Form

Just creating amazing characters in a memorable world who are struggling to obtain a goal(s) and writing the story with an original voice still isn’t enough to start a screenplay. A novel, maybe, but not a script. The prose writer has freedom to use anything, go anywhere, use any tense, and explore any point of view. The screenwriter, however, is bound by form - not formula. 

Screenplays have a very specific form, and if you ignore that form, it will not serve you, your story, or your audience, and it will definitely not help your screenplay. In fact, disregarding form will inevitably snuff out your script. And it will be a slow, painful death, essentially guiding the reader not to read. 

So what’s the lesson learned? If you’re going to do something, do it right. Screenplay form is distinct and precise, and a script lacking this form almost always finds a home... right in the trash. 

Screenwriting is essentially filmmaking on paper. It is a visual storytelling after all, and the screenwriter must write in PRESENT TENSE - only what the audience can SEE and HEAR. The screenwriter must always use the Three C's: being CLEAR and CONCISE, yet still CREATIVE. Both in description and dialogue, creative brevity is the screenwriter’s steadfast ally and most powerful weapon. 

The screenwriter does not have time to explore the story through long-winded, soul searching monologues, and the script can’t be bogged down with the subtle intricacies of every little detail. There is no time for that, and the screenwriter must be concerned with time - Always! When writing a script, you only have between 90 and 120 minutes to tell your story. That’s not a lot of time, so script economy becomes something the screenwriter must strive for. If it does not illustrate character or moving the story forward, kill it. 

In this section, you will learn how to be more economical with your scenes as well as to avoid common pitfalls such as directing on the page. You will see the importance of the white space, learning to steer away from “I” pages and block pages. And detailed templates for film features, TV dramas, and sitcoms are provided to help you demonstrate the practical use of the many different elements of proper screenplay form.

Subcategories

In screenwriting the screenplay is a unique yet very precise form, which uses a simple framework, but to erect it well is quite difficult. The screenwriter doesn’t have the luxury to write without limits. Readers are always looking for any excuse not to read your script, so never give the reader a reason to toss your script in the recycling pile because you haven’t written it in proper form. The screenwriter’s job is to tell an engaging story that keeps the reader turning pages.  

Not only do you attack each scene as late as is
possible, you attack the entire story the same way.

- William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade

Goldman is absolutely right. Start late. Get out early. Every scene. Every sequence. Waste no time. Use the least amount of words possible while still applying the Three C’s: Clear, Concise, and Creative. Make sure every word you write is necessary. Look to maximize white space and avoid common pitfalls such as ‘I’ pages, block pages, and writing camera instructions – this is screenwriting!

Of course, the writer needs an original voice to tell a memorable story with interesting characters in a believable plot, but if it’s not in the right form, it might as well be written in Sanskrit. Simply put, if you’re going to do it, do it right. 

In screenwriting as in life, communicating means being understood. And your goal with the script is to communicate - so make yourself understood. Be clear in your thoughts and what the audiences sees, and it will be clear on the page. This is your job as a writer and screenwriter. 

TSL's Feature Format Template is an great tool to help you see how the script page should look as well as how to effectively communicate slug lines, title cards, scene descriptions, and dialogue, etc.