How to Format a Screenplay in 7 Simple Steps

As a screenwriter, you must know how to format a movie screenplay. No matter how great your movie script is, if it isn’t properly formatted, it will be useless as nobody will be able to understand it. Writing a screenplay is different than writing a novel or a book. You can experiment with formatting in your novel or a book as you are the boss.

However, in the case of a screenplay, you have to stick with the standard screenplay format and formatting. It is no place to experiment or add new things. Your screenplay will be read by several people (e.g. directors and producers), so it is essential to follow a standard script format that they’re used to reading.

Formatting a screenplay isn’t hard if you are using the right screenwriting software such as Squibler that automatically formats your screenplay as you write. You’ll have to select a screenplay format with a template, ideate, and adjust formatting, and your script will be ready.

It doesn’t make sense to do formatting via software without having a complete understanding of what’s and why. The whole script and everything revolves around the formatting of the screenplay, you can’t ignore it by any means.

We will see in the actionable guide below the importance of formatting a screenplay correctly and why you must know its ins and outs. 

How to Format a Screenplay

If you are working on a film script or a shooting script, you must format it properly. This guide shows you how to do it. Let’s get started with the simple step-by-step guide on how to format a screenplay.

Step #1: The Basics

The basics of screenplay formatting cover margins, font size, indentation, and other relevant factors. The good news is that most of the basic script formatting structure is built-in in most of the screenwriting software. The script is formatted as you type without having to do any tweaks.

For example, Squibler keeps your script formatted on complete autopilot as soon as you start typing. Once you select a screenplay template, it comes formatted and you can start writing right away.

Here is the list of the basic formatting structure of a screenplay:

Font: The standard font type and size for screenplays is a 12-point Courier.

Margins: The left margin must be 1.5 inches while margins on the right, top, and bottom must be 1 inch each.

Page Numbers: The page number must appear at the top right corner of each page with a 0.5-inch margin from the top. The page number must have a period after the number. The first page doesn’t have a number while all other pages must have a number.

Lines Per Page: The number of lines per page must not exceed 55. It doesn’t matter what page size you are using, the standard is 55 lines per page excluding page number.

Indentation: The name of the dialogue speaker must be in all caps with a 2.2-inch indentation from the margin. The dialogue must be 1.5 inches from the left margin. Actor parentheticals must be 1.6 inches from the left margin. 

Here is an example of a properly formatted script with these basics:

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These basics set the stage for your script by creating a standard format that makes it understandable. 

With Squibler, you can maintain the correct structure without manual adjustments. Upon selecting a screenplay template, Squibler initiates autopilot formatting, ensuring your script aligns with industry standards. The AI technology keeps the font at the industry standard, sets margins precisely as required, and even manages page numbering with the correct placement and format. This allows writers to focus on content creation, knowing that Squibler seamlessly handles the foundational aspects of screenplay formatting, streamlining the writing process.

Step #2: Scene Heading

Scene heading (also known as slug line) is an important part of your screenplay. You need to make sure that all the scene headings are properly formatted so that the production team can understand your script.

Here is how to format a screenplay scene heading:

  • Scene heading must be in all caps
  • Use INT. for interior or EXT. for exterior spaces
  • Write the setting and time of the day in the scene heading to clearly describe the location. The setting and time of the day are separated by a hyphen
  • Use multiple hyphens to add more scene details.

Here is an example:

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Here is another script example with more scene details:

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There are instances when a scene starts indoor and goes outside or vice versa, in this case, you have to use INT./EXT. or EXT./INT. accordingly. Here is an example:

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Everything in the slug line must be in all caps.

With Squibler, you can simplify the process of formatting scene headings, ensuring that they meet industry standards. By automatically capitalizing all elements of the scene heading and providing intuitive options like INT./EXT. or EXT./INT. for seamless transitions, Squibler streamlines the task of creating properly formatted and clear slug lines. This allows writers to focus on the creative aspects of scene creation, and scene description, confident that Squibler’s AI assistance maintains the necessary conventions for effective communication with production teams.

Step #3: Action

The action includes lines that describe visual or audible actions. These action lines are stated in all caps and actions are stated in third person present tense. You also need to make important objects in caps to emphasize their importance in the story.

Here is an example:

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Here is another example that depicts visual actions:

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You need to remember two simple formatting rules for actions:

  1. All caps
  2. Third-person present tense

If you want to add more life to your screenplay to make it live, use Squibler’s “Visualize” feature to add visuals to the screenplay. You can describe the kind of scene and plot to the AI tool and it will generate a similar correspondence to bring more life to your screenplay. Here’s an example: 

Visualizing selected text into an image

Step #4: Character Name

Your story revolves around characters. Characters are an important part of the screenplay and there are certain formatting standards that you must follow.

When you have to introduce a new character, mention the name in caps followed by the age of the character and then other details about the character (e.g. personality). Here is an example:

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It is a good practice to add a comma between name, age, and description of what the character speaks. This is the most used character introduction style.

Once you have introduced a character, you can then use the character name in any way you like. Some screenwriters prefer using names in capitals throughout the script while others do it in just one scene and keep the rest natural. It is more of a personal choice. Character names are acceptable in both caps and without it.

With Squibler, you can develop the characters, save them with their descriptions, and later use just the names with exisiting character descriptions to develop a scene around them. Here’s an example of how the saved characters look:

developing and storing characters in Squibler

Step #5: Dialogue

Formatting dialogues is the easiest part of the screenplay. The dialogues appear at the center of the page separate from the other text.

Here is how to format screenplay dialogues:

  1. Write the name of the character in capital letters in the center of the page
  2. Write the character dialogue underneath the character’s name.

Simple, right? Here is an example:

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In the case of recorded voice, you need to replace the character name with the recorded voice in capitals. For example, when someone is listening to the radio as in the following example:

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Similarly, when a character says something off-screen or when the dialogue is voice-over, you need to mention O.S. and V.O. accordingly with the character name in brackets. Here is an example:

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The idea is to make sure that dialogues are center-aligned and appear as a separate text block from the rest of the text on the page. Avoid mixing them with other text blocks.

Step #6: Parenthetical

Parenthetical describes dialogue delivery. It is used to describe the context. You’ll have to use parentheticals in most of the dialogues to make sure they’re delivered in the right context.

Parentheticals are mentioned in the brackets at the right place within the dialogue. Here is an example:

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Parentheticals help you add small actions inside the dialogue without moving to the action line and breaking the dialogue.

However, not all actors and producers prefer having parentheticals as actors prefer adding their feelings, moods, and actions according to the situation and dialogue delivery. In case you have to add parentheticals, make sure you are using the right format.

Use Squibler’s Smart Writer to craft your screenplays and it will automatically generate the parentheticals, pauses, background activities, and details in just one command. You can always edit and proofread manually before submitting the final draft.

Step #7: Transition and Camera Shots

There was a time when transitions and camera shots were used a lot in feature films but these aren’t used a lot today. Professional scriptwriters still use transitions and camera shots. If you plan to use transition and camera shots, make sure you are formatting them properly.

CUT TO:, CUT TO BLACK., FADE IN:, and FADE OUT. are the commonly used transitions used today. Add transition in a separate line in capital letters where CUT TO:, CUT TO BLACK., and FADE OUT. are aligned right while FADE IN: is aligned left.

Here is an example:

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If you want to suggest a camera shot, you can do so in the script by mentioning the camera shot in capital letters. POV is the most used camera shot used in screenplay writing. You can either use it as a subheading or add it to the text in the following way:

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You don’t have to necessarily add transitions and camera shots every screen time. Even if you plan to do it, avoid overdoing it.

Now let’s understand the difference between spec and shooting in most movie scripts, as they have a lot to do with the formatting of the screenplay.

Spec vs. Shooting Script

The formatting of the screenplay varies depending on the type of script you are writing. The two major types of scripts include spec scripts and shooting scripts.

A spec script (speculative screenplay) is a professional script that is written for readers and is unsolicited and non-commissioned work that you write to sell to a producer or a production company. In spec scripts, you don’t have to focus a lot on technical details and formatting as you are writing for readers. You don’t have to necessarily add sequencing, scene numbers, sluglines, and other details.

A shooting script, on the other hand, is written for the production. It is a revised version of a spec script that contains all the technical details. You can write a shooting script right from scratch or you’ll have to convert your spec script into a shooting script once you get a green signal from a production company.

A shooting script contains all the technical details and it must be formatted according to the set standards so it can be understood by the production company. It includes scene numbers, scene descriptions, camera shots, transitions, and other technical details as agreed.

The formatting of a shooting script is what’s important as opposed to a spec script that is just the raw form of your shooting script. 

Use a Tool for Screenplay Formatting

Using screenwriting software to write a screenplay isn’t essential, but recommended if you want to boost your productivity by 50%. You can write your screenplay in any word processor of your choice (e.g. Microsoft Word). However, in that case, you’ll have to do all the formatting manually. This often turns out to be too tedious.

Imagine checking capital letters, indentations, dialogue alignment, and other important aspects of formatting. You’ll spend a lot of time formatting your screenplay and this isn’t recommended. It kills creativity.

As a scriptwriter, you must focus on writing. This is where a screenwriting format and software jump in. A screenwriter tool helps you format your script in real time as you write. When you finish your script, it is formatted and ready to use. You don’t have to spend additional time to format it or recheck formatting.

Squibler is one of the best screenwriting AI software that comes with ready-to-use templates for screenwriters. Select a template, tweak it, add a plot, add characters, and start writing. It will format everything for you without you having to even look at it. 

It will also generate content for you based on your current plot to continue and expand your story. You can rewrite, describe, expand, and generate a relevant engaging scene in just one single click. 

It also helps you organize your screenplay which makes it easy to switch between sections, headings, and scenes quickly. 

This is a reason why all professional screenwriters use software and tools to improve their writing speed. This saves a lot of time and resources at the end of the day. 

The majority of screenwriting software does not assist in generating the content. However, with Squibler’s smart writing technology, you can not just brilliantly format, but also generate relevant scenes with just one click. 


Here are the most common questions that authors ask regarding the formatting of a screenplay:

How do I properly format dialogue in a screenplay?

In a screenplay, dialogue is formatted with the speaker’s name in all caps, centered on the title page, followed by the spoken lines indented 2.2 inches from the margin. Actor parentheticals are placed 1.6 inches from the left margin. Squibler streamlines this process by automatically applying these formatting rules, allowing you to focus on the content of your dialogue.

What’s the standard font and size for a screenplay?

The industry standard for screenplay formatting is a 12-point Courier font. Squibler adheres to this standard, ensuring that your script maintains a professional appearance without manual adjustments, letting you concentrate on your storytelling.

How should I format scene headings (slug lines) properly?

Scene headings must be in all caps and include INT. for interior or EXT. for exterior locations. Squibler facilitates this by automatically capitalizing scene headings and offering options like INT./EXT., for smooth transitions, allowing you to effortlessly create well-formatted and clear slug lines.

What about page numbering and margins in a screenplay?

Page numbers should be placed at the top right corner with a 0.5-inch margin from the top. The left margin is set at 1.5 inches, while the right, top, and bottom margins are 1 inch each. Squibler takes care of these details, ensuring consistent and industry-standard margins and page numbering, giving you a polished screenplay without the need for manual adjustments.

Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder and CEO of Squibler.