a character profile worksheet when you're starting to flesh out your characters (you can find these for free online). Whoever your characters are, the most important thing is that your audience wants to get to know them, and can empathise with them. Even the villain!
8. Write your plot
By this point, you should have a pretty clear idea of what your story's about. The next step is breaking the story down into all the small pieces and inciting incidents that make up the plot – which some people call a 'beat sheet'. There are lots of different ways to do this. Some people use flashcards. Some use a notebook. Others might use a digital tool, like Trello , Google Docs , Notion , etc.
It doesn't really matter which tool you use. The most important thing is to divide the plot into scenes, then bulk out each scene with extra details – things like story beats (events that happen) and information about specific characters or plot points.
While it's tempting to dive right into writing the script, it's a good idea to spend a good portion of time sketching out the plot first. The more detail you can add here, the less time you'll waste later. While you're writing, remember that story is driven by tension – building it, then releasing it. This tension means your hero has to change in order to triumph against conflict.
Write the Script
9. know the basics.
Before you start cooking up the first draft of your script, it's good to know how to do the basics. Put simply, your script should be a printed document that's:
Font fans might balk at using Courier over their beloved Futura or Comic Sans. However, it's a non-negotiable when you write a script. The film industry's love of Courier isn't purely stylistic – it's functional, too. One script page in 12-point Courier is roughly one minute of screen time.
That's why the page count for an average screenplay should be between 90 and 120 pages, although it's worth noting that this differs a bit by genre. Comedies are usually shorter (90 pages / 1.5 hours), while dramas can be a little longer (120 pages / 2 hours). A short film will be shorter still. Obviously.
10. Write the first page
Using script formatting programmes means you no longer need to know the industry standard when it comes to margins and indents. That said, it’s good to know how to set up your script in the right way.
11. Format your script
Here’s a big ol’ list of items that you’ll need in your script, and how to indent them properly. Your script-writing software will handle this for you, but learning’s fun, right?
The scene heading is where you include a one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene. This is also called a ‘slugline’. It should always be in caps.
Example: ‘EXT. BAKERY - NIGHT’ tells you that the action happens outside the bakery during the nighttime.
When you don’t need a new scene heading, but you need to make a distinction in the action, you can throw in a subheader. Go easy on them, though – Hollywood buffs frown on a script that’s packed with subheaders. One reason you might use them is to make a number of quick cuts between two locations. Here, you would write ‘INTERCUT’ and the scene locations.
This is the narrative description of what’s happening in the scene, and it’s always written in the present tense. You can also call this direction, visual exposition, blackstuff, description, or scene direction. Remember to only include things that your audience can see or hear.
When you introduce a character, you should capitalise their name in the action. For example: ‘The car speeds up and out steps GEORGIA, a muscular woman in her mid-fifties with nerves of steel.’
You should always write each character’s name in caps, and put it about their dialogue. You can include minor characters without names, like ‘BUTCHER’ or ‘LAWYER.’
Your dialogue is the lines that each character speaks. Use dialogue formatting whenever your audience can hear a character speaking, including off-screen speech or voiceovers.
A long word with a simple meaning, a parenthetical is where you give a character direction that relates to their attitude or action – how they do something, or what they do. However, parentheticals have their roots in old school playwriting, and you should only use them when you absolutely need to.
Why? Because if you need a parenthetical to explain what’s going on, your script might just need a rewrite. Also, it’s the director’s job to tell an actor how to give a line – and they might not appreciate your abundance of parentheticals.
This is a shortened technical note that you put after a character’s name to show how their voice will be heard onscreen. For example: if your character is speaking as a voiceover, it would appear as ‘DAVID (V.O.)’.
Transitions are film editing instructions that usually only appear in a shooting script. Things like:
If you’re writing a spec script, you should steer clear of using a transition unless there’s no other way to describe what’s happening in the story. For example, you might use ‘DISSOLVE TO:’ to show that a large portion of time has passed.
A shot tells the reader that the focal point in a scene has changed. Again, it’s not something you should use very often as a spec screenwriter. It’s the director’s job! Some examples:
12. Spec scripts vs. shooting scripts
A ‘spec script' is another way of saying ‘speculative screenplay.' It's a script that you're writing in hopes of selling it to someone. The film world is a wildly competitive marketplace, which is why you need to stick to the scriptwriting rules that we talk about in this post. You don't want to annoy Spielberg and co.
Once someone buys your script, it's now a ‘shooting script' or a ‘production script.' This version of your script is written specifically to produce a film. Because of that, it'll include lots more technical instructions: editing notes, shots, cuts, and more. These instructions help the production assistants and director to work out which scenes to shoot in which order, making the best use of resources like the stage, cast, and location.
Don't include any elements from a shooting script in your spec script, like camera angles or editing transitions . It's tempting to do this – naturally, you have opinions about how the story should look – but it's a strict no-no. If you want to have your way with that stuff, then try the independent filmmaker route. If you want to sell your script, stick to the rules.
13. Choose your weapon
While writing a big-screen smash is hard work, it's a heck of a lot easier nowadays thanks to a smorgasbord of affordable screenwriting software . These programmes handle the script format (margins, spacing, etc.) so that you can get down to telling a great story. Here are a few programmes to check out:
There are also a tonne of outlining and development programmes. These make it easier to collect your thoughts and storytelling ideas together before you put pen to paper. Take a peek at these:
14. Make a plan
When you're approaching a chunky project, it's always good to set a deadline so you've got a clear goal to reach. You probably want to allow 8-12 weeks to write a script – this is the amount of time that the industry would usually give a writer to work on a script. Be sure to put the deadline somewhere you'll see it: on your calendar, or your phone, or tattooed on your hand.
For your first draft, concentrate on getting words on the page. Don't be too critical – just write whatever comes into your head, and follow your outline. If you can crank out 1-2 pages per day, you'll have your first draft within two or three months. Easy!
Some people find it helpful to write at the same time each day. Some people write first thing. Some people write late at night. Some people have no routine whatsoever. Find a routine (or lack thereof) that works for you, and stick to it. You got this.
15. Read it out loud
One surefire way to see if your dialogue sounds natural is to read it out loud. While you're writing dialogue, speak it through at the same time. If it doesn't flow, or it feels a little stilted, you'll need to make some tweaks. Highlight the phrases that need work then come back to them later when you're editing.
16. Take a break
When your draft's finished, you might think it's the greatest thing ever written – or you might think it's pure dross. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. When you're deep inside a creative project, it's hard to see the forest for the trees.
That's why it's important to take a decent break between writing and editing. Look at something else for a few weeks. Read a book. Watch TV. Then, when you come back to edit your script, you'll be able to see it with fresh eyes.
17. Make notes
After you've taken a good break, read your whole script and take notes on the bits that don't make sense or sound a little weird. Are there sections where the story's confusing? Are the characters doing things that don't push the story along? Find those bits and make liberal use of a red pen. Like we mentioned before, this is a good time to read the script out loud – adding accents and performing lines in a way that's true to your vision for the story.
18. Share with a friend
As you work towards a final version of your script, you might want to share it with some people to get their feedback. Friends and family members are a good first port of call, or other writers if you know any. Ask them to give feedback on any parts you're concerned about, and see if there's anything that didn't make sense to them.
Wrap things up
19. write final draft.
After you've made notes and gathered feedback, it's time to climb back into the weeds and work towards your final draft. Keep making edits until you're happy. If you need to make changes to the story or characters, do those first as they might help fix larger problems in the script.
Create each new draft in a new document so you can transfer parts you like from old scripts into the new one. Drill into the details, but don't get so bogged down in small things that you can't finish a draft. And, before you start sharing it with the world, be sure to do a serious spelling and grammar check using a tool like Grammarly .
20. Presentation and binding
There are rules for everything when writing a script. Even how you bind the thing. Buckle up!
This is a list of stuff you’ll need to prepare your script before sending it out and taking over the world:
And this is how to bind your script:
More from the blog..., how to write a logline.
Before you start work on your Hollywood-busting screenplay, you'll need a logline. It's a one-sentence summary of your movie that entices someone to read the entire script.
How to Write a TV Commercial Script
Writing commercial scripts for TV ads is entirely different from screenwriting a screenplay. Learn the format and download a handy template.
How to Tell a Story
It takes a lot of work to tell a great story. Just ask all the struggling filmmakers and authors, hustling away at their craft in an attempt to get a break.
Formatting a Screenplay: How to Put Your Story Into Screenplay Format
- Insert Image Formatting a Screenplay
- Insert Image Margins
- Insert Image Scene Headings
- Insert Image Sluglines
- Insert Image Action / Description
- Insert Image Action Breaks
- Insert Image Character Cues
- Insert Image Dialogue
- Insert Image Transitions
- Insert Image Chyrons
- Insert Image Flashbacks
- Insert Image TV Script Format 101
- Insert Image Pre-Lap
- FREE Movie Scripts: StudioBinder Screenwriting Library
- Write Your Script for Free
A lright — you’ve got it. The screenplay idea that will change the world, break box office records, and win you every single Oscar. Only… you don’t quite understand how to format a screenplay. Do you even really need screenplay format?
Our answer? A resounding “Yes!” Screenplay format is necessary if you want anyone to take your magnum opus seriously, but more importantly? It’s necessary if you want your script to become an actual finished film.
- Action Lines
- Character Cues
- Screenplay Transitions
How to Format a Screenplay
What is a script.
A movie script or screenplay is the blueprint for any feature film, TV show or video game. Scripts includes characters actions, dialogue and movement as well as stage direction. Movie script format has a unique set of industry standard rules, which are slightly different than the script writing format used in a shooting script. A shooting script is a more precisely formatted version of the script, used in Pre-Production and Production to turn the screenplay into a film. This version can include elements like camera directions, music cues or transitions.
Script Writing Format:
- Screenplays are typically 90-110 pages in length
- Format helps determine run time, schedule & budget
Why screenplay format?
The importance of movie script format.
It’s not just stylistic and the "rules" are not arbitrary. Industry standard script format has many functions and benefits through the filmmaking process. A draft in proper screenwriting format denotes professionalism, otherwise it appears amateurish and would likely get tossed before the end of page 1.
Proper film script format also plays a large part in the script breakdown process , one of the most important steps in turning a screenplay into an actual film. Film budget planning and crafting a shooting schedule are both informed by screenwriting format.
In this screenplay template, you can see all the major elements and their positioning on the page.
Screenplay Template & Sample Script Format
Rather than replicate these movie script format rules manually, most writers choose a dedicated script writing software like StudioBinder. This removes all the guesswork and lets the writer focus on what's most important — the story you're trying to tell.
StudioBinder's Free Screenwriting Software • Write Your Script Now
Proper screenplay format will make this process immensely easier. Using these elements correctly is essential to proper script writing format. This is true for everything from short film scripts to million-dollar blockbusters.
For more research to see how professional screenwriters handle screenwriting format, you can read and download over 250+ screenplays in StudioBinder's script library . Now, let's get to specific elements found in screenwriting format.
- Screenwriting Terms and Abbreviations →
- Download and Read 250+ Scripts in our Database →
- Write Your Script Now For Free Using StudioBinder →
Screenplay Formatting Sluglines
Sluglines (also known as scene headings) tell the reader where the action is happening. It’s a location, followed by a time, and looks something like this.
Screenplay Example • Sluglines in Sample Script Format
In this screenplay example, you'll see that Scene 1 starts in Mort's Kitchen but what does INT mean in a script? When it comes to sluglines, you first have to establish whether the scene takes place inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.)
Then add the location of the scene, followed by the time of day (Day, Night, Morning, Evening, etc.).
When a scene directly continues from the previous scene, mark it “continuous” in the time slot. If it's a couple minutes later, feel free to use "moments later" in your slugline.
Sometimes you’ll have a scene that takes place in both an interior and an exterior. Most of the time, this will be in a moving vehicle of some kind. In those cases, start your slugline with “INT./EXT.”
If you’re using screenwriting software, it will format it correctly for you, but if you’re doing it yourself, be sure to put the entire slugline in ALL CAPS.
Click below to read the full screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums where you can see how sluglines work in a script.
Script Example • Download The Royal Tenenbaums
Sluglines are important because they are how your assistant directors and line producers will plan out how things get shot.
The difference between one scene being night and the next being day is important to continuity for hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments.
That's why this is one of the most essential elements in movie script format — it tells you when and where a scene is taking place in the grand scheme of the script. Knowing the time of day and where the scene takes place affects nearly every department in a major way.
Next up, we'll talk about how to write actions in a script.
- The Importance of Setting in a Story →
- Tips for Writing a Great Scene in a Screenplay →
- Best Practices for Writing Sluglines and Subheaders →
FORMATTING A SCREENPLAY & Action
2. action lines.
Your action lines go right beneath the slugline. Proper screenplay format dictates that they always be written in the present tense and as visually descriptive as possible.
Here's a script format example of action lines in a screenplay. Note that the actions are written as "just the facts" in a clear and readable way.
Script Template • How to format screenplay action lines
Specifically, action lines tell the reader what they will see and hear in the finished film other than dialogue. And don't take the "action" part too literally — this element covers everything, including fight scenes. In this video, watch as we demonstrate how to write a fight scene like John Wick in 5 minutes.
Screenplay Example • How to Write a Fight Scene • Subscribe on YouTube
When it comes to screenplay format, clarity is king — remember, a script is a document to be turned into a movie, not really read on its own.
Department heads will take things literally and, oftentimes, without question. So if you write something ridiculous in the description, they'll take it upon themselves to figure out how to make it real — that's their job.
Make sure you're deliberate and precise with your action lines. Find the balance between letting a director direct a scene, and giving the Propmaster enough information to get exactly what you want.
This is especially true if you're trying something as chaotic as writing a fight scene or writing a car chase , where every detail has to be planned out. The more complicated the production, the more important it is for you to follow proper script format. This type of work is why screenwriting format was developed the way it was.
There are two hard and fast rules for capitalization in screenplay format. Always capitalize a character's name the first time they appear in the action/description, and always capitalize screenplay transitions.
Beyond that, you can also capitalize important props , sound design , and camera movements .
Anything you want to use the movie script format to call out things important enough to merit the attention of those doing the script breakdown.
Just don't go overboard with it. There's nothing more annoying and CONFUSING then when someone RANDOMLY capitalizes EVERYTHING ON THE page.
- How to Write a Fight Scene →
- Tips for Writing a Thrilling Car Chase →
- Writing and Shooting Action Like Kingsman →
formatting script elements
3. character cues.
After the action/description, when a character speaks, we start with their name. You center and capitalize a character ID and put dialogue underneath. Your character ID need not be your entire character’s name. It could be a first name, a last name, or an alias.
Whatever best identifies the character as that character. And stay consistent — if a character is identified as "McCloud," he stays McCloud, even if we eventually learn that his first name is "Jack."
The only exception to this rule is if your character goes in disguise, especially if they fake a voice whilst disguised.
For example, this person would be "Bruce Wayne."
Screenwriting Format • Dialogue from Bruce Wayne
While this person would be "Batman."
Screenwriting Format • Dialogue from Batman
Even though they're technically the same person in a different costume.
If you find that to be too confusing, another method is to use a slash. "Bruce Wayne" becomes "Bruce Wayne/Batman" whenever he's Batman, and just regular Bruce when he's not.
- What is a Character Study →
- Definition & Types of Character Arcs →
- Various Character Archetypes & How They Work →
Dialogue is straight-forward. At least in terms of formatting. Writing good dialogue is a topic all its own.
Here's how dialogue looks in actual screenplay format. The margins on either side of the dialogue keep it restricted to the middle of the page. This allows for extra white space on the page for notes.
Notice the sample screenplay below from Inglourious Basterds to see how to format dialogue in a script. Follow the image link to read the entire opening sequence, including the moments that never made it into the final film.
Inglourious Basterds Script Example • How to format dialogue in a screenplay
When writing dialogue, the idea is to let the characters speak for themselves. Always front and center, of course, is the reality that you, the writer, are shaping those characters.
Therefore, by using software that takes care of screenplay formatting automatically, you can give your attention to the characters and their lines.
- Pro-Tips for Writing Better Dialogue →
- How to Approach Writing 'Realistic' Dialogue →
- Ways Writers Can Use Subtext in a Screenplay →
formatting a screenplay With Extensions
Extensions go next to a character name in parentheses and tell us how the dialogue is heard by the audience. Most screenwriting software will provide the standard screenplay format extensions once you start typing the parenthetical.
You'll also occasionally used (CONT'D) next to the character's name to indicate the continuation of their lines after they're "interrupted" by some action/description. Consider this moment from The Royal Tenenbaums , one of Wes Anderson's best movies . In this scene, Royal's dialogue is broken up by Etheline's action so we apply a (CONT'D) extension next to Royal's name.
Script Example • Screenwriting Format Extensions
Voice over (v.o.).
Voice over is when a character is speaking over the action, but isn’t heard by the other characters in the scene. Usually narration, but can also be a character's internal dialogue . Learn more about how to write voice over in a montage using proper script writing format.
OFF SCREEN (O.S.)
When a character is speaking and is heard by other characters, but can't be seen by the audience or other characters. Just write (O.S.) next to the character's name. "Off camera" written as (O.C.) is also acceptable.
Examples of extensions include:
- Someone making an announcement over a loud speaker
- A character making a dramatic surprise entrance
- A disembodied ghostly voice
Fairly self-explanatory — characters speaking into their phones or radios, rather than to each other in person.
This is most useful when characters are speaking to someone on the phone and someone right next to them. Or when using a local news station to lay out the story's exposition . Learn more with another script format example.
Pre lap is dialogue from the next scene that starts before the current scene has ended. Simply write "pre lap" in the parentheses next to the character's name.
- Script Format for Telephone Calls →
- What Does (CONT'D) Mean in a Script? →
- How to Handle Text Messages in Screenplay Format →
formatting a script for Performance
Parentheticals can seem like extensions at first glance, but there are a few key distinctions. Extensions are technical directions — they explain where the person saying the dialogue is in the scene.
Parentheticals are directions to the actor – they detail how the line should be performed.
Here's an example of a parenthetical in proper screenplay format. This is the absolutely crushing scene in Marriage Story . Notice how writer/director Noah Baumbach uses parentheticals to map out the internal conflict for his characters. Make sure you read the entire scene to see how Baumbach uses the combination of dialogue and parentheticals to craft a multi-layered and emotionally dynamic scene.
Script Example • Read the complete 'Argument Scene' in Marriage Story
As far as script format goes, parentheticals are placed directly beneath the character ID in (parentheses). Some examples include:
- AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE
Parentheticals can also include actions for the actors to perform while speaking. This is especially common when writing for television , where page space is at a premium.
- DRAWING HIS WEAPON
- FALLING TO HER KNEES
If you're using screenwriting software, it's important to change elements when writing parentheticals. You can't just write them into parentheses and hope it reads correctly!
- Writing Internal vs. External Conflict →
- Parentheticals & When To Use Them →
- Download Complete Marriage Story Script →
FORMATTING A SCREENPLAY
7. screenplay transitions.
Screenplay transitions indicate how an editor should switch between two scenes — they're on the far right of the page (right justified) and placed between two scenes. Proper screenplay formatting usually indicates these as being capitalized.
Script Example • Scene Transitions in Ocean's Eleven
So, rather than mark everything with a “CUT TO:” only use screenplay transitions ONLY when you want it to stand out in some way. For example, in this moment from Ocean's Eleven , writer Ted Griffin uses this transition to emphasize the switch of location to Las Vegas.
Pay attention to how the dialogue and description build momentum going into the next scene, which is punctuated by the "CUT TO:" transition, and concluded with a vibrant description of Sin City.
Knowing how to use screenplay transitions is a major part in knowing how to format a screenplay. These days, however, most editors know that no transition indicates a standard cut.
The "CUT TO:" is also widely used when formatting multi-cam television scripts as it marks the end of a scene. Because multi-cam scripts are formatted with page breaks for both scenes and acts, it's important to mark the ending of the scene versus when it's an act break, which is also a commercial break.
Much like with parentheticals, your screenwriting software will likely have the other standard screenplay transitions preloaded for you. These include, but are not limited to:
This is a really abrupt cut, like a "CUT TO:" times ten. The kind of cut that comes in mid-sentence. Smash cuts are used here to as a form of montage (which we'll get into later).
When one scene “dissolves” into another scene, almost transforming into that scene. This is primarily used to indicate that time has passed.
MATCH CUT TO:
A tricky form of edit — where you cut the film so the last shot in the previous scene (say, a hand reaching for a knife) matches the first shot in the new scene (a hand reaching for an apple). Here are some example of how and when match cuts are used in film to give you an idea of how they might be written.
Intercutting (or cross-cutting ) is where you bounce back and forth between two different scenes. It’s usually used for phone calls, but not always.
formatting a screenplay With Subheaders
Subheaders are like mini-sluglines that indicate another place or time within a scene. They’re even formatted like sluglines — left-justified and capitalized. Take a look at this example to get an idea of what we mean:
Script Example • Ratatouille uses subheaders
If you’re using screenwriting software, you’ll probably have to format it as a “scene header” — that’s perfectly fine!
If you’re shooting within a large house, a subheader might be used to indicate a change in rooms. From the creepy FOYER to the haunted LIBRARY, for example. Or to indicate a detail of a certain location.
Or you might want to use a subheader to indicate a jump in time. If a cop is on a long stakeout and you want to show that time has passed, you’d throw it under the subheader LATER.
This is one of the gray areas in script format where some (mostly those in production) say it should be slugged as a new scene (since it's a different time and may require a different setup).
Writers, on the other hand, tend to prefer to save the line so they don't push a page. So instead of saying INT. CAR - LATER, which requires more space, they'd just say LATER and continue the scene since it never changed locations. Either way is proper script formatting, but using subheaders is more casual.
Script Format For Camera
Formatted like a caps-locked action line, shots direct our attention to a specific visual or way of seeing something. This can include various camera shots , camera angles or camera movements .
In modern times, they're typically used by writer-directors, but also when the writer feels that a visual is key to the entire scene and wants to be sure the director knows it.
Here's a screenplay example from There Will Be Blood , where P.T. Anderson (who will also eventually direct the film) writes multiple shots and angles throughout. Again, unless you're directing the film, it's best to leave these decisions out of your script.
For this script example, we've included the entire opening sequence so you can see for yourself how Anderson tells us everything we need to know about this character without a word of dialogue.
Screenplay Example • Writing Shots • Read the Entire Scene
Most screenwriters today only specify shots when it's absolutely critical to the interpretation of the scene.
By indicating various shot types in a script, keep in mind that you as a writer are also hammering home to the reader that this is a movie and cameras will be recording it. On a certain level, this can take the reader out of the story, so you might want to use the technique sparingly.
- Different Shots & Camera Angles in Film →
Montage Script formatting
To start a montage, training or otherwise, write “Begin Montage” as if it were a subheader. Then list out your scenes as you normally would.
Once the montage is over and Rocky finally ran up all those steps, close off your montage with “End Montage,” again written as if it were a subheader.
Click below to read a montage example:
Script Template • How to format a screenplay montage
There is some leeway when writing a montage . For example, writers often prefer to simply list individual lines, or lines set off by hyphens, within the action to indicate different montage locations and sub-scenes.
Just know that if you want to format your script for production, you'll need a slugline for each individual shot or scene within a montage (as in the montage example above). That's because each location means a different setup and a whole separate set of production concerns.
- Script Examples & Tips for Writing a Montage →
- Film Script Format for Montage Voiceovers →
formatting a screenplay For Music
Lyrics are tricky when it comes to how to format a screenplay, particularly when they have to be matched to action on the screen. No screenwriting software has a “lyrics” element.
An important rule of thumb when learning how to write a screenplay is that, when done properly, one page of film script equals roughly one minute of screen time. Emphasis on roughly.
Since lyrics take up a lot of page space, but don’t take as much time to sing, that can throw the balance off.
You have two options for solving this problem.
SPACE IT OUT
You can spread out the lyrics on the page with shots and action directions. This will let you design a little of the choreography and help establish the rhythm and pacing of your big musical number.
DESCRIBE THE SEQUENCE
Rather than list out each individual lyric, describe the general feel of the song and the sequence that accompanies it. This is how writer/director Damien Chazelle wrote the musical sequences in his script for La La Land .
Script Format Example for Lyrics
While leaving the actual lyrics out of the script, it saves space but just remember to account for the scheduling later. The "musical number" described here might take a lot of time to shoot, more than this simple mention suggests.
- Best Songs in Quentin Tarantino Movies →
- Iconic Movie Moments Made With Music→
- Download Screenplay for La La Land →
script format & Exposition
Chyrons are the text that appears over the screen — usually used to indicate the time and place of the scene to the audience. You’ll see this sort of thing a lot in military or spy movies.
Start an action line with the word “CHYRON” (yes, in all caps) followed by the text of the chyron. Some writers like to use “TITLE” instead of “CHYRON.” It’s a personal choice. If you were using Title, it would look like this:
Screenplay Example • Chyrons in Script Writing Format
Other than the scene heading, this is another opportunity to describe the setting of the story or any additional information or context for the reader.
Using "Chyron" would look exactly the same, only swapping the word "Chyron" for "Title." Either one is also considered proper script format.
script format in TV
13. end of act.
This is a special kind of formatting that’s only important if you’re writing for network television.
Whenever you reach the end of an act (or teaser) where the show would cut to commercial break, note it by putting “End of Act One,” (or Two or Three) centered and underlined, into your script.
Then you skip a page and put “Act One” (or Act Two or Three) at the very top — again, centered and underlined.
If you’re using screenwriting software, it’s very important that you open your template as a “one hour” or “half hour” drama. If you open it as a feature film script, the screenwriting software may not include that element.
Also, keep in mind that a single-cam sitcom and a multi-cam sitcom have a very different script format.
The single-cam is, essentially, a movie script with act breaks. While the multi-cam has double-spaced dialogued, capitalized action lines, and the new acts begin halfway down the page, and each new scene starts on a new page (as we mentioned).
Make sure you know which one you're writing and then write to that screenplay format. These two types of comedies have quite different tones, aesthetics, and productions. It's critical that the reader, and even more so the production crew, know which one you've written.
Start writing your script
It takes practice before screenplay format becomes second nature, even when you’re using a pre-made script template or specialized screenwriting software. Knowing how to format a script comes down to that old adage: "Practice makes perfect." Start writing your script in StudioBinder and we'll handle the formatting for you.
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