Open screenplay script with format tags highlighted on director's chair

What is a Tag in Screenwriting Scripts? Formatting Tips + Common Mistakes

If you’ve ever read a screenplay before, you may have noticed short all-capitalized descriptors that tend to appear before the character names and dialogue.

These important script elements are known as tags – and they serve a valuable purpose in screenplays and filmmaking.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down exactly what tags are, why they’re critically important, how to format them properly, and some common mistakes to avoid.

Whether you’re an aspiring screenwriter learning script formatting or a film fan curious to learn industry terms, this extensive look at tags will give you deeper insight into the wonderful world of screenwriting.

What is a Tag?

A tag refers to a piece of scene heading text in a screenplay written in all capital letters that comes before a character’s name.

Tags provide important descriptive context to the reader (and later, the director and actors) about the location, time period, tone, actions, or other key details related to understanding the unfolding script.

There are several different varieties of formatting tags in screenwriting that convey slightly different details:

INT./EXT. Tags

The INT. (interior) and EXT. (exterior) tags indicate whether a scene is set inside a location or outside/on a landscape.

For example, EXT. PARK – DAY shows this scene takes place outdoors in a park during the daytime. Getting this interior vs. exterior distinction correct is vital for production crews when blocking shoots.

Establishing Shot Tags

After the INT./EXT indicator, many screenwriters will first indicate the exact location being depicted with an establishing shot tag.

For example, EXT. LOS ANGELES SKYLINE – NIGHT clearly conveys the larger location context right up front through indicating a sweep of the famous L.A. skyline at night.

Time of Day Tags

As evident in some of the examples so far, time of day tags give further descriptive precision by indicating details like DAY, NIGHT, TWILIGHT, SUNSET, DAWN, MORNING, or AFTERNOON.

This allows the director to accurately capture lighting color temperatures and actor energy levels suitable for the intended time period.

Descriptive Tags

Beyond the location and time basics, additional descriptive tags can be used as well before the speaking character’s name when appropriate.

These can convey details related to weather (THUNDER RUMBLING), immediate actions (GUNFIRE ERUPTING), emotional atmosphere (TENSE SILENCE), political situations, military details, technology, and more. The only requirement – keep them concise!

Why Are Tags so Important in Screenplays?

Tags fulfill a range of critical purposes:

Clarify Context for Crews

For directors, cinematographers, production designers and all other department heads on a film’s crew, effective script tags make their jobs infinitely easier right from the start, allowing them to accurately envision scenes and make more precise logistical arrangements around locations, lighting schemes, camera angles, props required and other planning essentials. Missing or unclear tags can lead to mistakes downstream or inefficient overspending just to cover all bases.

Guide Actor Performances

Actors rely deeply on well written screenplay tags to calibrate their mental, emotional and physical embodiment of roles – first when auditioning with sides and later preparing shoots or theater runs.

The details revealed in properly formatted tags sets the entire mood for their interpretations. A tag reading KITCHEN – WEDDING DAY absolutely guides different behavior than one saying DIRT ROAD – TWILIGHT.

Avoid Confusion Between Scenes

With hundreds of short scenes unfolding across nearly every modern screenplay, transitions could easily become blurred without the clarifying force of tags separating the contextual shifts.

This aids readers mentally. Tags act as navigational tools preventing disorientation, a vital role when scripts get revised or scenes get re-arranged out of shooting order during production.

Proper Screenplay Tag Formatting

If you want to use tags effectively to lift your spec screenplay quality or set your script revisions clearly apart during film development, you’ll need to know proper formatting conventions to integrate them seamlessly into industry standard scripts.

Here are key tag formatting tips:

Insert Before Character Name

Always insert descriptive scene header tags before the character name attached to dialogue. Blocks of action text can still be used between the tag and name for effect. But the tag itself always leads the way.

All Caps is Required

Tags must always be written fully capitalized. Their all-capped nature visually distinguishes them from regular body text. Avoid mixing styles with lower case words except for acronyms like CEO.

Keep Them Brief

Aim to use 1-4 words at most for your core tags. Let longer descriptions play out through imagery evoked in actual scene action lines elsewhere. Only exceed short tag lengths if absolutely vital context demands conveying up front.

Vary Tag Types

Don’t lean solely on basic INT./EXT. and time of day tags. Sprinkle in descriptive atmospheric tags where helpful and screenwriting gurus recommend varying tag type sequences to avoid dull repetition. Go from a general ESTABLISHING to a more richer descriptive tag to suggest plot movement.

Examples of Properly Formatted Tags

Here are two illustrative examples of properly formatted tags from hypothetical screenplays:


Jittery, MARTIN inspects ornate picture frames with a flashlight.

MARTIN We shouldn’t have come in here.


Soaked with rain, LIAM desperately claws his way into a tiny lifeboat.

LIAM Help! I’m over here!

Pro Tip: While screenwriting software isn’t mandatory, using dedicated formatting tools like Final Draft, Celtx or WriterDuet will automatically position your tags correctly while typing.

Common Screenplay Tag Mistakes

Though tags themselves are short in length, they carry an outsized influence. Avoid undermining their power with these common screenplay mistakes:

Forgetting To Add INT./EXT.

Neglecting to set Interior or Exterior location context upfront is a surefire way to frustrate directors expecting vital visual details right from the start when envisioning scenes. Remember the distinction!

Excessive Descriptions

Tags only serve as a brief initial foundation. Pouring elaborate descriptions of multi-sensory details into them bloats their purpose. Reserve fuller descriptive flourishes for prose paragraphs in scene action lines instead.

Missing Time Periods

While less core than spatial context, indicating time periods provides great added clarity. Omit Day, Night and other temporal tags cautiously only if scene actions firmly convey the right time period already.

Inconsistent Format & Style

perhaps the cardinal sin of script tag usage, inconsistencies undermine professionals attempting to cleanly analyze structure ‘flow’.

Stick with all-caps style, similar tag lengths, proper character name spacing and separation rules. Don’t freestyle formats believing it shows creativity within an otherwise rigid script structure.

Conclusion: Tags Are The Pillars of Screenwriting

As we’ve explored, screenplay tags act as those dependable structural pillars upon which all later visual media production decisions can rest firmly.

Deceptively simple in appearance, well plotted INT./EXT. location tags, descriptive headers and temporal signposts ground directors, actors and entire crews in your creative vision from their very first script read.

Just be sure to avoid rookie tag errors that introduce uncertainty or confusion. Master the minor details of tag formatting and separation rules across editing software or index cards in order to truly elevate your next speculative screenwriting project.

For even deeper mastery of professional scriptwriting and the tools used daily across Hollywood, check out our guide to the best screenwriting software or breakdown of the most common screenplay formats.

Understanding both high-level story structure and fiddly formatting conventions remains key to presenting polished, production-ready scripts to managers, agents, and producers when your big break arrives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does tag mean in a screenplay?

A tag refers to a short piece of descriptive text in a screenplay written in all capital letters before a character’s name that provides context about the scene setting, location, time period, or actions. Tags clarify important details for the production crew.

What is a writers tag?

A writer’s tag is an identifier on a script draft that includes details like the writer’s name, contact information, draft number, and sometimes copyright registration information or Writers Guild registration tracking number. This helps track script versions.

How do you tag a screenplay?

Tagging a screenplay refers to the proper formatting convention of inserting short all-capped descriptors before character names to indicate vital contextual details, like scene locations (INT./EXT.), establishing shots, times of day, ongoing actions, emotional atmospheres and more.

How do you tag a script?

Script tags are added by inserting concise all-capitalized text before character names in scenes to indicate locations, times of day, and other important context to properly tag the setting and actions a script is conveying to the reader/production crew.

Why do script tags sometimes?

Script tags convey valuable details to inform production crew members’ planning and creative choices. Properly formatted tags clarify context, emotions, and logistical factors at the start of each script scene. Tags sometimes vary to avoid repetition.

What are tags in content writing?

In content writing and blogging, tags refer to descriptive keywords and short phrases attached to articles to organize content by topics and help users easily find related posts through searches and filtering. Tags aid content discovery.

What is a tag in a novel?

The equivalent of script tags in novel writing are section breaks or chapter breaks which alert the reader to shifts in time periods, locations, perspectives or situations without the need for always explaining every transition in literal prose. Scene headers let imagination fill gaps.

What are the three types of dialogue tags?

The three main types of dialogue tags are: said tags (“she said”), basic action tags (“she whispered”), and descriptive action tags (“she seethed through gritted teeth”). Tags technically aren’t part of dialogue itself but attach identities and context.

What are some dialogue tags?

Common dialogue tags beyond “said” include: asked, shouted, whispered, muttered, cried, yelled, seethed, fumed, explained, joked, quipped, questioned, replied, rebutted, roared, screamed, shared, stated, stuttered, uttered, and verbalized. Mix it up!

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