2023

How to Structure a Screenplay in 7 Steps

How to structure a screenplay? If you are here with the same question, then keep reading. 

Have you ever wondered how are the movies produced? A screenplay is one of the most crucial aspects of any movie production. There is always a guide for every play or action that takes place inside a movie. Otherwise, nothing would be so straight and right without the screenplaywriting. And that’s what makes it perfect.

This guide takes you through the crucial steps to writing a screenplay. 

How do you Structure a Screenplay in 7 Steps?

Screenplay writing is challenging since you need to hear the story from someone else. It would have been a better version if you were the story’s origin.

But it doesn’t happen that way anyway, and you have to be keen and attentive when writing a screenplay. Remember, you are about to write a guide that will lead to the success of a massive project, so stay super attentive.

Step 1: Find out the Movie Title

Like anything you write on earth, a movie or play must have a title. The title is what carries the entire film. Let’s call it the scene heading or a slugline in these cases.

The scene title shows the central theme of the upcoming play and all that is inside the action. The title lies in the introduction of the playing set-up. But, of course, you cannot write a script title in the middle of your screenplay.

Ensure that your screenplay title page is one of the best. Remember that’s the first impression you will pass to all those concerned with the play. And if the title page is not that good, it may turn them off. And you don’t want that, of course.

The title page of a screenplay must include the following:

  • The script title
  • Your name
  • And your contact details

In addition, some directors tell you to add the draft dates on your title page. For example, a draft date could show how recent or how old the script is.

Some templates could help you to put everything in the desired place. However, some directors will give you a particular guideline to follow on the title page. 

Use Squibler’s ready-made screenplay writing templates. These templates are properly structured and formatted so you save more time doing these chores and spend more time writing:

 

Step 2: Find the Location and the Time where Action Takes Place

After writing the script title page, you need to know where and when the action occurs. You don’t need to worry about this because the play directors will you about all the venues where the action will occur.

The earlier you write about the movie venues, the better. Knowing the location of the scenes saves the actors from the frustrations of being stuck during the first act.

When the action takes place, it is also essential to plan the budget for the facilitation of the actors and anyone involved. This part of the screenplay still lies in the set-up stage. 

Step 3: Introduce the Actors

After portraying the script title and the venues, you need to introduce the movie characters of the entire play. Here is where you give the characters’ action names and the role that they will play in the act.

This part is crucial since it concerns the actors directly. Therefore, you need to write in a way to help them understand their roles without much struggle.

In other words, write the actors’ roles emotionally to feel the action. That way, you will have hooked them in their roles completely.

This section also introduces the main character of the play and their complete roles. Remember that the main character eventually becomes the apple of the eye of every reader or viewer. Therefore, when you first write the actor’s name, you do it in Caps lock.

Use Squibler to store your character description and save it. Then you can seamlessly integrate them into your narrative as you create chapters and scenes.

Step 4: The Inciting Incident of the Play

This part will keep the reader or even the movie viewer to continue with the film script, in most cases. However, if this incident doesn’t uniquely complete the reader, they may stop at that point.

At this point, the play’s central character does a compelling act that brings them closer to the audience. And the hero’s expertise in acting will determine the sweetness of the movie.

The inciting act could also lead to a change in the environment. Whereby the main character adapts the news story of the play. The hero leaves their everyday life behind, focusing on their primary purpose in action.

For instance, in the 24 American series, 2001, Jack Baure accepts his new life after knowing that the terrorists have abducted his family. So he focuses on rescuing his wife and daughter from terrorist hands. And that makes him accept the new development that he has to be part of in the series. So that becomes the end of act one, the introduction or film setup.

Use Squibler to add more conflict, intensity, and drama to your screenplay with the help of AI. You can either expand an ongoing plot or just provide instructions from the start to the Smart Writer and it will handle the rest. Here’s an example for you:

Step 5: The Screenplay Body

In this step, the audience is now familiar with the different main characters, and their unique roles. As a result, the audience tends to understand the play more than the introduction in this part.

In addition, other subtitles and threats towards the star emerge in this play’s middle point. Here the real drama unfolds, and the hero alienates their true colors and capabilities.

Still, at this point, the star tends to find an inner circle that helps them to solve their obstacles. But that doesn’t wave the betrayers away from them. As a result, new barriers keep on emerging every time.

The play midpoint also introduces new challenges that the hero has to deal with before achieving their primary goal. That means that the main character should always be on their toes to ensure that he doesn’t alienate from their primary goal.

Still, in this section, the hero may feel cornered and unable to deal with the current challenges. And this brings emotional feelings to the readers. But that’s what you want.

The readers at this point have a team supporting the hero’s side, while there could be others of the contrary opinion. However, the readers are all down to earth, praying that a miracle salvages the hero’s journey.

Step 6: The Actual Disaster

This section is where the actors feel that they have lost; at least, that’s how the readers see it. It becomes so hard for the hero to get out of a particular problem. And it eventually seems that they have exhausted all their means.

The other accompanying actors of the play have all their hopes in their hero, who seems to have given up in the entire game. But that’s not usually the case.

At this point, the readers also feel that they have lost all hope in the next moves. For instance, in the 24 series, there is a time when Jack Baure, the hero, goes to the Chinese prison to kill one of the Chinese on American soil.

After his arrest, we all feel that he’s not going to make it to the Chinese prison, considering that the Chinese needed to get American defense secrets.

Since Jack Baure is the hero who leads in arresting terrorists on US soil, everything goes wrong once he goes to the Chinese prison. But here comes the next step.

If you want to add more drama to the disaster, use Squibler to intensify the details. Just select the plot that you’re developing, and AI will work around the selected text to generate more details making it overall better. Here’s an example:

Step 7: The Solution

As much as Jack was in life imprisonment in the Chinese government, the new president of the US rescues Jack to come and save the country from terrorism. And that’s how he’s back in the line.

The main character always has a leeway to come back to their senses and do what they do best. That’s why we call this the resolution stage.

This stage is for salvaging the situation and solving the problem once and for all. Finally, of course, the hero would have accomplished all their main goals and targets of the play.

And that takes us to finalize the screenplay and story structure. Then, finally, the remaining actors come together and maybe celebrate their win in a big way. Of course, others end in dilemmas and sad situations, but the end has to happen anyway.

What are the Main Divisions and Structure of a Screenplay?

The three-act structure is a classic structure that a majority of writers focus on. Here is the three-act structure and division for a screenplay:

1. The Play Set Up/Introduction

This section carries the play introduction of the play image and the involved characters. This part ensures that the movie viewer understands each role and the play’s central theme.

2. The Screenplay Body

This part consists of the natural acting of everyone’s role. At this point, the audience understands the actors’ roles and their abilities.

This part could show that the actors struggle with the play and may seem overwhelmed by their tasks.

3. The End/Resolution

There is a solution to every problem. And that’s what happens in this final section of the screenplay. The main character tries to develop a small hope to help the team win the play. However, it doesn’t always end in victory, but there should be an end.

There is another structure called a circular structure, where a story finishes right where it starts. The screenplay for this type of division must be structured properly considering the story events and the correlation between the start and end. There are a few more screenplay structures that are listed below:

  • Reverse chronological structure
  • Self-contained story structure
  • Linear stories

What is the Importance of a Screenplay?

A screenplay is like a movie’s instruction manual. It’s a crucial plan that tells everyone involved—writers, directors, and actors—what happens in a film. This blueprint has a structure, making sure the story is interesting. It helps create characters, plan visuals, and manage the budget. The words in a screenplay guide how the film feels and connects with people. 

It’s not just creative writing; it’s a legal document for making movies. A good screenplay is vital for getting money and support for a film. In short, without a screenplay, making a movie would be like building a house without a plan—it wouldn’t work well. Here are the factors that play the most importance in a screenplay structure:

A screenplay tells the complete story

A screenplay is a blueprint that shows the actors what they should do to make the play a success in the end. Therefore they have to follow the exact screenplay to create the perfect picture of the main aim in the same story.

The characters get to know their tasks

Every movie or play comes from a story. And probably from a few individuals who use their dreams. They write a screenplay and get talented actors to validate their intent to make it right.

That’s why the screenplay will help the actors who participate in the entire play. However, remember that it has to be real and have an emotional impact on the viewers. Therefore, every actor should be perfect in what they do.

A screenplay is the producer’s guide

Apart from being the actor’s guide, the film industry producer will also need a screenplay to know what they need to succeed. The materials necessary and the systems they need during the production process.

A screenplay helps in estimating the movie’s budget

Without a script, it will be impossible to have a clear budget for the whole play. Therefore, the directors use the screenplay to estimate the funding required for the total product price.

As a result, they plan their finances and funding prior, making it possible to complete the movie successively without challenges.

A screenplay determines the success or failure of the play

Since a script carries the story of a film, if you write it in the wrong way, there is a likelihood of falling in the entire project. And that means that you have to be careful when writing a screenplay because it’s a guide.

Like anything else, if you follow the wrong guidance, the result will be a failure. In contrast, an excellent screenplay will eventually translate into a successful play.

Final Remarks

Now, that you understand the actual screenplay structure, ensure that you follow all the guidelines since what you write determines the success or failure of the play.

Ensure that you are keen on the instructions you get from the play’s directors. And as a result, you will live to be happy with the story you’ve told. Your storytelling technique could be emotional enough to impact and change many people’s lives.

FAQs

Here are the most common questions that authors ask about structuring the screenplay:

1. What is a screenplay?

A screenplay is usually a written form of the movies or plays you see on television or YouTube channels. In other words, we can say that it’s a blueprint that the actors follow to develop a polished play or movie at the end.

It’s some guideline that helps the actors to produce content that is acceptable and alluring to the public. But, of course, it’s every actor and film industry‘s goal for the viewers to accept them in the role they play.

Therefore, a screenplay highlights every task for every actor to ensure that it’s precise and up to standard.

In most cases, a screenplay should have three divisions that eventually make up the entire play or movie.

2. How should I begin a screenplay?

Start your screenplay with a compelling opening scene that immediately draws the audience into the world of your story. This could involve presenting a unique situation, introducing a fascinating character, or posing an intriguing question. 

The goal is to create immediate engagement with a compelling story, setting the tone for the rest of the narrative and sparking the audience’s curiosity.

3. What’s the importance of the three-act structure?

The basic three-act structure serves as a reliable roadmap for storytelling. In the three-act structure screenplay setup, you establish the characters, setting, and main conflict. The conflict intensifies in Act II, leading to a climax, and Act III resolves the conflict and provides a satisfying conclusion. 

This multiple-timeline structure helps maintain a balanced and well-paced narrative, ensuring that the audience remains invested from beginning to end.

4. How do I develop characters effectively?

Effective character development involves defining each character’s unique traits, motivations, and internal conflicts. Create characters with distinct personalities and relatable goals, allowing the audience to connect emotionally. 

Show their growth or transformation throughout the story, making them dynamic and engaging. By giving characters depth and complexity, you enhance the overall richness of your screenplay.

5. How to build tension in a screenplay?

Building tension is achieved through strategic storytelling. Introduce conflicts that escalate gradually, raising the stakes for the characters. Use pacing to your advantage—alternating between moments of calm and intense action. Tension is often built in the second act of the screenplay structure, while Act I only revolves around creating the plot and understanding of the characters.

Create anticipation by leaving questions unanswered and building suspense. Tension keeps the audience invested and eager to see how the story unfolds.

Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder and CEO of Squibler.