Script Formatting 101: A Guide to Proper Screenplay Structure

Behind every captivating film or television show is a well-crafted screenplay that serves as the blueprint for the final product. Proper screenplay formatting is not only crucial for clear communication between writers, directors, and actors but also for adhering to industry standards. In this guide to script formatting, we’ll explore the essential elements of a properly structured screenplay and provide insights into the rules that make scripts not only visually appealing but also easy to read and understand.

The Basics of Script Formatting

Margins and Font:

Set your page margins to 1 inch on all sides, and use a standard 12-point Courier font. This font is preferred because it’s monospaced, ensuring consistent character widths.

Page Numbers:

Page numbers should appear in the top-right corner of each page. They are essential for quick reference and navigation.

Scene Headings:

Scene headings (also known as sluglines) introduce new locations. They should be in uppercase and centered on the page. For example: “INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY” or “EXT. CITY STREET – NIGHT.”

Action Lines:

Action lines describe the physical actions, movements, and expressions of characters. Keep them concise, present tense, and single-spaced.

Character Names:

When introducing characters for the first time, use uppercase letters in the action lines, followed by the character’s age in parentheses, if relevant. Subsequent references can use only the character’s name.


Dialogue is centered on the page, with character names in uppercase above the dialogue. Use proper formatting for parentheticals (character directions or emotions), but use them sparingly.


Transitions, such as “CUT TO:” or “FADE IN:”, should be in uppercase and centered on the page. However, modern screenwriting often avoids using transitions, relying on the context of the scene change instead.

Structural Elements of a Screenplay

Act Structure:

Most screenplays follow a three-act structure – Setup, Confrontation, and Resolution. Act I introduces characters and the central conflict, Act II develops the conflict and characters’ struggles, and Act III resolves the conflict.


Scenes are individual units of action that take place in a single location and time. Each new scene begins with a new scene heading.

Sequence Breakdown:

Sequences are groups of related scenes that collectively form a mini-story within the larger narrative. They can be helpful in organizing the screenplay and tracking character arcs.

Flashbacks and Flashforwards:

When introducing a flashback or flashforward, use a special scene heading like “INT. FLASHBACK – DAY” to indicate the change in time.


For montages, create a series of shots and actions with “MONTAGE” centered on the page. Then list the various shots and actions without scene headings.

Script formatting is the visual language that bridges the gap between writers, directors, and the final production team. Following industry-standard formatting rules not only ensures professionalism but also makes reading and interpreting the screenplay a seamless process. Whether you’re a seasoned screenwriter or just starting, mastering proper screenplay formatting is a fundamental skill that will enhance your ability to convey your stories accurately and compellingly. So, as you embark on your journey of screenwriting, remember that formatting is not just a technical requirement; it’s an essential part of the art of storytelling.

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