Master how to Write a Screenplay; Scriptwriting Examples and Tips

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Sometime in 2015, I took part in a screenplay competition. We had to submit our screenplay synopsis which I did. Two weeks later, I got a call from the organizers declaring me the winner. Amidst the joy I felt, I knew the next step was to submit the full script which I was yet to write. The thought of writing one scared me, I was intimidated by the rules. But then I told myself, “Ann, don’t let the endless rules of screenwriting scare you away from writing your first script”. So, I began making some research on how to write a screenplay since familiarity with the basics was half the battle.

But then, before you delve into writing a screenplay, it is necessary to have an already thought-out story. Isn’t it said that a scriptwriter without a story is like a body without a soul. So first of all, you must have a story, a captivating one at that.

The next step is to download a screenwriting software. Examples are Final Draft, Celtex Script, Save the Cat, Movie Magic Screenwriter, etc. Once that has been done, then it’s time to familiarize yourself with the screenplay elements. Note that, these screenplay software automatically formats these elements but as a screenwriter, you must have a knowledge of each of the elements to know when to use each one.

  • Scene Heading:

This is equally known as a slug line. It is the description of the location and time of the day. It should always be in capital letters.

Example; INT. CAR – DAY

The example above depicts that the scene takes place inside the car during the day. If it’s happening outside, then substitute the INT (Interior) with EXT (Exterior)

  • Action

This describes the events happening in a particular scene. It should be written in the present tense. Since a movie is primarily a visual medium, you must show what is happening in your story. Show, don’t tell. Only things that can be seen and heard should be written down.

Example;

INT. THE OFFICE – DAY

CHIMA sneaks into the office which is well-furnished and quietly closes the door behind him. He looks around the office for a while as though in search for something. He goes to the desk and starts going through some documents placed on the desk.

  • Character:

If a character is introduced within the action, the name should be CAPPED. In the example above, the character “CHIMA” has his name capped.

Again, a character’s name is always listed above the lines of their dialogue and should be CAPPED also.

Example;

CHIMA

I love you Ann.

Note that, if a character’s name appears in a dialogue, it needs not to be capped.

  • Dialogue

A dialogue is what each character says. Remember to keep it crisp.

  • Parenthetical;

This simple refers to the direction of a character which may either be attitude or action oriented.

Example;

CHIMA

(Laughs)

Seriously, Ann you looks cute when you are all worked up like this.

Though, these days it’s no longer very much necessary to include a parenthetical partly because it’s the director’s job to instruct an actor on how to deliver his line.

  • Extensions;

These are abbreviated technical note placed beside the character’s name to indicate how the voice will be hard on screen. Examples are V.O and O.S.

V.O means voice over. It is used when the speaker is not physically on the scene. It may be when the speaker is at the other end of the phone line or a radio broadcast, an unseen narrator or the thoughts of a character.

O.S means off-screen. It is used when the speaker is in the scene location but is simply off-camera. For example, if the scene is taking place in a bedroom and one of the characters walks inside the bathroom and yells unseen about how hectic his day was.

  • Shot;

This tells the person reading the script the focal point within a scene. It is rarely used because it’s the director’s job to give shot directions.

Examples include;

ANGLE ON

EXTREME CLOSE UP

CHIMA’S POV

These are the basic screenplay elements. Ditch that fear that comes with the thought of writing a script and start writing.

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