How to correctly format a screenplay is one of the topics asked of us most often, from a whole range of writers – beginners to the most experienced.
In this article, we’re going to explain why you need to correctly format your script, what software you can use, and if you can format a script on Microsoft Word, Pages, and Google Docs.
Do you need to use script formatting software?
In the industry, a correctly formatted script will get you further. It will read more clearly and concisely, be presented more professionally, and conform to various technical rules.
One of these technical rules is that usually, a page of screenplay equals a minute of screentime. If your script isn’t formatted correctly, this will cause problems timing it, producing it, and even acting in it.
Some agents or producers will immediately overlook a poorly-formatted script – even if it tells an exciting or original story – in favour of a more professional, industry-standard document.
If you are looking to make a profession out of writing, our recommendation is to get the right tools so that our amazing idea isn’t tripped up at the first hurdle…
What kind of scriptwriting software should I use?
Scriptwriting software is widely available and allows you to format your scripts to industry-standard with ease, but it often comes with a hefty price tag.
The best scriptwriting software, and the most commonly used in the industry, is Final Draft – which is a worthwhile investment for around $200.
Students and Teachers can also apply for special discounts and rates, so check out all the options available to you.
In the same way that photographers invest in the best cameras and editing programmes, and artists buy the best tools to perfect their masterpieces, Final Draft is the recommended programme to use if you are wanting to make a living in the industry.
Other script formatting programmes such as Studio Binder, WriterDuet, and Celtx are also viable options, but Final Draft is the most straightforward, user-friendly and widely-accepted within the industry of all the programmes on the market.
“Even if you don’t own a computer, I recommend buying Final Draft.” – JJ Abrams, Star Wars, Lost
Benefits of Final Draft
Final Draft, besides helping you to format your script quickly and proficiently, also features many additional benefits.
These include offering a wide range of script reports such as where characters appear throughout your scenes, lists of your locations, and even how many times characters use profanity.
This makes editing your work so much simpler too – especially when asked to remove profanity, change character names quickly, or limit your locations.
Redrafting – and believe me, you will always have to redraft – is made easier by these great features.
Another great feature of Final Draft is your ability to open a huge host of additional script templates – including templates for writing Stageplays, Radio Plays, Index Cards, Graphic Novels – and even allow you to download more from a selection online.
If you haven’t considered already, why not enter your script into our SWN Screenplay Competition where our winners prize includes Final Draft software?
Check it out at: http://www.screenwritersnetwork.org/swn-screenplay-competition
Can you format a screenplay yourself?
If you are just starting out in your career, practising, studying, or writing as a hobby, there are other options to make your script easy to read, match other screenplays or be able to impress actors, fellow writers, tutors, or friends.
Various word processor programmes include a downloadable screenplay template, or you can mock one up yourself using paragraphing and line spacing.
The best advice is to look for these downloadable screenplay templates and use them as guides until you find a script formatting programme you like.
Can you format a screenplay on Microsoft Word?
The short answer: Yes.
Microsoft Word features a downloadable screenplay template, as seen here. Simply make sure you’re connected to the internet and search for ‘screenplay’:
The Microsoft Word screenplay template is hugely useful and often recommended by university or college screenwriting classes as a great option for honing your skills.
Also included in the template is an example document which gives you hints and tips about your writing, as well as explaining how your screenplay should look and what it should feature:
It isn’t a perfect representation of an industry-standard screenplay, as the line spacing won’t be an exact match to specialist script formatting software, but it is a good approximation and perfect for those starting out.
If you’re sending a script formatted on Microsoft Word or any other non-specialist scriptwriting programme, remember to save it as a PDF so that it can be opened, and to hide that it isn’t coming from accepted industry-formatting software.
Can you format a screenplay on Pages?
Short answer: Yes and no.
On a previous version of Apple’s Pages, a screenplay template was available but has since been removed – perhaps due to Apple working on their own specialist software.
However, some clever people at FutureFilmmaking have mocked up a template for you to use which can be downloaded here:
It isn’t as simple to use as the Microsoft Word version above and doesn’t include the same instructions, but again, it can be used to simulate an efficient screenplay and looks clear and professional.
Like the Microsoft Word template, you can choose to insert a SCENE HEADING, Action, a CHARACTER CUE and all of the standard options from a drop-down menu.
If you’re familiar with Pages, you’ll notice that these options have replaced ‘Paragraph Styles’.
Slightly on the complex side, our advice is to use this template if you don’t have access to the better Microsoft Word version – or you are particularly proficient in using Pages.
Can you format a screenplay in Google Docs?
Short answer: Yes, but you shouldn’t.
Google Docs, again, has a downloadable screenplay template but it is unfortunately based on an outdated, non-industry standard screenplay format.
This template is riddled with spacing issues, dubious margin sizes, text leaning to one side and overly-complicated explanations on how to use the formatting.
Our advice for those learning how to script format is not to confuse themselves with this messy template and stick with Word, Pages, or invest in some software which will sort your formatting and leave you with more time to craft your story.
Want to learn more about formatting and get your script into the best shape?
Check out our Formatting 101 Blog #1 to find out all about formatting techniques, and take a look at Formatting 101 #2 for the technical side of things, including how to use Flashbacks and Transitions…
Don’t forget to enter your script into our SWN Screenplay Competition for a chance to win great prizes, including Final Draft software.
Eden Luke McIntyre is a Scottish writer, editor and script consultant, with a Master’s Degree in TV Fiction Writing and Honours Degrees in Film & Media and English Studies. He is also a practising journalist and scriptwriter, and he creates original content for TV, radio, stage, and online. In early 2020, he was appointed as a BBC Writers Room Scottish Voice.
Follow him on Twitter @edenlmcintyre