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One of the most essential skills for a screenwriter is to learn proper screenplay format. Unlike novel writing, screenplays have a strict format that developed from the early days of cinema.

Film has always been primarily a visual medium. It started with simple one-scene scenarios and developed into longer pieces made up of scenes. Because the first films were silent, early screenplays were essentially shot lists for the director’s use.

This is why each scene starts with a heading that tells us place and time, as follows:

INT. or EXT. HOUSE — DAY or NIGHT

(INT. for “Interior” and EXT. for “Exterior”)

The Hollywood movie business developed into a factory-line-type industry, and a consistent story format made it easier to crank out movies. When the talkies came in, dialogue format (and its attendant features, such O.S. (off-screen) and V.O. (voice-over)) developed.

Here’s an example:

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Understanding and using correct screenplay format continues be essential for anyone who wants to write for film or television.

Having the right resources at one’s disposal makes all the difference. Here’s one book I highly recommend.

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New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.

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