The Basics of Screenplay Writing

If you’ve ever wanted to write a screenplay, you might have some questions about what it takes. You might be wondering if the process is different from writing other kinds of fiction or non-fiction. 

You might even be thinking about how you’d even start writing one and that’s a good thing! Screenplays are unique and require special attention to detail if they’re going to work as well as possible. Here are some tips on how to get started with your own screenplay:

The Basics of Writing a Screenplay! – YouTube
1. Screenplays require a structured format, including scenes, dialogues, and descriptions of settings.
2. Crafting engaging and authentic dialogue is crucial for character development.
3. A standout screenplay has a compelling and unique story that resonates with the audience.
4. Embrace feedback and be open to revisions to improve the quality of your screenplay.
5. Understanding the fundamentals and following industry standards is essential for successful scriptwriting.

Create A Great Opening

As a screenwriter, you know that the opening of your screenplay is important. It’s the first thing writers see when they read your script, so it needs to grab their attention and make them want to keep reading. 

In addition to making an excellent first impression on potential readers, a good opening also sets up the tone of the story and establishes its setting.

The best openings start with action or dialogue—something that immediately engages readers in some way. For example:

A gunshot goes off in the distance; we hear voices arguing as someone approaches from off-screen…

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Write In The Present Tense

Remember that screenplays are just like any other type of writing. You should write them in the present tense. That means you’ll be using words like “is” instead of “was” or “had been.” For example:

  • Use the present tense to create a sense of immediacy, such as when your main character is talking directly to someone (like another person).
  • Use the past tense when showing a flashback or memory, such as if your character recalls an event from their past.
  • Use the future tense when predicting what will happen later on in the movie; for example, if you want to show something exciting happening later on in this scene but don’t want it interrupting what’s happening now (like if one character says something about how he thinks he might win a competition later in life).

When it comes time for dialogue and narration (the two most common ways people talk), remember that characters should be speaking within themselves which means they should not be thinking aloud (no “I’m going through my day…” type stuff). 

Instead, they should speak only once per line; any additional thoughts can go into parenthetical comments below each line above where there’s room left over after punctuation marks as commas or periods have already gone there.

Use Short Sentences With Short Paragraphs

As you write, keep in mind that short sentences are more effective than long sentences. Long paragraphs don’t keep the reader’s attention, or interest, as well as short ones, do.

Here are some tips for writing great sentences:

  • Use short sentences to keep the reader’s attention
  • Use short paragraphs to keep the reader’s attention
  • Use short sentences to keep the reader’s interest (and make them want more)
  • Use short paragraphs for easy reading and comprehension

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Vary Your Sentence Beginnings

You don’t have to be a grammarian to write a screenplay, but if you want to get your point across effectively, you must avoid some common mistakes. For example, consider the following sentence:

“It was late at night when I picked up the phone.”

Compare this with:

“I had been asleep for hours when I heard the ringing of my phone.”

The first sentence has no variety every word starts with an “s”—and is therefore monotonous. The second sentence has more variety in its openings; we start one with an “i”, another with an “a”, and so on. 

This makes it easier for your reader to follow along as they read through each line of dialogue or description without having their attention split by being forced to concentrate on how many words begin with an s sound before they can continue reading.

Use Scene Headings, Not Descriptions Of What’s On Screen

Don’t write a description of what is on screen.

Screenwriters don’t watch the movie in their heads as they write the script, so they can’t describe what’s happening to the audience through dialogue. If you add descriptions of actions or settings, your screenplay will feel like a play (if it feels like a play, you’re doing it wrong). 

It’s also possible that some filmmakers may try to find an excuse not to hire you based on your writing style (not saying this would happen!)

Don’t write a description of what’s happening. It’s self-explanatory: if you want your audience to know what’s going on in your story, show them! 

Either create suspense using dialogue or create drama by letting something happen without explaining everything in detail, therefore, making us wonder why people are acting strangely without knowing why. 

This makes us more curious about how things turn out and whether our heroes will succeed at fulfilling their goals (or fail miserably).

Here’s an example: We see two people talking at home while sitting next to each other on a couch with no background action going on behind them we don’t need any explanation here.

Because we know exactly where these two characters are located based solely on their interactions with each other; 

Therefore we can easily infer that this scene takes place inside someone’s house instead of outside somewhere else where there might be some “action” going down outside such as cars driving by etcetera…

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Stick To One Point Of View Per Scene

The rule of thumb with the point of view is this: stick to one character’s perspective per scene. If you’re writing a horror film, for example, that means you should write from only one character’s perspective in each scene. 

You can have multiple characters in the scene together (just make sure they’re all in the same place at the same time), but you shouldn’t jump perspectives back and forth if your main character sees something, then stick with their POV when writing out the action.

This rule applies both to scenes within individual acts and acts themselves. If your script opens on a scene with three characters who are having dinner together and then jumps back into the past for a flashback.

For example, don’t spend too much time showing what two of those three people were thinking during dinner before shifting over to focus on how things looked through someone else’s eyes during that same mealtime (unless it’s absolutely necessary). 

In general, try as hard as possible not to switch up POVs unless there’s a good reason or benefit involved; if there isn’t one, stay consistent!

Don’t Bother With Elements That Don’t Advance The Story

  • If a scene doesn’t move the story forward and if it doesn’t reveal character, plot or theme leave it out.
  • Don’t include scenes that don’t reveal character or plot. You’ll want to focus on introducing your protagonist as early as possible and revealing their goal or desire right away. The other characters should also be developed within the first 10 pages so they can assist in helping tell your hero’s story.
  • Don’t include scenes that don’t reveal theme unless absolutely necessary for the story. Themes are what make stories memorable and worth reading over again, so make sure this element is present early on in your script!

The show, Don’t Tell

The show, don’t tell is a screenwriting rule that helps you avoid telling the audience what they can see for themselves. It’s important to show what’s happening on screen, not just tell the audience about it. You can use dialogue, actions, and visuals to show what’s happening.

For example:

  • The actor says “I’m going to go home.” (telling)
  • The actor leaves and then comes back with his bags packed (showing)
  • The actor talks to his wife while packing up their things into boxes around their house (showing)

Only Use Dialogue To Reveal Character And Progress The Story

As you’re writing your screenplay, it’s important to remember that dialogue is the most important element of a screenplay. It’s the only way we get to know our characters and understand how they feel about each other. 

Dialogue reveals character and moves the story forward by showing us what they want out of life and why they’re going after it with such intensity.

But when you write dialogue, don’t just throw in anything that comes to mind. Make sure it’s fresh, interesting, authentic, and sparingly used!

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Avoid Passive Voice And “To Be” Verbs Like “Was” And “Were”

You’ve got to get rid of that passive voice in your writing. It’s weak, and it makes people think you don’t know what you’re doing. 

Passive voice is when you make the thing that is acted on (the object) the subject of a sentence, rather than the person or thing doing the action (the subject). 

For example: “The dog was fed by John.” In this sentence, “John” is doing something (“fed”) to “dog,” but he’s not actually named as a subject in any way—he’s only implied at the end of it all with “by.” That makes for boring writing!

It’s tempting to use passive voice just because it seems easier than using active voice; however, normally this isn’t true at all.

You can usually rewrite sentences with passive constructions into more interesting ones using active constructions instead without changing any meaning whatsoever … except maybe making it clearer who did what exact actions took place!

Avoid Adverbs They’re Almost Always Unnecessary

Adverbs are usually a sign that a writer hasn’t done their homework. Adverbs are often used to show the reader information they already know; 

If you’re writing on behalf of someone else, it’s best to try and find ways to reveal what they know through dialogue or action rather than just telling us outright.

Adverbs shouldn’t be used as crutches for weak verbs. If you have to use an adverb, this probably means that your verb is too vague and needs some work (i.e., “He walked quickly down the road”).

Adverbs can be effective when used sparingly, for example, it may be okay in dialogue if one character is expressing emotion through the way he speaks: “You disgust me!” vs “You disgust me!”

Find Your Characters’ Unique Voices

There are a few key elements that make up a character. The first is the character’s name. Choose a name that is not too similar to the names of other characters, although it should be relatable enough so you can easily remember who said what!

The second element is their personality traits. Is your character funny? Quiet? Brave? These are all things that will help define his unique voice as well as how he interacts with other characters in your screenplay.

Finally, we come to finding your character’s unique voice: how do you do this? Like anything else in life, it takes practice and perseverance! But there are many ways you can go about doing it: some people like using an accent or dialect; 

Others prefer speaking slowly or quickly; some actors may even prefer mumbling under their breath while others prefer speaking loudly enough for everyone around them to hear them (and this is perfectly fine!). 

However, you choose to write out dialogue for each character makes no difference at all just make sure they sound different from one another!

Write Action That Moves The Story Forward Without Being Too Vague Or Overwhelming

You want your action to move the story forward, not just describe something that has already happened. This means you need to be specific and make sure it’s relevant to the story.

If you find yourself writing “They walked into the room,” take a moment and think about what exactly is happening in that scene. Who is coming in? 

How do they walk into the room? What does this mean for them or their relationship with another character in particular? These are all questions you should ask yourself as you write out your actions.

As an example, here’s how I might write out a similar scenario:

“Cynthia walked slowly into her friend Brittany’s apartment as she readied herself for bed, looking around at her friend’s new decorating scheme.”

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Make Sure Your Characters Are Active And Compelling Enough To Keep Things Interesting

In a screenplay, the audience should be able to keep track of all the characters. If you have too many characters, it can be confusing for your reader and for yourself. You want to make sure that you know who each character is and what their role is in the story.

Make sure your characters are active instead of passive. A passive character doesn’t do anything or feels powerless against her fate (she might as well be a piece of furniture). She lets things happen around her rather than taking control of her own life. 

Passive characters aren’t very interesting; active ones tend to be more fun because they take initiative and act on their desires rather than just reacting passively to whatever happens around them like an inert piece of furniture would do!

Also make sure each character has clear goals, motivations, obstacles, backstories, and conflicts that keep things interesting throughout your screenplay!

Screenplays Are Unique And You Need To Know A Few Tricks If You Want To Write One Well

  • Screenplays are unique and you need to know a few tricks if you want to write one well.
  • Screenplays are different from novels, plays, and short stories. They have their own rules and structure that must be followed if you want to create an effective screenplay.
  • A screenplay is written in script format (also known as screenplay format). It consists of dialogue, stage direction, and description on sequential pages of text that tell the story visually through action rather than through internal thoughts or dialogue.


Writing a screenplay can seem daunting, but if you take the time to learn the basics, it’ll be easier than ever before. All you need to do is follow these tips and tricks to get started!

Further Reading

Screenwriting 101: 7 Basic Steps to Writing a Screenplay: Discover the fundamental steps to kickstart your screenplay writing journey.

How to Write a Screenplay: A Guide to Scriptwriting: A comprehensive guide to understanding the art and craft of scriptwriting.

How to Write a Script: Learn from the pros and gain insights into creating compelling scripts for various mediums.


What are the essential elements of a screenplay?

A screenplay typically consists of scenes, dialogues, character actions, and descriptions of settings or locations.

How do I format a screenplay correctly?

Screenplays follow a specific formatting style, including industry-standard margins, character names in uppercase, and parenthetical directions for actors.

How can I create engaging and authentic dialogue?

Crafting authentic dialogue involves understanding your characters, their motivations, and speaking in a way that reflects their personalities.

What makes a screenplay stand out to producers and directors?

A standout screenplay has a compelling and unique story, well-developed characters, and a strong emotional impact on the audience.

How do I handle feedback and revisions in screenwriting?

Receiving feedback is crucial for growth. Embrace constructive criticism, analyze suggestions, and iteratively revise your screenplay to enhance its quality.