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Formatting Mistakes that You Can Get Away With

Writing and finishing a screenplay is arguably the most challenging writing task for someone to set out to do. Not only from a length and story-writing perspective, but from the formatting alone. It takes a lot of time for writers to get the formatting of a script down, fearing a production company will turn down scripts if the formatting isn’t correct.

Still, many writers worry about the formatting more than they probably should. As integral as formatting a script is for having a great script, there are some formatting mistakes you can get away with. Now, this doesn’t mean you can ignore formatting totally; there are just some points that aren’t as important. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at what those formatting mistakes you can get away with are!

Photo credit: Raindance

Why is Formatting Important?

Before diving into some formatting mistakes that aren’t a huge deal, you might be wondering why formatting matters. After all, isn’t writing an interpretation that we can make our own? Cormac McCarthy has an entirely different writing style than Joseph Heller, right?

Although that notion works with novelists, it’s not accepted in the screenwriting world. This is primarily since a screenplay allows writers to communicate precisely what they envision onscreen. Basically, there are many techniques and phrasing in screenplays that exemplify what the writer envisions when it’s shot.

Capitalizing Too Much

Capitalization is a fundamental part of screenwriting that primarily occurs when a character’s name is introduced and for transitions. Some writers occasionally capitalize props, sound design, and movements as well. Besides transitions and introducing a character, it’s very subjective with how much you choose to capitalize.

Some writers feel you should do the absolute minimum when capitalizing since doing it too much can turn the reader off. However, this screenwriting mistake is not a huge ordeal. Obviously, there’s a happy medium between tastefully capitalizing and capitalizing every other word. Still, many writers feel capitalizing is a valuable tool in a script.

Not Opening With FADE IN:

Just about every script in the entire world begins with fade-in as a symbol for your script to open. Although it may sound like blasphemy to not open with the iconic FADE-IN, it’s genuinely not a huge deal if your script doesn’t begin with it. After all, there is a lot more attached to a script than just a simple FADE-IN.

In fact, some writers choose to have an intro page to a certain degree before utilizing the iconic FADE-IN. Now, many established or notable writers are typically the ones who get away with this. Still, don’t let the tradition of having FADE-IN intimidate you. If you end up selling a script and they want the FADE-IN, then add it. If not, why worry about it?

Not Using Enough Transitions

Going off the notion of a FADE-IN, that is what screenwriters refer to as a transition. Other transitions include FADE-OUT, DISSOLVE TO, RIPPLE DISSOLVE TO, IRIS IN, etc. Now, some writers may get upset by this, but there isn’t a written rule with using transitions. Technically speaking, you could get away with only using a handful of transitions throughout your entire script.

If your writing and story are reasonable, there’s no point in worrying about inserting transitions all over your story. In fact, having few transitions will cause your story to be much easier to read, especially for those who are reading your script for the first time. Obviously, utilize transitions if you need to, but don’t think you have to have transitions.

Disregarding Parentheticals

Parentheticals are phrases written in dialogue boxes to spell out the tone, intent, or action in a specific scene. Many writers choose to ignore parentheticals as a way for actors to interpret the feeling in the script. As a result, you can totally overlook parentheticals if you want to, so try not to worry about them too much in your script.

Using a Low-End Screenwriting Software

Although this technically isn’t a screenplay formatting mistake, it can still affect your screenplay a touch if it leaves the software’s name at the bottom of each page. Regardless, it’s not a big mistake if you choose to use a low-end screenwriting software. Use what resources you have, and don’t worry about it.

‘Lengthy-ish’ Descriptions

Lengthy descriptions are heavily frowned upon in the screenwriting world, where many writing experts stating that a script should never read like a book. Although it’s true your descriptions shouldn’t ready like a book, there’s no shame in having a somewhat lengthy description. I refer to this as a lengthy-ish description.

Having a Long Screenplay

The last formatting mistake has to do with your screenplay’s length. Oftentimes, many writers will claim a screenplay should never be longer than 120 pages. Although it’s a good idea to follow this rule, if it does go over those pages, it’s not a big deal. Just make sure whatever length your screenplay is at is an adequate page count for the story.


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