Different Components Of A Screenplay Format (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A screenplay format is a template that defines the various on-page elements of a script in accordance with industry standards. This format is especially useful for those who are learning about screenplay writing and can use it as a template to guide them. If you aspire to work as a screenplay writer, then it is important for you to know the different components of a screenplay. In this article, we explore what the components of a screenplay format are and look at some tips to help you when you write your own screenplay.

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Components Of A Screenplay Format

Below are the different components of a screenplay format:

Fade In

Fade in is the starting point of a script. This component marks the beginning of a story. You may use this component only once in your screenplay, right at the beginning of the script, before the heading of the first scene. It is important that you use this phrase in all caps and end it with a colon.

It is important for you to understand that fade in marks the beginning of the visual aspects of your story. If your story begins with a sound effect or a voice-over, then you do not use fade in at the start. You only use fade in when you introduce your audiences to a visual to officially start your story.

Example: FADE IN:

Scene Heading

A scene heading describes briefly where each individual scene takes place. You may write a scene heading using all caps and then use hyphens or periods for segmenting each part. The different parts in a scene heading are general location, specific location and time of day.

A general location specifies if a scene takes place inside or outside a specific location. INT. signifies interior and EXT. signifies exterior. Specific location specifies where exactly the scene takes place. This location also specifies the location of the camera with reference to the characters. Time of day specifies the time at which the scene takes place. This helps a reader track the timeline of a story. Some of the commonly used times of day are NIGHT, DAY, EVENING and LATER. LATER signifies that not much time has passed since the last scene.

Example: INT. MOHAN OFFICE – DAY

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Sub-headers

Sub-headers explain when a scene occurs in a more casual manner. These are usually small slug lines and are less formal in nature when compared with a scene heading. You do not require to write sub-headers in all caps and may write them in simple words or sentences.

Example: Library

Action Lines

Action lines are scene descriptions. You may use this component to show readers what is happening in a scene. The different parts in an action line are character description, scene description and character or object action. A character description describes the qualities of a character. This description helps the readers in visualising what a character looks like, what their personality is and how they may behave in certain situations.

A scene description describes the setting of a scene. This description describes the feel, look, qualities and weather of the setting of the scene so a reader may be able to visualise where the scene takes place. A character or object action describes what a character does. This may even describe what an object does, and not only the action taken by a character. If the object or the action that you are highlighting is very important, you may use all caps to write the character or object action.

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Speaking Character

This component tells the readers which character is speaking at a given time. To use this component, write the name of the character in the middle of the page using all-caps. You may only use the first name or the nickname of a character. Introduce this name or the nickname somewhere earlier in the same description so that the readers are able to understand clearly which character you are referring

Dialogue

This component is what a speaking character says. It is important that you centre-align and justify the dialogue. The general format for dialogue is to use standard capitalisation and punctuation and using double-spacing. To highlight or emphasise a particular word or sentence in a dialogue, you may underline it.

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Parenthetical

You may use a parenthetical in a few different ways. You may use them to describe to the reader how a particular line is to be read. An example of this is "(defensive)". You may also use these to describe whether a character is saying their dialogue off-screen or in voice-over. (O.S.) depicts off-screen and (V.O.) depicts voice-over. You may also use a parenthetical to describe when a character is speaking into a device like a phone. You can use "(INTO DEVICE)" for this purpose.

Shots

This component tells the reader the type of shot to be used for filming a scene. This is a rather less frequently used component in a screenplay and the screenplay writers usually leave this decision to the directors. There may be some instances where the screenplay writer may deem this information critical for a particular scene and include it in the screenplay.

Example: Low-angle

Montage

There is a specific format you may use for montages. To begin, you write "Begin Montage". You then write your scenes normally. You end the montage with "End Montage".

Lyrics

Every page in a script is supposed to be equal to around one minute of screen time. This makes writing lyrics in a screenplay challenging, as they may take up a large chunk of the page space, but may not account for the requisite amount of time. You may overcome this challenge by including the action details in between the lyrics. This spaces out the lyrics and the reader also gets an idea about the general feel of the song.

Chyrons

Chyrons are the pieces of text that appear on the screen with the time and place. These help the audiences in understanding where and when a scene is taking place in the story. To write a chyron, start by writing "CHYRON" and then write the text of the chyron in the same line.

Fade Out

Fade out is the ending point of a story. You may use this component after the final dialogue or action line of your script. You may write fade out on the left-hand side of the page, about 6 inches from the left edge of the page.

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Tips For Writing A Screenplay

Below are a few tips for writing a screenplay that you may follow:

Use software

There are many software tools available that help you format your screenplay. These tools help in adjusting elements like indenting, spacing and margins. These tools set many of these elements to their correct industry-standard defaults and enable you to focus more on the actual writing work.

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Limit the use of parenthetical phrases

Parenthetical phrases are a very useful component in a screenplay that help the directors and the actors convey the exact emotions of a scene. These phrases improve the screenplay drastically, but only when used within the proper limit. If you use them too much, then the scenes that actually deserve the emphasis on emotions may get lost and not get the rightful attention.

Avoid using unnecessary transitions

Transitions are another screenplay component that may improve the scenes, but only when used in the right manner. This component takes a little experience to master and may affect the readability of the screenplay if not done correctly. It may be better to use new scene headings instead of transitions and limit the use of transitions to only those instances when they add real value

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Break large blocks of text

Screenplay length helps determine the screen time for each scene for the directors and the actors. This makes it important that the elements you use on each page of your screenplay correctly reflect the screen time of that particular page. Breaking large blocks of text, like monologues, into smaller blocks helps enhance the readability of the screenplay and also depicts the correct time that may be required for filming a particular scene.

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