Nothing but words and pictures…

How to Write a Movie

Mr. Klingensmith's Online Writing Guide

An easy to understand Online Writing Guide for beginning writers.  Here you will find a list of various writing models, general tips and hints to help guide you to writing success.

The big idea

Writing a movie (also known as writing a screenplay) is very exciting because it is so stripped-down: you have dialogue and a little description, and that's it.

Before you begin

Try to picture the story you want to tell in your mind.  Visualize everything: the setting, the characters, and what the characters are doing and saying.  The clearer the picture is in your head, the better your screenplay will be.

How to do it

As far as you are concerned, a screenplay consists of the following parts:

  • the slugline, which tells where and when the scene takes place.  "INT" stands for "interior," or inside; "EXT" stands for "exterior," or outside.  This goes all the way out to the margin.
  • the shot description, in which you describe only what you see on screen.  Do not put in what the characters are thinking, what happened to them in the past, or anything else that is not clearly visible.  This, too, goes all the way out to the margin.
  • the character's name, in ALL CAPITALS and centered.
  • the dialogue, or what the character says.  This does NOT get quotation marks.  The whole block of dialogue is indented about ten spaces.  See the example.

It's not simple, but you can do it if you work at it.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Watch out for using too much narration.  Yes, you do need to have a little bit of it in your shot description, but too much narrator stuff can get really boring.  Give just enough to help the reader visualize the setting in his or her mind, and enough description of characters and their actions to convey anything you think is really important.  Don't give any camera angles unless they are absolutely critical to the scene.  Focus on dialogue.
  • Follow your format all the way through the script.  Make it easier for the actors (and the teacher) to read.

An example


A storm rages outside.  Rain pours in sheets down the windows, and the occasional branch crashes against the glass.  The lights dim briefly as a power line somewhere comes down.  The door opens and BOB and SUE enter, soaking wet.  BOB is an athletic, outdoorsy-looking man in his early twenties.  SUE is about the same age.  Leaves and other debris blow in before they can wrestle the door closed. 


Yikes!  That's one of the worst storms I've ever seen, Sue!


I know.  And it's not letting up.  I think that the wind is getting worse.  Help me get this wet jacket off, Bob, and we can try to start a fire.


Well, you can try, but I don't think you'll get too far.  That wood is soaking wet.

(SOUND of a heavy thud from outside.)


(surprised) What the heck was that?


We see the storm raging from outside the house.  Between the whipping branches of the trees, we can see the lighted windows of the living room, and people, presumably BOB and SUE, moving around inside.  We move in slowly, leaves and rain slashing across the frame, until we come to a stop close to the front porch.  Inside, BOB and SUE are making preparations to light a fire.  Suddenly we notice a FIGURE--a silhouette--climbing over the porch railing.  We can't see quite what it is.  Bent low, it shambles over to the window and looks in.

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Copyright 1996-2004 by Michael Klingensmith