Be The Best Writer You Can

Screenplay Format

I get a lot of questions about screenplay format – i.e., how the thing actually looks when you lay it out on the page.

Within these questions are lots of more complicated worries. You know the sort of thing: how do you lay out slighty tricksy things, like cutting between both sides of a phone conversation, or how you do voice overs, or what happens on the page when two characters speak at once?

Cologne Cathedral in Music

If your screenplays tend to look like the image above, you might want to have a quick look through this great sample screenplay that actually explains a lot of these layout questions.

Even though I don’t agree with absolutely everything there, I defy anyone to come up with the absolute, definite guide – there is no such thing.

If you’re not sure how to lay your script out on the page, then follow this template and you won’t go too far wrong at all.

Of course, the easiest way of all of getting your script into an industry standard layout is to use one of the screenwriting packages out there – they do most or all of the formatting for you and will save you oceans of time.

Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter are my two favourites among the paid packages, and (though I’ve never used it) I hear very good things about the free package CeltX.

If you’re not already using one of these packages, and you feel your life is better spent working on story than formatting, I can strongly recommend that you look into them.

(Oh, and the picture above is Cologne Cathedral, drawn in musical notation…)


In the screenwriting workshops I run with Philip Shelley, we have a session in which I spend half an hour talking in detail about the opening 12 minutes of the pilot episode of “The Sopranos”.

I think that opening is a master class in how to hook an audience, how to get multiple stories up and running, (and incidentally how to handle the rather thorny problem of how to get an audience to engage with a murderous sociopath lead character).

These first 12 minutes introduce plot, character, and the deep themes of the show with an almost brutal efficiency.

They’re also extremely entertaining. Every time we show the sequence there is an audible sigh from the audience when I stop the disk at the 12 minute mark. Clearly many of those viewing are already totally gripped and hooked.

That opening is 14 years old now, so I’d like to find a more up to date example to compare and contrast.

My problem is that I can’t remember seeing a series opening that betters that level of craft.

Have you got any suggestions for openings of TV series that you think do a great job of setting the world of the show up?

I’m looking for tips on series drama that open so well that you were instantly hooked.

They can be drama from any country, but it would help if it were on DVD, so I and others could see them.

I’d be really interested in seeing your suggestions. If I get enough I’ll post them for discussion on a later blog.


So, we’re up and running, with entries coming in at a steady rate already, which is terrific!

Do have a look at the new contest site.

And, of course, getting the contest a lot of attention is absolutely crucial if the thing is going to work, so please, please do link to the site, tweet it, Facebook and Linked In it – generally pass the word on to anyone you think may be interested.

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