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What are the formatting rules for scripts? Are there significant variations? What differences are there between stage plays, television, and movies?

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I was hoping for an answer that either contains a good list of formatting rules or links to a good list. Failing that, I've accepted an answer for a book on the subject. I'm not really interested in just buying software that purports to format for me. I should be able to do it myself, if I so choose. Even if I do end up using software, I'm a firm believer in knowing the basics before relying on a software crutch. –  sjohnston Oct 7 '11 at 22:06
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

First of all, read current scripts. You can surmise many formatting rules from examples.

Second, buy The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script. This helped me out when I couldn't get my hands on scripts.

Third, there's so much more to screenwriting than just format. There is style, which can only be learned by reading lots and lots of really good scripts. But note that if you're trying to write a spec script, that the rules for you differ greatly from the professionals. Your script must be big on whitespace and short on description. It's not fair, but it's just the way things are.

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Pretty much what I've heard about script formatting is:

  1. Buy Final Draft.
  2. There is no step 2.
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I understand why this software exists, but I am hesitant to put down $250 when I only really want to goof around and experiment with screenplays. I would prefer to get a good description of the formatting and do it myself in a standard word processor. –  sjohnston Jan 12 '11 at 15:23
    
@sjohnston - Did you miss the link for the free demo version on the page? But otherwise: I assumed you were seeking professional results, so that's the answer I posted. If you just "want to goof around," then I recommend that you ignore formatting (after all, why bother?). –  Dori Jan 13 '11 at 0:28
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If you're a Mac user, buy Scrivener. It's $45, and while it still costs something, it's a lot less than Final Draft.

According to its website:

...its familiar scriptwriting features make formatting a script straightforward. So you can draft your script inside Scrivener using the unique research and structural tools and then export it to industry-standard scriptwriting software such as Final Draft.

It also has a terrific 'notecard and corkboard' interface which allows you to write in snippets and reorder them at will. You can also drag just about anything into it and use it for reference.

If you're a Windows user, there's yWriter. While there's no 'script' mode, you can at least write in scenes and focus on that.

If you are really dead set on only using a word processor, here's info on just the manuscript format. Good luck!

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I have no idea how this relates to the question. –  StrixVaria Jan 12 '11 at 23:19
    
The OP wanted info on how to format manuscripts for screenplays. I recommended two software programs he might be interested in, one of which in particular can output a 'screenplay' format and a link to the specific format requirements as listed at a school which teaches that sort of thing. –  atroon Jan 13 '11 at 4:12
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There is a really good free option for Mac users : CeltX

Why buy or use software as opposed to MS-Word or Pages? It does the formatting for you, so you don't even have to think about it and instead, can focus on your writing.

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Love CeltX. It's for PC too. –  Jeff Yates Jan 28 '11 at 22:41
    
Better still, get yourself a FREE copy of Celtx (Google 'celtx'). It does all the formatting you need for scripts for TV, Film and Stage. –  Ian Mar 2 '11 at 9:45
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