Picture screenwriting as driving. There are countless rules. It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. And when people follow the rules, things work. Everyone’s on the same page. Then you gain more experience. You get better and better. All along the way, you pick up on little tactics that fit within the rules, making driving that much more seamless. That much smoother. (…Hopefully.)
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Mini-slug lines are a screenwriting tactic that fits within the screenwriting world’s rules. They make for a cleaner read, and for any newer screenwriters here, it’s a detail (there are many) that will help show you’re not an “amateur.”
So, with slug lines (formally known as scene headings), we’ll start with the basics. Your master-slug line always comes first. It covers, at the minimum, three identifying factors of the scene:
1) Primary location: Does the scene take place inside/interior (INT.) or outside/exterior (EXT.)?
2) Secondary location: Literally, where? A house? School? Backyard? Park?
3) Time of day: DAY or NIGHT? And if vital to the scene, maybe EARLY MORNING or MIDDLE-OF-THE-NIGHT.
FYI: Within your slug line, whether master or mini, do not use descriptor words — another sign of an “amateur.” If you need to paint a picture of your location, do that with your action lines.
An example of a master slug line using the three identifying factors:
INT. CHARLIE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
The primary location of the scene is the INT.
The secondary location is CHARLIE’S BEDROOM
The time of day is NIGHT
Unless we exit the primary location — as in, Charlie goes from inside (INT.) to outside (EXT.) or if Charlie goes from outside (EXT.) to inside (INT.) — you do not have to re-set up the entire master-slug line for scenes to follow. Your mini-slug line only notes a change within the master.
If Charlie walks from her bedroom into the hallway, your slug line would simply become:
Why? Because we’re still in the primary location of CHARLIE’S HOUSE, which is INT.
From there, let’s say Charlie walks into the bathroom. It would simply be:
But then let’s say from the bathroom, Charlie walks back into the hallway, but it’s no longer night, it’s now DAY:
HALLWAY – DAY
Notice how I only noted the information that changed? I was able to provide what was needed, without using the primary location, because again — that detail did not change, therefore you do not need to note it.
Now, let’s say Charlie walks out the front door and ends up in her front yard. You’d have to write a new master-slug line since the primary location will differ. Your new master-slug line would look like:
EXT. CHARLIE’S FRONT YARD – DAY
Voila! A simplistic breakdown of how to handle your mini-slug lines (and master-slug lines). Keep in mind, people who read screenplays for a living – readers, script doctors, judges, developers, producers, financiers, actors, etc – they read a lot of them. We’re talking so many. Meaning, in addition to your screenplay sticking out due to its awesome story, sense of structure and beats, sharp dialogue, and interesting characters — make sure yours is also noteworthy because of its clean formatting. It makes a world of difference. If you haven’t practiced the tactic of mini-slug lines yet, give it a try. And as always, happy writing!
Danielle Karagannis is a writer/director. She’s in post for her third short film (and proof of concept) GROUND CONTROL and in development for several productions including features, shorts, and music videos. Instagram: https://www.