If you’ve written a great screenplay, you don’t want to ruin its chances of success by getting something simple like the formatting wrong. By formatting it properly, you’re making sure the reader won’t be distracted or disengaged.
Screenplay software makes the job much easier, but there’s still a few major formatting things you have to look out for on your own. Here are the top formatting mistakes to avoid at all costs.
1) Too Much ‘Black On The Page’ … Or Too Little!
It’s normal that people would rather read text that has plenty of ‘white space’. It’s less clunky. If you’re faced with a block of text, you might not be as inclined to read it either. Try and break up big blocks of black and make sure you keep description tight.
On the other hand, you don’t want to remove too much detail, either! Too many writers concentrate too much on dialogue and forget all about visuals. It’s all about finding the balance between the two!
2) Too much onomatopoeia
You can certainly put in a few instances of onomatopoeia in your script, why not? If there’s a place for a good ‘BANG’, ‘BOOM’, ‘CRASH’ or ‘CLANG’ then knock yourself out. But if you start putting in a lot of sound effects all over the place, it seems like unprofessional and weak writing. (Also, avoid too many capital letters in general).
3) Using “CONT’D” or “continued” too much
A classic formatting error. It’s unnecessary to put “continued” at the top or bottom of each page. It’s obvious that the script will continue on following pages! It also interrupts the reader’s flow and adds to your page count unnecessarily.
If your script has this, remove them right away. (If you’re using a formatting software like Final Draft, you’ll have to turn this feature off because it occurs by default).
MORE: The B2W Format ‘One Stop Shop’ – A Full Rundown Of Every Formatting Error Bang2write sees regularly, plus what to do about them.
4) Using the wrong format for fonts and margins
It’s important that you adhere to the proper spec screenplay format, specifically with your margins, font, and indentation. Your margins should be around 1” on all sides (1.5” on the left is acceptable, but less common). Your font must be Courier and size 12. You can download a one page PDF formatting reference guide for all of this HERE.
If you’re using screenplay software, they take care of all your formatting for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. (However, if it’s important to you to change the margins or font or other settings in any way to help with your writing, you have to remember to change it all back to the default before you submit your script!).
5) Explaining to the reader how to read your script
Script readers read all day. If you need to write a note to the reader explaining what vibe you’re going for, or explaining what your script will be about, you’re making a big mistake. If a reader needs a note to understand the script, you shouldn’t be screenwriting.
Of all the tips in this list, this one is perhaps the one which screams ‘amateur’ the loudest. Your script should not include a cast of characters, cutesy asides, or music cues. Your story should stand on its own.
6) Directing ‘From The Page’
This one is closely linked to point 5. A screenwriter’s job is to tell the story, NOT direct the end film. Leave the mechanics of filmmaking like camera angles out of your spec screenplay. The director will decide how it should translate to the screen if – when! – the time comes.
The same goes for directing actors, by the way. You shouldn’t indicate how the character is saying the line. Parentheticals should only be used if a specific line really needs it to be understood, such as when the meaning is ambiguous.
If not, you have to let the reader decide how the person is delivering the line, by using the script’s context. Your writing should make it clear how the character is delivering the line.
BIO: Ashley Halsey, a professional writer at Lucky Assignments and Gum Essays, is involved in many script and film projects across the country. She enjoys translating books into screenplays for films and traveling to get inspiration for her next projects. In her spare time, she tutors for Research Papers UK.
This is a really good article. Thank you!
I’ve only been writing for a few years and, while I feel like I have formatting covered on the whole, I often like to read up tips and refresh purely to give myself an advantage, stay on top and constantly give a professional impression.
The one on this list I always find annoying is about “directing from the page”. Not for anything you’ve said in this article I must say, but I read a lot of American TV scripts that are full of direction. I know there is a time and place for this and the amount of control the writer has over the show may make a difference on this, but it just doesn’t help me when I’m trying to not write in that way.