10 Quick Tips on Basic Spec Screenwriting Competency for Beginners


Here are ten areas to be sure to attend to if you wish to be taken seriously as a spec screenwriter.

1. Scene Headings (a.k.a Master Scene Headings, sluglines, or slugs):

Include camera location (INT, EXT, INT/EXT), scene location (BEDROOM, BUSY STREET, etc.) and time of day (DAY, NIGHT). Do NOT use any other TOD unless absolutely imperative in telling the story (if the killer only kills at midnight, and the killer is about to kill, then say “MIDNIGHT”)

2. Camera Directions (CUT TO, DISSOLVE, etc.):

Exclude all technical camera directions in your spec script unless IMPERATIVE to the IMPACT of the story. Limit yourself to “FADE IN:”, and “FADE OUT:”

3. Actor Directions (beats):

Do NOT include (beat) in dialogue. The actor is trained to act. Think of beats as dialogue speed bumps, and it slows the read considerably. Do NOT confuse this “beat” with a “Save the Cat” beat, or a beat sheet. You’re marching to the beat of a different drummer there.

4. “More white than black”: Target 150-180 words per page, and you’ll have a nice balance between blank space and ink. Anything over 200 words seems heavy; long paragraph blocks are deadly.  Keep scenes short; anything longer than three pages seems too long.

5. Screenwriting Technique/ Style:

Do not get carried away with parentheticals, CAPITALIZATIONS, flashbacks, montages, hyphens, ellipses and exclamation marks. If you need to use them, use them in moderation (sparingly).

6. Descriptions:

Provide enough scene description to allow the reader to imagine scene, and exclude details that do not add to the story. Try to keep all descriptions to two lines or less.

7. Punctuation:

Rules of punctuation still apply in a screenplay. Learn them.

8. Dialogue:

Avoid expositional dialogue; having one character impart information to another character; information that they should already know; for the sole purpose of informing the audience (“You know Mom died when I was only eight, so…”). Keep dialogue to four lines or less whenever possible.

9. Grammar:

Avoid repeats of words, such as “walks”,” laughs”, “looks”, etc. Write in the active tense “He knocks”, as opposed the more passive “He is knocking” (-ing words).

10. Spelling:

Do not rely on spellchecking programs to do your spelling work for you.


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