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How To Layout A Screenplay

Adam Scott

This may seem rather basic but the amount of screenplays that are incorrectly laid out can be rather baffling.

Before we delve in to the actual layout process, you must have a basic understanding of screenwriting. A basic understanding of screenwriting is, at the least, having read a few screenplays, preferably some good ones.

You may want to take a screenwriting course, watch the many films that are available on Netflix, or take a course with your local university.

If you're a writer, and not a screenplay director, then the biggest benefit of taking a screenwriting course is having to understand the structure of screenplay to know what to do and how to fix

things if the structure isn't quite what it should be.

These seven tips are what I like to refer to as the seven deadly sins of screenplay layout and will greatly assist you if you adhere to the rules.

Do not over-shareman holding book

A lot of scripts seem to be littered with unnecessary character breakdowns, character point-of-view examples, and character relations. Every scene should have one main character and two supporting characters.

This will create a seamless flow throughout the screenplay and allow the reader to focus on the storyline.

Not only that, but if you add too many of these details into the screenplay, it makes it difficult for the reader to follow. A lot of people will say, "Oh, this is a drama, so it needs these characters," or, "I can't stand so and so."

The last thing you want is for a reader to spend a large portion of your screenplay with a bad taste in their mouth.

Try to keep the screenplay focused and focus on the storyline. It is easy for the reader to get distracted with extraneous details that create a busy feeling.

Save your gory details for the end

Daunting stuff about your first draft. Lots of blood and gore and extreme violence.

It's often the case that as a first draft writer you want to get everything out in the open right away. Don't.

Save the bloody details for the last 10% of the screenplay. The last 10% of your screenplay should be about resolution and plot-lines.

There's no need to show the gore when the reader hasn't yet finished with the scene. The gruesome details will only serve to have a reader staring at your screenplay looking for the gore.
Include blood and gore in your script in the proper places. Tell your story and tell it well.

Do not show your characters fornication

If you have scenes involving multiple characters, all of which are in a same room or car or wherever, then show one character and have a different one follow them around.

People should not be in the room at the same time. If you're writing a love scene, and two characters are in the room, one will get naked.

It makes the story feel much more real.

It is also important to use a minimum of two characters in the scene. You don't want a lot of characters in a scene.

Another rule of thumb is to make your characters look really good. If your characters look bad, then it's hard for a reader to get wrapped up in the story.

Your characters should look nice, especially if they're on-screen.

Do not have scenes with multiple shotsA snap shot of our Sony FS7 cinema camera system from our film set, while producing a documentary series for the Holocaust Center for Humanities. Here we are interviewing a local high school about their experience with some of the Center’s teaching materials.

This one is a little bit different. A lot of people write in one shot, one shot, one shot.

This is not the best way to write.

It's too constricting. The story can get confusing.

Don't write in one shot, one shot, one shot.

Try writing an entire scene in one shot, one shot. Use editing tools that will let you split a screen and make a longer shot, or see things from a different character's point-of-view, or flip the camera, or whatever is needed to create a stronger writing structure.

Do not use the same tag after each character

Having a different name for each character in the scene makes it hard for the reader to keep up with what's going on with everyone. You want to include a single name tag for each character.

Try writing a few more description tags for each character. Try to include who the character is, where they're at in the scene, and what they're doing.

This gives the reader a better feel for who's in the scene.

Another tag that works well is something like, "Something [in quotation marks]" (or don't use quotation marks).

You can place something in quotation marks to indicate something is in the past. It can be something big or small, but you need to make a clear distinction in the reader's mind as to what is past and what is now.

If you do this, do it consistently throughout the scene. Your reader will get used to it and it will make the scene flow much more smoothly.

Do not waste time with "we" statements

"I" statements and "we" statements are all wrong. They make the writing feel stiff and unnatural.

There's no place for them. The only times you should use "we" is when you have two or more characters interacting.

Don't have two characters talking to each other in the scene and say, "We go to the park sometimes." That feels unnatural and uninviting.

The last time I looked, it was only one person in a scene that was going to talk. It shouldn't be two. It should be one.

Do not place a POV character in a heartbeatFree PSD mockups:

People get hurt in love stories, which is what you want to have happen in your story. You don't want a character to get hurt over and over again, which is what you would see in a horror film.

Imagine a horror film where each time something bad happens to a person, it happens quickly. It's so fast and the pain is so severe, that the character dies almost instantly. The person is just too beaten up to last very long.

This doesn't make for a great horror movie. It makes it harder for the viewer to feel the emotion.

This is how readers feel when they are watching horror films. This is how they feel when they read horror novels.

You don't want to make your readers feel like this. You want to make them feel the emotions.

You want to make them feel the horror and the fear.

You want to make them get scared and then you want to make them feel sad and then you want to make them feel angry.

You want to make them feel all the emotions in the scene. You want them to feel terror and fear and anger.

And don't wait until the very end of the scene. You want to have the reader feel it at the start of the scene.

You want them to feel it at the first person of the scene who is being harmed. You don't want them to wait to feel it.


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