A close up black and white image of a retro typewriter with a script page coming out of the rollers titled How to Properly Format Your Screenplay.

Master Screenplay Format: The Ultimate Guide to Industry Standards for Writing Scripts That Sell in 2024

If you want to write scripts that sell, proper screenplay formatting is essential. Professional script readers and producers will toss out improperly formatted screenplays right off the bat.

That’s why understanding screenwriting format conventions is a must if you want your script to get read.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the key elements of how to format a screenplay professionally from title page to scene headings to action lines. We’ll also provide screenwriting tips to enhance readability.

So let’s dive in and learn proper screenplay formatting step-by-step!

Formatting the Title Page

The title page is the very first page the reader will see, so making a good impression is crucial. Here are the key elements that should appear on your script’s title page:

Screenplay Title

Your screenplay’s title should be in ALL CAPS and centered about 1/3 down the page. Choose a title that’s intriguing, memorable, and relevant to the story and genre.

Avoid long or generic titles. Also, don’t put your name or any other credits on the same line as the title.


On the line below the title, include your name or your writing team’s names single-spaced and centered. Only include the writer(s) credited for the screenplay, not the author of the source material if it’s based on a book or article.

Contact Information

On the bottom of the page, include your contact info – phone number, email address, and sometimes mailing address. Centered alignment is preferred.

You can also optionally include details like the draft number, revision date, WGA registration number, etc. in this section.

Font, Margins, and Alignment

For the entire screenplay, use 12-point Courier font. It’s industry-standard because each character is exactly the same width, so one page in Courier approximates one minute of screen time.

Use 1-inch left and right margins. The top and bottom margins should be 0.5 – 0.7 inches. Don’t justify text – keep it aligned left.

Formatting Scene Headings

Scene headings, also called sluglines, indicate when and where a scene occurs. They are written in ALL CAPS and follow a specific structure:


Scene headings start 2-3 inches from the left margin. Here’s what each part means:

  • INT. or EXT. – The scene setting, interior or exterior
  • LOCATION – Where the scene takes place
  • DAY or NIGHT – When the scene happens

For example:


Some other scene heading formatting tips:

  • Always include a scene number starting from 1 and increasing sequentially
  • Use brief LOCATION descriptions like HOUSE, BEACH, COFFEE SHOP
  • Omit articles like A, AN, THE
  • Use DAY, NIGHT, DAWN, DUSK, CONTINUOUS to indicate time
  • Insert a hyphen (-) between certain elements for clarity

Proper formatting of scene headings is crucial for quickly orienting the reader.

Formatting Action Lines

Action lines, or action description paragraphs, occur below each scene heading. This is where you describe the visual details unfolding on screen like actions, characters, locations, etc.

Action lines should:

  • Use upper and lower case letters – avoid ALL CAPS
  • Be double-spaced below the scene heading
  • Have a 1-inch paragraph indent
  • Use left and right margins between 2.5-4 inches
  • Be broken into 2-5 sentence paragraphs

Here’s an example of action line formatting:


A young woman, Amanda, walks through the glass doors into the spacious marble lobby. She joins the end of the teller line, glances around nervously. An ARMED MAN wearing a black ski mask suddenly bursts through the entrance waving a gun. Fear sweeps across the room.

Write clear, visual prose that translates well to the screen. Only include details that can be seen or heard by the audience.

Use active voice and strong verbs to keep action lines lively and engaging.

Formatting Character Names and Dialogue

Any time a character speaks, you must properly format the character name and dialogue. Here are some key character name and dialogue formatting rules:

Character Names

  • Always CAPITALIZE and center character names
  • Introduce new characters in ALL CAPS
  • Only include one character name per dialogue block


  • Place dialogue double spaced under the character name
  • Use left and right margins of 2.5-3 inches
  • Insert parentheticals right after the character name to indicate how a line should be delivered
  • Limit parentheticals – let dialogue speak for itself
  • Break up dialogue exchanges into 2-5 line paragraphs for readability

Here’s an example dialogue exchange with proper formatting:



What do we do?




Okay, okay!

(lies down with arms over her head)

Keep your dialogue lines to 2-3 sentences max. Only include essential dialogue – avoid chit-chat.

Formatting Transitions

Transitions like CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO, and SMASH CUT TO indicate jumps in time, location, or story progression.

Here are some transition formatting tips:

  • Written in ALL CAPS and centered on its own line
  • Scene numbers go on the line immediately after
  • Use simple transitions like CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO whenever possible
  • Avoid too many distracting transitions like CGI TRANSFORMATION TO
  • Insert a hyphen after the transition if it contains multiple words

For example:


Only use transitions when absolutely necessary. Let the story flow from scene to scene smoothly.

Additional Screenplay Formatting Tips

Here are some other important screenplay formatting guidelines to enhance readability:


Use parentheses around scene headings and use PAST after the location for flashback scenes.

For example:



Use scene headings like TEXT MESSAGE or EMAIL to indicate digital messages. Format the sender’s name above the message body.


Use INSERT to call attention to a specific object. For example:


Notes indicate a history of mental illness.

Sounds and Music

Format important sounds in ALL CAPS and music cues in quotes and italics.

For example:


A soft ‘melody’ begins playing.

Camera Shots

Use (O.S.) to indicate dialogue from an off-screen character. Format other important camera directions in parentheses.


Use consistent style for scene headings, action lines, transitions, etc. throughout the entire screenplay.

Stick to industry standard format conventions – avoid fancy fonts, colors, images, etc. Proper screenplay formatting demonstrates your professionalism.

Formatting Makes a Difference

You may have a brilliant script, but if your formatting is sloppy or hard to follow, many readers will dismiss it immediately.

That’s why understanding proper screenplay formatting guidelines is so critical. Following the standards we’ve covered will ensure your script looks crisp, clean, and readable.

While formatting software makes applying most conventions easy, it still helps to learn the rules first. Use this guide as a reference anytime you have a formatting question.

And remember – consistency is key. Use the same style for elements like scene headings, action paragraphs, and dialogue throughout your entire screenplay.

Proper formatting signals that you know what you’re doing and makes your writing shine through. So take the time to polish the presentation of your script.

Once you master screenplay formatting, you can shift your focus back to the story and characters that truly bring your vision to life on the page.

Now get out there and start properly formatting that masterpiece! Just imagine how it will look on the big screen when you follow professional standards.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the proper format for a screenplay?

The proper format for a screenplay follows industry standard conventions like 12-point Courier font, 1-inch margins, scene headings in ALL CAPS, character names CAPITALIZED and centered, double-spaced action lines, and transitions like CUT TO. Correct formatting enhances readability.

How do you structure a screenplay?

A screenplay is structured in acts – typically a 3 act structure with a setup, confrontation, and resolution. The major plot points occur at the end of Act 1 (inciting incident) and Act 2 (climax). Each act builds upon the previous one to tell a complete story.

What are the 5 elements of a screenplay?

The 5 essential elements of a screenplay are:

  1. Scene headings
  2. Action lines
  3. Character names
  4. Dialogue
  5. Transitions

These work together to transform the story into a visual medium.

What is the master format for screenplays?

The master format refers to the standard industry conventions for formatting screenplays. This includes technical elements like scene headings, action paragraphs, character names, and transitions. The master format ensures consistency across scripts.

What is the #1 rule when writing a screenplay?

The #1 rule is to write cinematically. Your script should translate from page to screen seamlessly. Use crisp, visual details and an active writing style. Show don’t tell. Your story comes to life through action and dialogue, not exposition.

What is the 3 line rule in screenwriting?

The 3 line rule states that each paragraph of action lines or dialogue should be no more than 3 lines long. This prevents dense blocks of text and makes scenes more readable. Frequent paragraph breaks improve pacing and flow.

What is the difference between a screenplay and a script?

A screenplay refers specifically to the written work for a film or television production. It includes technical formatting and scene descriptions. A script more broadly describes the written text prepared for any dramatic production across various mediums.

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