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What to Capitalize in a Screenplay: Formatting Guide for Proper Capitalization

Proper formatting is critical for screenwriters who want their scripts to look polished and professional. Unlike novels or short stories, screenplays follow very specific industry formatting conventions that all writers should adhere to if they want to be taken seriously.

One key formatting element that is often overlooked is capitalization. Knowing what to capitalize on and what not to capitalize in a screenplay is an important detail that improves overall clarity and readability.

Capitalizing the wrong things or improperly formatting your script with inconsistent capitalization can make you appear amateurish to readers, agents, and producers.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the essential things that should always be capitalized in a screenplay to ensure you follow accepted industry script formatting and standards.

Why Proper Capitalization Matters in Screenplays

Before we dive into specifics, it’s important to understand why capitalization even matters in a screenplay. Here are some key reasons:

  • Clarity – Proper capitalization helps quickly identify key elements like character names, scene transitions, locations, and times of day. This improves overall readability.
  • Emphasis – Capitalization draws the reader’s eye to important narrative elements you want to emphasize. Used sparingly, all-caps add impact.
  • Professionalism – Correct script formatting shows you know what you’re doing. Improper capitalization suggests amateur writing.
  • Following Standards – Capitalizing the right things adheres to screenwriting conventions and style that studios expect. This helps you look experienced.
  • Consistency – Being consistent with your capitalization style improves the flow and clarity. Erratic capitalization is distracting.

So in short, proper capitalization simply makes your script look cleaner, more professional, and easier to read. It signals to readers that you know correct script formatting, avoiding amateur mistakes. While it may seem minor, getting the capitalization right definitely matters.

Character Names

The most obvious thing that should always be capitalized in a screenplay is the names of your characters. Any time a character is introduced, their name should be capitalized like:

JOHN, a thirty-year-old man, sits nervously.

You should also capitalize character names in the dialogue headers before each line of dialogue:

JOHN Where were you last night?

This allows the reader to instantly identify who is speaking without having to think about it. Keep the name fully capitalized throughout the entire screenplay so it stands out.

If a character happens to have a nickname or shortened version of their name, capitalize these as well:

JOHN (JACK) Don’t wait up for me tonight.


Introductions of new locations should also be capitalized in your scene headers throughout the screenplay. For example:


John sits eating cereal in his pajamas.

This formatting instantly tells the reader they are now in John’s house in the kitchen, and it’s nighttime. The capitalized location stands out clearly.

Any time the location changes, the new location should again be capitalized:


John crosses the bridge on foot.

Using all-caps for locations tells readers they are in a new setting very quickly. This improves pacing and clarity immensely in your script.

Times of Day

The times of day that appear in your scene headers should also always be capitalized. These include:

  • DAY
  • DAWN
  • DUSK

For example:


John orders a coffee to go.

If the time of day changes within a scene, you can also capitalize it:

They chat until the sun goes down.


The cafe grows quiet and empty.

Capitalizing the time keeps your script visually clear. Readers instantly know if it’s day or night in the scene without having to think about it.


Loud sounds and sound effects should generally be capitalized in a screenplay to add impact. For example:

John CRASHES into a tree.

A GUNSHOT rings out.

The sounds grab the reader’s attention and stand out on the page. However, don’t overuse all-caps for sounds. Only capitalize significant sounds that you want to emphasize.


All scene transitions in a screenplay should be capitalized. This includes:


And transitions like:


This formatting instantly signals to the reader that you are moving locations or time has passed. Consistently capitalizing transitions improves flow and pacing.


Certain camera shot types should also be capitalized. These include:


For example:

A WIDE SHOT reveals the vast mountain range.

John leans in for a CLOSEUP kiss.

Call out significant shot types with capital letters so readers can clearly visualize them while reading your script. Just don’t overdo it.


Parenthetical expressions are commonly used in screenplays to describe how a line of dialogue should be delivered. These parentheticals should be capitalized like:

JOHN (sarcastically) Well that went perfectly.

Capitalizing the parenthetical sets it apart from normal dialogue and makes it stand out on the page. This improves clarity immensely for the reader.

Text Appearing On-Screen

If text will appear on-screen like a lower-third graphic or subtitle in your script, you should capitalize it. For example:


John wakes up optimistic about the week ahead.

Since the text appearing on-screen is part of the visuals, capitalizing it tells the reader this element will be seen.


Capitalization can also be used sparingly in a screenplay for emphasis on certain words. For example:

JOHN (yelling) Get OUT of my HOUSE!

Don’t overuse this, but capitalize words you really want to stress for emotional impact.

What Not to Capitalize in a Screenplay

Now that we’ve covered what should be capitalized, it’s also important to know what should NOT be capitalized in a properly formatted screenplay.

These elements should remain lowercase:

  • Scene descriptions
  • Action lines
  • Character descriptions
  • Parenthetical expressions not starting the line
  • Dialogue
  • Transitions like CUT TO: once introduced

The key is reserving capitalization for introductions of new characters, locations, times of day, sounds, shots, and transitions mainly.

Use capitals only for emphasis in moderation within the dialogue and scene descriptions. Capitalizing full sentences or large blocks of action text is considered poor form.

Why Consistency Matters

Being consistent with your capitalization style throughout your entire screenplay is very important. Don’t capitalize character names once or twice and then stop doing it. Use capitals only for introductions and transitions at first, then lowercase after that.

Read through industry-standard screenplays so you understand proper formatting. Mixing capitalized and lowercase inconsistently is unprofessional and suggests you’re an amateur.

Following accepted script formatting conventions also allow your writing to shine through clearly. Consistent use of capitals where needed improves overall readability and pace.

Tools to Check Your Capitalization

Manually ensuring proper capitalization in a full screenplay can be tedious. Thankfully, several software tools exist to check formatting errors for you:

  • WriterDuet – Online/desktop screenwriting software with a built-in consistency checker for capitalization, formatting, and style.
  • Highland 2 – Desktop software with character highlighting and capitalization warnings for deviations.
  • Fountain – Open source plain text screenwriting syntax with capitalization markup. Works with many apps.
  • Trelby – Free, multi-platform screenwriting program with script validation for inconsistencies.

Using software like this makes it easy to validate capitalization standards across your entire script. The programs will flag any inconsistencies or improper formatting.

What to Capitalize in a Screenplay?

Here is a handy capitalization checklist you can use when writing your screenplay:

  • Character names
  • Locations
  • Times of day
  • Sounds (sometimes)
  • Transitions
  • Shots
  • Parenthetical expressions
  • On-screen text
  • Emphasis (sparingly)

If you ensure these elements are capitalized properly and consistently, you’ll have a clearly formatted, professional-looking script.


Properly formatting your screenplay using correct capitalization is an important detail that both experienced and amateur screenwriters need to know.

Capitalizing the right things like character introductions, locations, times of day, transitions, shots, and other key elements improves readability enormously.

While it may seem minor, inconsistent or improper use of capital letters in a screenplay screams amateur and makes your script hard to read. Following standard industry formatting rules right from the start will make you look like a seasoned pro.

Use this comprehensive guide on capitalization as a reference when writing your next screenplay. Double-check that you are capitalizing everything necessary for clarity and emphasis. At the same time, avoid overusing capitals where they aren’t needed.

Proper use of capitalization establishes the professional tone you want from page one of your script. So take the time to get it right, and let your terrific writing shine through.

When in doubt, read produced screenplays to see capitalization in action. And leverage formatting tools to validate consistency across your entire script.

Remember, every great movie starts with a perfectly formatted screenplay. Use proper capitalization as your first step toward getting your work onto the big screen!

Frequently Asked Questions

What needs to be capitalized in a screenplay?

The key things that should be capitalized in a screenplay include character names, locations, times of day, sounds, transitions, shots, parenthetical expressions, on-screen text, and words for emphasis sparingly.

Are shots capitalized in a screenplay?

Yes, significant shot types like CLOSEUP, WIDE SHOT, OVER-THE-SHOULDER SHOT, and ESTABLISHING SHOT should be capitalized in a screenplay when introduced.

Do you capitalize non speaking characters in a script?

Yes, the names of all characters should be capitalized when introduced in a screenplay, even if they have no dialogue.

Are locations capitalized in screenplays?

Yes, all new locations should be fully capitalized when introduced in scene headers in a screenplay for clarity. For example, INT. JOHN’S HOUSE – KITCHEN.

How do you emphasize a word in a screenplay?

Using all-capital letters for key words in dialogue or action can emphasize them. But use this sparingly for important emotional beats. Don’t overdo it.

What do you make bold in a script?

Screenplays should not contain bolded text. Use CAPITALS sparingly for emphasis instead. Bold text is seen as improper script format.

Do props need to be capitalized in a screenplay?

No, props should generally be lowercase in action descriptions, unless they are very significant story elements that need emphasis. But use CAPS for props sparingly.

What does OC mean in a script?

In a screenplay, OC stands for off-camera, indicating that dialogue is spoken by a character who is not visible on-screen during the scene.

Do you label scenes in a screenplay?

Screenplays don’t use labeled “scenes”, but flow continuously using sluglines. Sluglines introduce new locations with INT./EXT., location, time of day like INT. COURTROOM – DAY.

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