Parts of a Script: Plays & Films

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  • 0:04 What Type of Script?
  • 0:53 Playwriting
  • 2:10 Play Format
  • 2:47 Screenwriting
  • 3:48 Screenplay Format
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Matz

Rachel teaches acting and voice. She has an MFA in Acting and an MBA in Business Administration.

Discover if you are a screenwriter or a playwright. Explore the similarities and differences of writing plays and films, and learn how to bring your ideas to life on the pages of a script.

What Type of Script?

Imagine you have a great idea and decide to write a play or a film.

If you focus on the visual, you might choose a screenplay, or if dialogue is your strength, you might try your hand at playwriting, where dialogue is the cornerstone. As the writer, you have the ability to make scripting choices, including structure, dialogue, characters, plot, action, story, timing, and location.

In his work, Poetics, Aristotle laid out the dramatic foundation for plays and screenplays. He defined the six elements of drama: plot, character, theme, language, rhythm, and spectacle, which encompasses production elements like sets, lights, costumes, and sound. These philosophies remain vital in the plays and movies of today.

Playwriting

Derived from the overall story, the plot is the chain of events advancing the story; one event causes the next, which exists in the linear plots of most plays. With either comedy or tragedy, plots contain conflict, and characters confront obstacles and complications in their character arcs.

You weave the characters into the storyline, decide where they are, and where they go, and craft how they speak. Plays are propelled by dialogue; thus, the use of language is critical.

Structurally, plays have a beginning, middle, and end, and they are divided into acts, which are subdivided into scenes. The five-act play structure follows this pattern:

  1. Exposition: The play's introduction of the story, characters, setting, and conflict.
  2. Rising Action: The series of events leading to the climax, creating suspense.
  3. Climax: The intense turning point of the play.
  4. Falling Action: The action as the plot twists are revealed, and the story concludes.
  5. Resolution or Denouement: As the play ends, the final outcome is uncovered, and the plot complications are resolved.

This structure is important to understand because even plays in one, two, or three acts utilize elements in the five-act pattern.

Play Format

A play manuscript format starts with a title page, a character list and description, and a page with the time, setting, and division of acts and scenes.

Then the actual dialogue begins, headed by the Act and Scene numbers, such as ACT I (Roman Numerals), SCENE 1 (Arabic numerals). The character name, bolded and in all caps, is centered above the dialogue line, which is directly underneath the name on a separate line.

As part of the writer's vision, stage directions are indented and written in parentheses on a separate line from the dialogue. All pages must be numbered.

Screenwriting

Film is a visual medium, and the story is told through image and action with concise dialogue. A screenplay starts with an idea, and often, a pivotal character. The writer creates an outline with a beginning, end, and five essential plot incidents.

Also, movie writers commonly use the three-act structure for screenplays, with each act ending in a defining moment. A film is fast-paced, and the scenes need to forward the story or get cut. In fact, films have a tremendous number of scenes and locations, and depending on budget, writers can create any reality in their imaginations.

In addition to succinct dialogue, the screenwriter must include action lines, which describe the action of the scene and provide character clues. One page of a screenplay equals one minute of film, and the length of the script should fall between 90 and 120 pages.

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