The Screenplay: Preparation 4

The book informs me that I am now ready to learn how to properly format my screenplay.

Character names are centered at four and a half inches in from the left. Dialogue goes here, three inches in from the left. Dialogue shouldn't extend beyond a line two and half inches from the right edge of the paper.

This sounds much too complicated, and I'm not sure how to do this in Word without taking a ruler to my computer screen.  Since the book was published in 1988, I assumed these instructions to be a little out of date, and went to Scriptfrenzy.org to see if they had simpler instructions.  They did.

A screenplay consists of dialogue and description.  There is no "writing:"

You can't say, "There was something chilling about the abandoned mansion..."  What you do is show it in a night storm through flashes of lightning.  Then we know it's haunted.

This is a good rule for writing anything.  As Anton Chekhov said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

FADE IN:

EXT. ROOFTOPS OF SIENNA – LATE AFTERNOON

Red rooftops bake in the afternoon sun.  Wind tosses dust and dead leaves across the roof.  NIX’S HAND grabs a leaf.  She opens her hand and the leaf floats an inch above her palm, then bursts into flame.  The flame sparks gold.  CAMERA PULLS BACK to show NIX, a young woman wearing heavy skirts.  Nix balances on one foot on the pinnacle of the roof.  Suddenly the burning leaf takes on a life of its own and jumps out of her hand.

 NIX No.  No!

(My heroine has just spoken her first words.  Not exactly a Shakespearean entrance.)

The flame dances in the air, just out of reach.  Nix pursues the flame across the rooftops.  She moves like a cat, with no fear of heights.  She runs across an archway over a street.  Below are CHILDREN tossing hoops and STREET MERCHANTS hawking ices and cold drinks.  She chases the flame up another roof, past a window revealing a MUSICIAN singing scales.  Out of breath, she lunges and seizes the flame.  The flame scorches her hand.

 NIX (blowing on her burned fingers) Not today, not today...

Her shoe slips, and she slides down the clay tiles, twisting her skirts.  She scrabbles at the tiles with her hands, and grabs a pipe.  Nix dangles half off the roof.

CAMERA FROM BELOW reveals PASCI lounging on a parapet, looking up at Nix. Pasci wears a fool’s motley of white and black.  His face is painted white.

PASCI Trying to burn down the city, lady?

Pasci spreads out his arms dramatically, offering to catch her.

This style of writing feels very stilted, and writing dialogue for these characters is difficult because I don't really know them yet.  I'm not sure about this opening scene, either.  But as an exercise in formatting a screenplay, I guess it works.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.