Structure of a screenplay: The most important part of a script



The most important part of a script is its structure.
The most important part of a screenplay is the structure of the screenplay.
The structure or layout of a screenplay is the first impression about the screenplay. This first impression which is as a result of its layout and arrangement is what actually sends that name ''screenplay'' into one's mind. If you mention ''screenplay'' to anyone, and then show him a written story in a prose form, he will quickly ask you, ''where is the screenplay?'' he will surely ask this question because he didn't see the structure or layout of a screenplay in the piece you showed him. 
The name and the usage of an item send a message to one's mind. The mind now notes the item by the part of that item which finally makes its usage possible. The mind takes up the messages and then codes what that item would actually be.

The eyes send a pictorial message to the mind, while the ears send a sound message.
Once you see the layout of a screenplay, you will know it's a screenplay.
Your mind will quickly tell you it's a screenplay. Your mind will also tell you whether the structure is poor or good.

If the structure is poor, you as a reader may be discouraged to read it. But if it's good, you will be pushed to read it. Even if the story line and the other elements of the screenplay are not pleasant, the most important thing is that you have been pushed into reading it. This is the power of a good structure!

The most important part of anything is that which completes it. It is that which makes it what it is. It is that which informs the mind what it is. It is that which describes to the eye what it is.

Let's take for instance, a mobile phone. The most important part of a mobile phone is the buttons. People may argue. Some may say it's the screen. Some others may say it's the battery. But one thing is for sure; once anyone hears the name, mobile phone, the main thing that occurs to his mind is undoubtedly the ''call button''. Immediately after the ''call button'', other buttons follow. This is real because the most important use of a mobile phone is for making calls. You can't make calls without punching on the buttons for the numbers you want to call.

Let's take another example using a car. The most important part of a car should be the tyre. The tyre is that which makes it a car. Even if there is no petrol or gas in it, it can still be pushed or towed provided the tires are fixed. Even if the engine is not working, everybody will see it as a car because of the tyres.
The most important use of a car is to move from one point to another. The final part of a car that makes contact to the ground and consequently makes it move is the tires.

The most important part of a screenplay is the structure of the screenplay. Some people may argue. They may say the most important part of a screenplay is the character name, the slug line, the theme, the story, the action, or the grammar. Before you conclude on which is the most important, let me ask you this question:  In high school, didn't you see your fellow student being awarded some marks by his teacher for having good well spaced out hand writing? I'm sure you did.
Even if a student didn't get the answers correctly but has a wonderful hand writing with which he used to present the incorrect answers, a kind teacher can decide to give him one or two marks for the tidiness of his work.

The most important part of a screenplay is the structure of the screenplay.
You can have the most interesting story, the most passionate theme, the most emotional plot, the most thrilling actions, the most presentable characters and the most pleasant dialogues; but with a poor structure, you can't get pass the reader of your screenplay.
One way to get a good structure for your screenplay is to study diligently the appropriate way of presenting the elements of your screenplay.
You have to take note of the indentations, line spacing, formats, points, sizes, background, colors, fonts and font styles.
You don't just place an element anywhere or anyhow you like. You have to adhere strictly to the rules of the screenplay lay out.

Well, these rules of screenplay structure are conventional, and it may vary from one country to another.

Here is the one for United States of America:


How to write a Screenplay

A screenplay is just a build-up of a written story, arranged in a format in which its elements have a unique rule of organization.

Elements of a Screenplay
NB: Just below every element that will be listed here, you will find an illustration on how and where to apply it in a screenplay.

The screenplay;
Title; Secrets in two homes,
Written by Winny Greazy; is just a concise screenplay. It contains all the main elements of a screenplay.
Its excerpts are used for these illustrations.

Here are the elements:


Scene heading (aligned flush left from the edge of the paper. It’s also known as Slug line)

EXT. LAZON STREET – NIGHT
INT. MATILDA’S HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
EXT. IN CAR - DAY


Action (aligned flush left from the edge of the paper)
        
Suddenly, we see a jeep appear from one end of the street and drives slowly until it stops in front of a building with the description, NO 7 on its front gate.
After about five seconds, we start to hear the voice of a mature female crying out from inside of the jeep. The sound of her cry fades slowly until we can no longer hear it.
The jeep’s back door opens forcefully. Two able bodied men; DIGA and BRUCE, who have handkerchiefs partly covering their faces, jump down and pull MATILDA out.


Character name (indented 3.5'' from left margin)

Mrs. Garcia quickly describes her destination to the driver.

MRS GARCIA
Ferry district, Lazon Street, house number 7.
Please drive as fast as possible


Dialogue (indented 2.0'' from the left margin)

We see the inspector of police, INSPECPTOR HECTOR, relaxing in his seat.
Matilda and Frank are sitting before him.

HECTOR
Matilda you have nothing to worry about.
Your father has discussed your fiancé with me.
We are on top of the situation

MATILDA
Inspector I'm not taking this any longer.
The abductors have refused to call back for negotiations and you are still telling me you've discussed it with my father

HECTOR
Yes, I have


Extensions [off-screen (O.S.), voice over (V.O)]

[Off-screen (O.S.) placed directly to the right of the character name. An Off-Screen voice can be heard from a character out of the camera range, or from another room altogether)

Suddenly, the front exit door opens, and Matilda gasps, drops the phone recklessly and starts running to the inner room.

FRANK (O.S.)
It's me, Matilda!
It's me Frank!

[Voice over (V.O.) placed directly to the right of the character name. A Voice Over is used in a narration or when the character thinks aloud during reflection]

Matilda is lying in the bed, fully awake but she looks unconscious.

MATILDA (V.O.)
Lugard you have to forgive me.
Just this night and it will never happen again, I promise.


Transition [(cut to), (back to) they often follow action and always precede Scene heading. They are used to indicate transitions to scenes that are related]

Mrs. Garcia wakes up suddenly and sits up.
She looks around the room in fear.
She rubs her eyes with her hand; and then stands up off the bed, moves to the desk, picks up the desk phone and dials a number.

CUT TO:

INT. MATILDA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – NIGHT (SAME NIGHT)

The desk phone beside the bed rings.
Matilda opens her eyes.
The phone rings again and she hops out of the bed quickly, looking very curious to answer.
She picks it up and answers.

MATILDA
Hello.
Mama!

BACK TO:

INT. GARCIA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – NIGHT (SAME NIGHT)

Mrs. Garcia is holding unto the phone firmly, looking very anxious.

MRS GARCIA
Matilda

 

Shot [(angle on). aligned flush left from the edge of the paper. It tells the reader the focal point within a scene has changed]

ABLE D
No!!
Not anymore!
If you try any silly thing, I will shoot him!

ANGLE ON – ABLE D’s PISTOL
his finger poised on the trigger.
Everybody is now panicky.

MR TYLER
No, no, you must not!

MRS TYLER
Please don't!


Dual dialogue (normal dialogue. Used when two of your characters speak simultaneously)

Suddenly, the front exit door opens and Mrs. Garcia hurries in.
Everybody’s attention turns to her.

MRS TYLER
Mrs. Garcia!

MATILDA        FRANK
Mama!           What happened to you!

Matilda stands and quickly moves to her.

MATILDA
Mama, are you alright?


Adlibs (normal dialogue. Used for a crowd)

The women including some of the marketers now start shouting at Matilda and Frank in annoyance.

CROWD
Learner! Beginner! Do you want to kill people this afternoon?! Devil! Blood sucker!

Matilda quickly starts the car and drives forward suddenly, hooting constantly.
The women and some others on Matilda's way quickly give the way.
Matilda drives off with speed.

CROWD
Demons! Go and crash yourselves! Go and die!

 

Montages (formatted as a single shot. It’s a series of scenes related and building to one conclusion)

Mrs. Garcia lays LITTLE LUGARD on the bed and begins to change his diapers.

MONTAGE

a) Little Lugard rolls over in his playpen. Mrs. Garcia smiles happily.

b) Little Lugard crawls around the room. Mrs. Garcia watches him amazingly.

c) Holding unto the coffee table, Little Lugard stands up and start toddling. Mrs. Garcia shouts up in joy.

d) Mrs. Garcia hugs TEENAGE LUGARD passionately.
He lifts his travel bag and waves at his mother.
She stands in the balcony and happily watches him leave through the gate.

END OF MONTAGE



Poetry/lyrics/rhymes (normal dialogue. Song lyrics are written in all caps. Others are often in short lines)

The door opens and Frank steps in.
He is putting on just his inner wears, boxers and singlet.
He looks at Matilda and smiles.
He then starts singing.

FRANK
DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN TWO GOOD FRIENDS ARE ALL ALONE?
DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN TWO LOVERS ARE IN ONE ROOM?

IF YOU DON'T KNOW, JUST WAIT LET ME TELL YOU;
THEY HOLD EACH OTHER, THEY KISS EACH OTHER, THEY SHARE THEIR DREAMS, THEY DANCE AND THEN THEY MAKE GOOD LOVE.

GOOD LOVE! GOOD LOVE! GOOD LOVE!

Matilda smiles broadly.

MATILDA
Wow!
Good song

FRANK
Yes, baby
 


Intercuts (just like in scene heading. Used instead of repeating scene headings, or cutting back and forth between two scenes. Often used during a phone call session)

INT. MATILDA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – NIGHT

The phone rings again and Matilda hops out of the bed quickly, looking very curious to answer.
She picks it up and answers.

MATILDA
Hello.
Mama!

INT. GARCIA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – NIGHT

Mrs. Garcia is holding unto the phone firmly, looking very anxious.

MRS GARCIA
Matilda

INTERCUT BETWEEN MRS GARCIA AND MATILDA

MATILDA
Yes Mama

MRS GARCIA
I want to speak with Lugard.
Is he sleeping?

Matilda looks puzzled.

MRS GARCIA
I had a bad dream a moment ago


Flashback (aligned flush left from the edge of the paper)

INT. GARCIA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM - NIGHT

Mrs. Garcia's bedroom is dark.
She is sitting on a chair close to the wall.
She is in a thoughtful mood, but she is not weeping.
She still has traces of the wounds she had from the accident.

BEGIN FLASHBACK

EXT. HOUSE – BALCONY - DAY

Mrs. Garcia hugs TEENAGE LUGARD passionately.
He lifts his travel bag and waves at his mother.
She stands in the balcony and happily watches him leave through the gate.

END FLASHBACK

INT. GARCIA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – NIGHT (SAME NIGHT)

Mrs. Garcia sighs, stands up wearily and exits.


Dream sequence (aligned flush left from the edge of the paper)

BEGIN DREAM SEQUENCE:

EXT. ROAD - NIGHT

Indistinctively, we see a man running exhaustively from one dark end of the lonely road.
Finally, we see him clearly. He is LUGARD.
But suddenly, we see four able bodied men running very closely and fiercely after him.
They have among them; rods, knives and long sticks.

Lugard, 31, is struggling to maintain enough gaps between him and them as he looks back continuously.
He has bruises on his face.
He looks tattered.

The able bodied men continue the massive chase on him until the gaps between them and him is no more.
Lugard turns back swiftly. Seeming to lose hope, he groans and then slows down and steers to the corner of the road where he now jumps into the gutter.
The men follow quickly and pounce on him.
They hit him with the rods and sticks.
Lugard cries out so painfully.

END DREAM SEQUENCE:

INT. GARCIA’S HOUSE – BEDROOM – NIGHT (SAME NIGHT)

We see MRS GARCIA lying in her bed with her eyes closed.
She then speaks out in pains.

MRS GARCIA
Don't kill my son!
Don't kill my son!
Lugard!!

She wakes up suddenly and sits up.
She looks around the room in fear.


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Written by: Winston 'Winny Greazy' Oge 

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