How to Write a Dynamic Spec Script

Welcome to the final part of the series of How to write a dynamic screenplay.

Writing a screenplay is a complex form of creative writing. Whether you are writing a screenplay for a film or a documentary, there are strict formatting guidelines that a screenwriter has to follow. There are three main types of screenplays or scripts.

The ‘spec’ script is a speculative screenplay that has been polished to industry standards and then pitched to a production company in the hopes that it can be made into a film.

A ‘shooting script’ is a screenplay that is used during filming and contains specific camera directions.

A post-production screenplay (narration script) is used for editing and other post-production purposes.

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to talk about the spec script. A spec script is designed to contain specific instructions for the producer, director, production crew, and actors, and to also provide the overall feel for a potential film, so it has to adhere to strict formatting guidelines according to film industry standards.

The general layout of a spec screenplay is as follows:


12-point Courier

Page number

The page number appears in the top right-hand corner of each page except the first page.

Each page of a screenplay equates to one minute of screen time, and a screenplay should be up to approximately 120 minutes, which is the standard running time for a feature film.

Page margins

Top and Bottom – 1”

Left – 1.5” (this allows room for binding)

Right – 1”


Single spacing is to be used throughout the screenplay. A blank space should be inserted between paragraphs or when switching from a scene heading to scene description or from description to dialogue.

Scene Heading

A scene heading or ‘slugline’ indicates the location, place and time. Whenever the time or place changes, a new scene heading needs to be used.

The scene heading contains:

Location: Interior or Exterior  INT, EXT.

Place: The place where the scene occurs

Time: The time is usually indicated as day or night or a specific time can be used if it is crucial to the event.

Scenes that occur shortly after the previous scene can be indicated as LATER or MOMENTS AFTER, or if the scene continues on with a character moving between scenes, then this can be indicated as CONTINUOUS.


Scene headings start at the left margin and are indicated in CAPS.

An example of a scene heading: EXT. A FOREST. DAY.

Scene description.

The scene description states what is happening in the scene. The action, character and setting description is contained here.  The scene description starts at the left margin and ends at the right margin. Scene descriptions are always written in present tense.

Rose sits at the dining table. The table is set for two. There is a candelabra in the middle of the table. The room is dimly lit. The candles cast a warm glow over her face. Classical music is heard faintly in the background. Rose drinks a glass of red wine. She looks nervous.


Each line of dialogue begins with the character’s name or the ‘character cue’. The name is to be put in CAPS. When the character is mentioned for the first time in the Scene Description, their name is to appear in CAPS, such as ROSE.  If the character is a minor character they can be given a designation such as YOUNG GIRL or NURSE.

Characters names start at 4” from the left-hand side of the page and dialogue starts at 2.5”. Dialogue is to run no more than 2.5” from the right of the page.  Please note the tabulation of the following dialogue is not exact as web page formatting does not allow for tabulations. Screenplay examples can be found on Google. 


            Rose, why are you sitting in the dark?

When dialogue continues over the page, the speech is indicated as CONT’D beside the character’s name, or when the character’s speech is cut in half.


          Rose, why are you sitting in the dark?

Rose pours him a glass of wine.

Pete sits down and his eyes shift from the candles to the bottle of wine.

                           PETE (CONT’D)

          What’s going on?


A parenthetical is a short description of how a line of dialogue is said, and which is placed in parentheses. It starts on a separate line and is indented 3” from the left side and runs no further than 3.5” from the right side of the page.



          Show me, Lily?


The use of voice-over narration is indicated by placing V/O besides the name of the speaker. O.S is used to indicate that a speaker is speaking off-screen. The voice-over narration can be placed in parentheses.

                           ROSE (O.S)

                   (from the bedroom)


A montage is a series of shots or scenes in fast succession. A montage does not need a scene heading and can appear as follows:

      1. Two young girls play in an open field.
      2. The girls chase each other into a dark forest.
      3. The two girls laugh and play ‘hide n seek’ among the trees.


One of the easiest ways to format your screenplay so that it looks professional is to purchase screenwriting software. Software like Final Draft will make it super easy to organise the correct margins and specific tabulations, it also contains a lot of other really cool and helpful features for story development like index cards that will help you to “record a story’s events, plot points and other details, arrange and save them in various orders within a sequence, attach pictures and characters for more detail,” (Final Draft 9).  Screenwriting software like Final Draft will also enable you to convert your screenplay into a PDF file so that it’s ready to be entered into a screenplay competition or to send to a film producer.

So here ends the series on How to write a dynamic screenplay. I hope the tips that I have provided have been useful for you. Of course, I have just skimmed the surface of what it takes to write a dynamic screenplay, but with a little bit of research and maybe some more in-depth training, your screenplay will be on its way to the silver screen.


Happy Writing!



Film clapperboard. IO.Images

Stay cybered for: How to write a personal essay.


How to Create A Screenplay Design Plan

Last week we learned about how to plan and structure a screenplay by creating a Screenplay Design Plan.  This week we will be learning about how to develop the structural outline of a Screenplay Design Plan by going through each of its Key Structural Points. Although this screenplay design plan is primarily for a short film, you can expand each of the points to fit a full-length screenplay.

1. The Opening Image

The Opening Image is the most important part of the film as it sets up the overall theme/genre/style. So begin with a strong and memorable image. You could introduce the hero or the setting for the film. Some films use ambiguous images that don’t mean much when they first appear on the screen but they create intrigue. Remember the black top hats in the first scene of The Prestige. At the beginning, they seemed strange and unusual, but we knew they were important, and it wasn’t until the film progressed that this unassuming pile of black hats became a significant part of the film.

2. Statement of the Theme

In this part of the film-5-10 minutes in- the theme should start to take shape, the Major Dramatic Question (MDQ) is raised, and there is some dialogue between the characters who provide some details on what is to come.

3. The Set-Up

The Set Up usually occurs in the first ten pages of the screenplay. We meet the hero and his universe; we see his problem, his frustrations and the beginning of his quest. Questions are raised and we wonder how they will be answered. We see the villain and he is getting ready for battle.

4. The Catalyst

The hero is poised and ready to embark on a quest. But still he is uncertain, there are too many obstacles. But then an action or an event occurs (the catalyst) or the antagonist/villain strikes and the hero is compelled to take action, but what action he will take remains to be seen. We see and feel his reticence. What will his action be?

5. The Hero’s Deliberation

The Hero’s Deliberation is when the hero knows he must take up the quest and take some action to solve his problem or to answer the MDQ, but he is still uncertain about how to move forward. He still may want to just walk away and refuse the quest, and he teeters between the ‘fight or flight’ response. But we are not disappointed as he finally makes the decision or the deliberation to act.

6. The Transition Point Into Act II

This is where the film really takes off. The hero has made his decision and has accepted the call to action. His quest has begun. Something has to be done and he is the only one to do it. The first tentative steps of his journey have begun.

7. Introduction of the Main Sub-Plot

Once the main plot of the film is underway, the sub-plot can be introduced. The audience is familiar with Part A or the first half of the film and now it is time for Part B – the second half to commence. Part B may highlight the sub-plot of a love story which works in with the main plot or Part A. We start to bring in some new characters – a love interest (if they haven’t already been introduced in the first few scenes) like the comic light relief – the helper.

8. Playing around with the Characters and the Premise

In this section, the screenwriter can start playing around with the characters, their relationships and the complications that ensue – dramatic and/or amusing. This section of the screenplay forms the heart of the film and acts as the major draw card for the audience.

9. The Midpoint

The Midpoint is the halfway point or may even work like an anti- climax. This is the part of the story when the hero has reached his zenith or his world begins to fall to pieces around him.

10. Dark Forces Closes In

This is when the protagonist and antagonist start to clash with a new vengeance. The hero may find himself deserted by friends and family and he has to face the ‘dark forces’ all alone. He is standing on the edge of the abyss looking into its dark and murky depths and the audience is right there with him wondering what his next action will be. Will he turn back and return to the safety of home, or will he surge forward and embrace his destiny?

11. All is lost, or Victory Is Mine

This is my favourite part of a film. The hero is faced with total or seemingly total devastation. He has lost everything. He is abandoned. Something or someone dear to him dies, a partner, an animal, his family. But this death or destruction will prove to be useful for his growth. This is the moment where the old hero must die so that the new hero can emerge bigger and better than when he first embarked on his quest.

12. The Dark Night of the Soul

Although The Dark Night of The Soul only takes up a brief part of the film, it is still important as this is where the audience must experience the full impact of the hero’s devastation, his loss. A close-up on his face with no dialogue works well here. A good example would be Mel Gibson in The Patriot when he witnesses the death of his eldest son, or Russell Crowe in Gladiator when he arrives home to find his wife and son murdered. The hero has to walk through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ and the audience must be able to feel his pain. All hope is not lost, but it needs to come across like it is.

13. The Transition Point Into Act III

This part of the film is where the hero rises out of the ashes of his fiery destruction like a phoenix. He has not been abandoned. His helpers/the princess arrive to help him solve the problem, battle the villain/s, and help him answer the MDQ.

14. The Finale

The Part A and Part B of the screenplay/film have now come together. The story has come full circle. The hero has gone through hell, he has experienced great personal loss or faced great challenges. But he has also grown stronger. But now he has to face the final battle and dispose of the villain once and for all. This is the climax of the film. If it’s an Action or Science fiction film, the finale will go off with a bang. If it’s a Romance film, then it will be sweet and satisfying.

15. The Closing Image

The Closing Image will be a mirror image to the Opening image, instead, there has been a dramatic change. The evil that was present at the beginning has been vanquished. The problem that the hero was presented with has been solved. The hero has learned an important lesson. He may appear outwardly as battle scarred, bloodied and bruised, but he has emerged from the battle a new person. He has experienced great loss but has also gained something valuable.

In some films, all the loose-ends are shown to be all tied up, questions that have been raised throughout the film will be answered here, but there may be some ambiguity as well. The audience may still go away with some questions, but there should still be that feeling of fulfillment that comes with the Closing Image.  

By learning how to develop the structural outline of a Screenplay Design Plan, you will then be ready to start writing your screenplay.

Happy writing!

NEXT WEEK: Formatting the Screenplay.


Screenplay Design Plan, Griffith University, Drama Screenwriting Study Guide 2012.


Unsplash. Pixabay

Six Tips for Creating a Dynamic Screenplay Design Plan

Last week I began a series on How to write a dynamic screenplay. This week I will provide six tips for creating a dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.

An effective screenplay is the product of good planning and design. Although there are many ways to approach screenwriting, I believe that if you want to produce a dynamic screenplay that will win the attention of your audience, then a Screenplay Design Plan will help. Just like an architect draws up his plans before attempting to build a house, a screenwriter needs to draw up a plan or blueprint before a film is made.


A Screenplay Design Plan will allow you to achieve the following:

1. Explore the overall premise /controlling idea or the MDQ (the Major Dramatic Question).

The MDQ is the question that is raised at the beginning of the film and is answered in some fashion at the conclusion of the film. The MDQ extends from our hero’s journey, and is subject to his moral choices, his battle with his inner demons as well as his battle with the antagonist/villain.

Here is a rough example of an MDQ. “When a young Hobbit is given the mammoth task to take a magical ring to a dark land that is ruled by an evil Lord, will he fulfill his destiny and destroy the ring in a fiery volcano?” I think you get the idea here.

2. Plan, select and organise the arrangement of the Key Structural Points in the screenplay from beginning to end.

These Key Structural Points contain scenes where the hero is faced with some sort of challenge like a character conflict or a stumbling block during his journey. Each level of conflict can be caused by a person or by the hero’s own inner frustrations or inadequacies. But regardless of whether these conflicts are small or great, they must always provide an opportunity for the hero to grow.

As you will see in the Screenplay Design Plan template that is available below, every scene must have some level of conflict leading up to The Finale.

Screen-writing Tip: Conflict is necessary for effective drama.

3. Design your screenplay like a puzzle the audience must solve.

The Opening Image establishes the mood, genre, story, and the hero of the film. From this Opening Image the structure of the film’s plot will start to unfold. The design plan also helps the writer to decide when to withhold information from the audience and when it should be revealed. A little ambiguity is always good. Keeping your audience in suspense (while providing little gems of information now and then) ignites their imagination and intelligence, and keeps them riveted to the screen until The Closing Image. 

4. Provide an overall structure that allows you to craft individual scenes that build with intensity.

As you plan each scene within the Design Plan, you can decide when and where your levels of intensity (creating and building tension) will take place. Being able to create and build tension that captivates an audience is the key to a dramatic screenplay and an award-winning film.

Good structure also allows your audience to follow the hero’s journey as it unfolds. An example of good structure is when the plot contains an ensemble of successes and failures right up until the story’s climax and its final resolution.

Screenwriting Tip: When you are crafting your individual scenes think of how you will engage the emotions of your audience. Strong action + strong emotion = a rewarding filmic experience.

5. Organise character relationships and answer the MDQ.

A design plan helps a writer to decide on how the hero’s primary and secondary relationships will intersect and play out. And once these relationships are sorted, the MDQ can be answered. The Major Dramatic Question is worked out primarily by the hero, but it is also the villain and the other secondary characters that provide the action and the conflict that is necessary to answer this question.

As well as the MDQ there are other important questions:

Will the hero accept his quest?

How will the villain react to the hero when the quest is accepted?

How will the villain stop the hero from fulfilling his quest?

Who will be the hero’s helper/s? How will the hero react when Dark Forces Close In, and will he survive The Dark Night of the Soul? The Screenplay Design Plan will help a writer answer these questions before writing the actual screenplay.

Of course the hero will take many actions during the course of the film, and the antagonist will provide many reactions, but there is one overriding action that provides unity. The many actions and reactions (big or small) that take place during a film should always point back to the arch-arching MDQ, the one major dramatic question that the hero is trying to answer or the driving action that motivates him and determines everything that happens in the film.

6.  Finish your screenplay with a dynamic action and image.

When we think of the MDQ and the hero’s driving action – remember Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.  Frodo’s most important and dynamic action was arriving at Mount Doom to finally destroy the ring.  There were many events and great actions that took place during this film but it was this one action that would determined the fate of Middle-earth.

Of course, Gollum had an important role to play in the all important and compelling scene of The Return of the King.  I find this scene (when Frodo arrives to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom) very interesting as it kept us in suspense. It seemed that maybe our hero (Frodo) was not going to destroy the ring after all.  If he did not complete his mission who would answer the MDQ? Someone has to! But with a little twist we still got our happy ever after and our answer.

Although the film had not yet been completed, this scene where the ring is destroyed is one of the most dynamic scenes in the movie.  Frodo had peaked in his character arc, and Sauron’s ring had finally been destroyed.  The screenwriter had created a dramatic and pivotal scene and image, which will continue to linger as one of those iconic moments in film history.  

So how you organise your scenes, explore the MDQ, and determine the levels of intensity, character actions and reactions, will depend on your Screenplay Design Plan.


What does a Screenplay Design Plan looks like?

Most feature films run between 105-110 minutes and one page of a screenplay equals to one minute of film. If you are writing for a short film then you would skip over certain points, but still address the Key Structure Points as indicated in the Design Plan below. The following Screenplay Design Plan is for a 110 minutes film and also provides a plan for a 15 minute short film.

You can view a Screenplay Design Plan here: Screenplay Design Plan Template for Creative Destination


Next week: More information on the ‘Structural Outline” of a Screenplay Design Plan.



Screenplay Design Plan, Griffith University, Drama Screenwriting Study Guide 2012.



How to Write a Dynamic Screenplay

This week I will be moving on to a different aspect of creative writing; writing the screenplay or film script. A screenplay is a complex dramatic form that requires a particular structure and format, so I will be doing a series on how to write a dynamic screenplay over the next few weeks, which will include:

1.  An overview of a screenplay.
2.  How to create a dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.
3.  How to format a screenplay.

There are many multimedia entertainment formats that utilise a screenplay or a script such as films, television, theatre, and video games, but I am going to use film as my frame of reference. The magical world of film-making has captivated our collective imagination since its inception in the late 19th century, and now in the 21st century, it continues to be one of the most popular mediums for global storytelling.

An overview of a screenplay?

A film, as opposed to a work of fiction, is primarily a visual medium, therefore a screenwriter needs to think in visual terms. Although the dialogue is important, a dynamic and memorable image can deliver information much more effectively.

A screenplay may draw upon many similarities that are attributed to a work of fiction such as a complex story-world, a strategic plot, and characterisation, but it predominately relies upon the art of visual storytelling.

In the world of film-making, a screenplay acts like “a plan” or a “blueprint” (Glenn 2008, p. 104) for everything that is seen and heard on the screen. So when it comes to crafting a screenplay, remember the all-important literary mantra, Show Don’t Tell.  As a film contains moving pictures, the screenwriter needs to be able to craft words that come “alive with all the motion and emotion” (2008, p. 104) that is synonymous with the silver screen.

Before you set out to start writing each scene of your screenplay, ask yourself these four questions:

1.  Does my opening scene create a dynamic image in the mind of the reader and will it work on screen?  Visualising your scene on screen is a good technique.

2.  Have I been economical when it comes to word choice (have I used dynamic nouns and strong verbs to communicate the setting, action, and characters)?

3.  Have I utilised a good balance of dialogue and action?

4.  Does my screenplay create interest and suspense? This is where re-writing and multiple drafts help.   

Remember: perfection takes time.

A screenwriting tip. Download the screenplay for your favourite film and analyse its scene structure, tone, etc.  Stage 32 provides copies of the latest screenplays, but registration is required.

More tips for writing an effective and dynamic screenplay.

Avoid using anything in your screenplay that cannot be communicated visually or aurally on screen.

Film-making is all about dramatisation, not exposition. Show don’t tell! Although the dialogue is necessary to reveal story and character information, a single engaging image can convey a thousand words. A close–up on a character’s face. The camera focusing on a single memorable image.

Choose action over dialogue. The saying “Actions speak louder than words” is just as true in the film world. And like real life – what a person does as opposed to what they say reveals their true nature.

Of course, dialogue is important, but when using dialogue use carefully crafted and strategically placed dialogue as opposed to a whole load of empty waffle.

I am in the process of re-writing a screenplay for a short film, and as I am a fan of dialogue, I have had to be ruthless and cut out unnecessary verbiage.

Keep in mind your audience when you are writing your screenplay and use strong images (especially in the opening scene), which will create a strong emotional response.


Next week:

How to Write a Dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.



Glenn, John 2008, ‘The page: Words that move’, Writing Movies: The practical guide to creating stellar screenplays, (written by Gotham Writers’ Workshop Faculty; edited by Alexander Steele), A & C Black, London, Ch. 4, pp. 103-135.




Startup Stock Photos.