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Writing Your Screenplay Without Expensive Software

By Author: Roy Rivera
Total Articles: 38

If the idea for a screenplay has been eating away at you for a while, but you lack the money to buy an expensive software program for your computer -- do not despair. Nothing more is needed than a simple word processing program (or you can use a more complex one if you have it). 
First, your screenplay has to be formatted correctly and setting that up to start with is easy. Don't forget to save the project every time you work on it, and store it where you can find it again on your computer! While all screenplays must be in Courier or Courier New 12 point type, you can always set your computer screen to "view" in a zoom mode, especially if you use reading glasses, like I do. This will not affect your type size -- just how you see it on the screen. Writing screenplays has always been done in that typeface because then producers and others looking at your screenplay, and hopefully buying it for their next great blockbuster, know that the one minute per page rule applies. Margins for screenplays are one inch all around, except for the left margin, which should be one and a half inches. This is to allow for the three holes on the left sides and brass fasteners (top and bottom only) if you need to print and send out copies. That way the text is not trapped within that left margin.  
Using macros for both character names and dialog boxes is a real time saver -- if your word processing software has it. If too complicated or you don't have it, use tabs. Most tab stops are already preset for five spaces. If not, program yours for that (look under help in the menu on how to do it). Usually, character names are about 4-5 tab stops in (centered on the page), and dialog boxes start about three tabs stops in. Dialog must be even on the left margin and should be (within reason) not aligned on the right. Dialog should take up the center third of the width of usable space on your page. On the subject of dialog -- keep your parentheticals brief and to the minimum. Parentheticals are the directions placed under a character's name such as (smiling). Too many of those and reading the screenplay becomes annoying. Most emotions (or emoting) are left to the actors and the director.
Directions for the people in your story are best kept brief also. Two or three sentences in a paragraph are all that is needed. Most of the action is, again, put into the film by the actors and director. Never describe a hidden emotion. The only thing that should be written down in a screenplay is dialog, and necessary action that is seen or hear d on the screen. What good would be: He was cringing inside because someone laughed at him?   That could best be described as: He stopped in his tracks and began to sweat, then straightened up. Always show rather than tell in a screenplay. This takes more work but is much better writing for this medium. And while we are on this subject, a pet peeve of mine when reading screenplays (and it made me cringe) is "we see so and so go over to the well". Be lean in your description -- say "so and so went over to the well".
One last note on spacing and capitalization, when you are writing your screenplay: There is one line space between the end of dialog and action text and one line space between each block of action text, plus a line space between scene headings and the start of either dialog or action text. The only time that two line spaces are used is after the last text and before the next scene heading. So, with tabs and macros if you have the capability, you can turn out a perfectly formatted screenplay without expensive screenplay writing software. 

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