What is Screenwriting:
Understanding the Art of writing a screenplay

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What is Screenwriting: Understanding the Art of writing a screenplay

Screenwriting is the art and craft of creating scripts for films, television shows, video games, and other forms of visual media. Screenwriters are the storytellers who bring characters, worlds, and stories to life on the screen. Screenwriting is a challenging and rewarding profession that requires creativity, discipline, and skill.


The Different Types of Screenwriting

Screenwriting can be divided into different types based on the medium, genre, format, and purpose of the script. Some of the most common types of screenwriting are:

  • Feature film screenwriting: This is the type of screenwriting that most people think of when they hear the word “screenwriter”. Feature film screenwriters write scripts for movies that are usually around 90 to 120 minutes long and have a three-act structure. Feature film scripts can belong to any genre, such as comedy, drama, horror, action, romance, etc.
  • Television screenwriting: This is the type of screenwriting that involves writing scripts for TV shows, which can be either episodic or serialized. Episodic TV shows have standalone episodes that each tell a complete story, such as sitcoms, crime dramas, or anthologies. Serialized TV shows have ongoing stories that span multiple episodes or seasons, such as dramas, thrillers, or sci-fi shows. Television screenwriters usually work in a team of writers called a “writers’ room”, where they brainstorm ideas, outline plots, and write drafts.
  • Video game screenwriting: This is the type of screenwriting that involves writing scripts for video games, which can be either linear or nonlinear. Linear video games have a fixed storyline that the player follows from start to finish, such as adventure games, platformers, or shooters. Nonlinear video games have multiple storylines that the player can choose from or influence, such as role-playing games, sandbox games, or interactive fiction. Video game screenwriters collaborate with game designers, programmers, artists, and voice actors to create immersive and interactive experiences for the player.
  • Web series screenwriting: This is the type of screenwriting that involves writing scripts for web series, which are short-form videos that are released online on platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu. Web series can have any genre or format, but they usually have shorter episodes (around 5 to 15 minutes) and lower budgets than traditional TV shows. Web series screenwriters have more creative freedom and flexibility than other types of screenwriters, but they also face more competition and challenges in reaching and engaging their audience.
  • Documentary Scripts: These scripts outline the structure and content of documentary films, often blending factual storytelling with creative elements.


The Basics of Screenplay Formatting

Screenplay formatting is the standard way of writing and presenting a script for visual media. Screenplay formatting helps the script reader (such as a producer, director, actor, or agent) to understand the story, visualize the scenes, and evaluate the script. Screenplay formatting also ensures that the script is consistent, clear, and professional.

Screenplay formatting is a crucial aspect of screenwriting and consists of several elements:

  • The Title Page: The title page of a screenplay is the first thing anyone will see. It's crucial to create a professional title page that includes essential details such as the title of the script, your name, contact information, and often the WGA (Writers Guild of America) registration number.
  • Page layout: A screenplay page should have 1-inch margins on all sides and be typed in 12-point Courier font. A screenplay page should also have a header with the script title and page number on the top right corner. A screenplay page usually contains around 250 words and represents about one minute of screen time.
  • Scene headings: A scene heading (also known as a slugline) indicates when and where a scene takes place. A scene heading consists of three parts: INT. or EXT., which stands for interior or exterior; the location name; and the time of day (such as DAY or NIGHT). For example: INT. CLASSROOM - DAY.
  • Action and Description: The action and description in a screenplay describe what happens in a scene in present tense and active voice. Action should be concise, clear, and specific. Action should also avoid unnecessary details, such as camera angles, directions, or emotions. For example: John enters the classroom and sits at his desk. He looks bored and restless.
  • Character names: A character name appears in all caps above their dialogue or parentheticals. A character name should be unique and memorable. A character name should also include their role or description if they are minor or unnamed characters. For example: TEACHER or STUDENT #1.
  • Dialogue: Dialogue is what a character says in a scene. Dialogue should be enclosed in quotation marks and aligned under the character name. Dialogue should also be natural, realistic, and relevant to the story. Dialogue should also reveal the character’s personality, emotions, and motivations. For example: “Good morning class. Today we’re going to learn about photosynthesis.”
  • Parentheticals: Parentheticals are brief instructions that indicate how a character delivers their dialogue or performs an action within a dialogue block. Parentheticals should be enclosed in parentheses and aligned under the character name. Parentheticals should also be used sparingly and only when necessary. For example: (sarcastic) or (to John).
  • Transitions: Transitions are words or phrases that indicate how a scene ends or how a new scene begins. Transitions should be aligned to the right margin and followed by a colon. Transitions should also be used sparingly and only when necessary. Some common transitions are CUT TO:, FADE IN:, FADE OUT:, DISSOLVE TO:, or SMASH CUT TO:.


The Major Elements of a Screenplay

A screenplay is more than just a collection of scenes. A screenplay is a story that has a structure, a theme, and a message. A screenplay also has several elements that make it engaging, compelling, and memorable. Some of the major elements of a screenplay are:

  • Premise: The premise is the core idea or concept of the story. The premise should be original, intriguing, and appealing to the target audience. The premise should also answer the question: What if? For example: What if a boy discovers he is a wizard and goes to a school of magic?
  • Genre: The genre is the category or type of the story. The genre defines the tone, style, and expectations of the story. The genre also helps the screenwriter to choose the appropriate conventions, tropes, and clichés for the story. Some common genres are comedy, drama, horror, action, romance, etc.
  • Logline: The logline is a one-sentence summary of the story that captures the essence, the conflict, and the hook of the story. The logline should be concise, clear, and catchy. The logline should also include the protagonist, the antagonist, the goal, and the stakes of the story. For example: A young wizard must stop an evil lord from obtaining a powerful artifact that could destroy the world.
  • Synopsis: The synopsis is a brief overview of the story that outlines the main plot points, characters, and events of the story. The synopsis should be around one to three pages long and written in present tense and third person. The synopsis should also highlight the key moments, twists, and turns of the story.
  • Character: Character is the most important element of any story. Character is what makes the audience care about the story and relate to it. Character is also what drives the story forward and creates conflict. A good character should have a name, a description, a personality, a backstory, a motivation, a goal, a flaw, an arc, and a voice.
  • Plot and Story Arc: Plot is what happens in the story. Plot is the sequence of events that leads from the beginning to the end of the story. Plot is also what creates suspense, tension, and excitement in the story. A good plot should have a clear structure, a logical causality, a rising action, a climax, and a resolution. The story arc is the transformation or growth that characters undergo throughout the script.
  • Themes and Motifs: Theme is what the story means or what it tries to say. Theme is the underlying message or moral of the story. Theme is also what makes the story relevant, meaningful, and universal. A good theme should be clear, consistent, and resonant with the audience.


The Structure of a Screenplay

Screenplay structure is the way of organizing and dividing the plot into different parts or acts. Screenplay structure helps the screenwriter to pace and balance the story and to create emotional impact on the audience. Screenplay structure also helps the script reader to follow and evaluate the script.

Three-Act Structure

The most common screenplay structure is the three-act structure, which consists of:

  • Act One: Act One is also known as the setup. Act One introduces the protagonist, their ordinary world, their problem or need, their inciting incident (the event that triggers their adventure), their goal (what they want to achieve), their stakes (what they stand to lose or gain), their antagonist (the person or force that opposes them), and their plan (how they intend to achieve their goal). Act One ends with a plot point (a major event that changes everything) that propels them into Act Two.
  • Act Two: Act Two is also known as the confrontation. Act Two follows the protagonist as they pursue their goal in a new world (a different setting or situation than their ordinary world). Act Two tests their skills, willpower, and character through various obstacles (challenges or complications that hinder them), conflicts (clashes or disagreements with others), and subplots (secondary stories that support or contrast with the main story). Act Two also shows their allies (the people who help them) and enemies (the people who harm them). Act Two ends with another plot point (a major event that changes everything) that leads them to Act Three.
  • Act Three: Act Three is also known as the resolution. Act Three shows how the protagonist resolves their problem or need by facing their final obstacle (the most difficult challenge or complication) and confronting their antagonist in a climactic showdown (the peak of action and emotion). Act Three also reveals the outcome (the result or consequence of the climax), the theme (the message or moral of the story), and the denouement (the wrap-up or aftermath of the story). Act Three ends with a fade out (a transition that indicates the end of the script).

Nonlinear Narratives

While the three-act structure is a popular choice, some screenplays opt for non-linear storytelling. This approach involves presenting events out of chronological order to create intrigue and suspense. It can be a powerful technique when used effectively.

Subplots

Subplots are secondary storylines that run alongside the main plot. They add depth and complexity to the script, providing opportunities for character development and thematic exploration. Skillfully incorporating subplots can enhance the overall impact of your screenplay.


The Writing Time and Script Length of a Screenplay

Screenwriting is a process that takes time, effort, and revision. Screenwriting is not a linear or fixed process, but a flexible and iterative one. Screenwriting can involve different stages, such as brainstorming, outlining, drafting, rewriting, editing, polishing, and formatting. Screenwriting can also involve different methods, such as index cards, beat sheets, treatments, software, or pen and paper.

The writing time of a screenplay can vary depending on the type, genre, format, and purpose of the script. The writing time can also depend on the screenwriter’s experience, skill, style, and schedule. The writing time can range from a few weeks to a few years. However, some general guidelines are:

  • Feature film screenwriting: A feature film screenplay usually takes around three to six months to write. A feature film screenplay usually goes through several drafts before it is ready for submission or production.
  • Television screenwriting: A television screenplay usually takes around one to two weeks to write. A television screenplay usually goes through one or two drafts before it is ready for production. However, television screenwriters often have to work under tight deadlines and changing demands from network executives, showrunners, and producers.
  • Video game screenwriting: A video game screenplay usually takes around six to twelve months to write. A video game screenplay usually goes through multiple drafts and revisions before it is ready for implementation and testing. However, video game screenwriters often have to work with complex and evolving technology and gameplay mechanics.
  • Web series screenwriting: A web series screenplay usually takes around one to three months to write. A web series screenplay usually goes through a few drafts before it is ready for production or release. However, web series screenwriters often have to work with limited resources and distribution channels.

The script length of a screenplay can also vary depending on the type, genre, format, and purpose of the script. The script length can also depend on the screenwriter’s preference, vision, and feedback. The script length can range from a few pages to a few hundred pages. However, some general guidelines are:

  • Feature film screenwriting: A feature film screenplay usually has around 90 to 120 pages. Each page represents about one minute of screen time. A feature film screenplay should not be too long or too short, as it may affect the pacing, budget, and marketability of the script.
  • Television screenwriting: A television screenplay usually has around 22 to 60 pages. Each page represents about one minute of screen time. A television screenplay should match the length of the episode or the slot that it is intended for. A television screenplay should also follow the act breaks and commercial breaks of the network or platform that it is intended for.
  • Video game screenwriting: A video game screenplay usually has around 100 to 300 pages. Each page represents about one minute of gameplay time. A video game screenplay should match the length of the game or the level that it is intended for. A video game screenplay should also account for the branching paths, choices, and outcomes that the player can experience.
  • Web series screenwriting: A web series screenplay usually has around 5 to 15 pages. Each page represents about one minute of video time. A web series screenplay should match the length of the webisode or the season that it is intended for. A web series screenplay should also consider the attention span and engagement level of the online audience.


In Conclusion

Screenwriting is a fascinating and rewarding form of writing that combines creativity, skill, and technique. Screenwriting is also a complex and challenging form of writing that requires knowledge, practice, and feedback. Screenwriting is not a formulaic or mechanical process, but a dynamic and artistic one.

Happy writing!





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