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Mistakes to Avoid When Formatting a Screenplay

Writing a script is one of the most challenging tasks to accomplish for any person. Besides just thinking of a good story, writers need to develop great characters, dialogue, structure, and much more to create a perfect script. Part of the reason so many scripts don't end up in development is the problematic nature of perfecting a script.

Outside of just the pure essence for creating a perfect story and everything involved, many great writers don't format a screenplay correctly. Considering there are a ton of rules related to formatting a script, every beginner needs to follow them. Quite frankly, every screenwriter follows the rules related to formatting a script.

No matter how good your story or script is, no one will waste their time with it if it's not formatted correctly. Although there are a ton of useful programs that'll easily allow you to place a script in screenplay format, there are still a lot of other format errors that can occur. As great as these programs can be, it's still necessary to know the formatting mechanics behind everything too.

Nonetheless, down below, we're going to discuss the mistakes to avoid when formatting a screenplay. Considering there are quite a few, this list won't have all of them, but they'll some of the most popular ones you should avoid. Let's take a look!

Photo credit: Film Independent


Un-filmable Scene Direction


First and foremost, many novice screenwriters try to write scripts with a lot of un-filmable scene direction. This doesn't mean they're writing acts that aren't physically possible to film, but meaning they're writing a script like a book. Writing a script like a book should always be avoided, and it's prevalent for people to do.

An example of this would be: "Michael walks to the kitchen and thought about how he had such a beautiful day,". Instead, the scene direction should read like this: "Michael walks to the kitchen,". As you can tell, one read likes a book, whereas the other is more fitting for a screenplay. Being able to differentiate the two and write appropriately for screenplays will go a long way.


Inconsistent Character Names


Although this doesn't sound as common as un-filmable scene direction, it still happens. Whenever you have a character, they need to be referred by that name throughout the entire script. Unless they have a reveal to be someone else or their actual name is revealed, nothing should be different from their actual name. This means if they're name is Joe, their character should read Joe throughout the entire script, not Joseph, Joey, or any other name that isn't what they're called.


Being Over-Descriptive


Similar to writing a script like a book, many writers are over-descriptive. Since casting directors and directors decide on how characters should appear, many writers try to describe physical descriptions of characters instead of their vibe overly. Although describing their general appearance is good, it shouldn't be to the point that every physical detail of them is outlined for us to look at.


Overwriting or Underwriting


With being over-descriptive comes with the general notion of overwriting. Overwriting can mean many things, but it includes too long of dialogue, too much scene description and actions, and much more. On the other hand, underwriting is just as big of an issue with too little scene description, action, and dialogue. Either scenario is terrible for a screenplay.


Using a Passive Voice


Whenever you bring up a script, one of the most significant issues novice screenwriters have is not writing in an active voice. Many amateur writers tend to write scripts in a passive voice, which should never happen in a screenplay format. Although novels and website articles are fine to be written in a passive voice, this should never be the case with a script.

Passive Voice

Johnny was bitten on the leg by a dog.

Active Voice

The dog bit Johnny on the leg.


Not Capitalizing Sound Effects or a Character’s Name When They’re First Introduced


Generally speaking, many writers have a difficult time understanding when to use capitalization for a script. For the most part, you should capitalize a character's name whenever they first appear and sound effects. Other than that, people tend to capitalize essential notes in a scene as well, such as a character grabbing something or leaving a room, etc.

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