FREE HORROR SCREENPLAY WRITING SCHOOL
Welcome to 13Horror.com's FREE Screenplay Writing School.
We love horror and want to encourage a whole new generation of writers to get creative. If you've had an idea for a horror movie but have never written a screenplay before, here's where you can learn the basics. It will be enough to get started on your journey towards becoming a screenwriter.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A SCREENPLAY?
A screenplay is the script for a film. It includes locations, dialogue, acting instructions and scene directions.
Screenplays follow a strict format. Show-business is, as the name suggests, a business, and keeping to this established format makes things easier for people in the industry. It would be easy to get bogged down in all the details about the fonts, margins and spacing, all of which is part of this established format... but the good news is, we don't need to. There is a huge amount of free screenwriting software out there which automatically does all of that for you, so you can focus on writing your screenplay and learn about format as you write. Avail yourself of the technology - it will help you!
Firstly - and remember this for the rest of your screenwriting life... DO NOT BE AFRAID! We want YOU to scare people with the movies that will one day hopefully be made based on your screenplays, not to have you afraid of what is essentially just a way of presenting something. That's all a screenplay is - a way for you to communicate a story.
Just as important, always bear this in mind (especially if you are just starting off): You are writing for film. That means your job is to show what happens, not to tell. Obviously, you will use the written word to do that showing, but it's a totally different way of writing compared to writing a short story or novel. It's a very important distinction and if you can appreciate it from the start, you'll hit the ground running.
What follows are two pages of a screenplay. They will show you 99.9% of what you will ever need to know.
The extra 0.1% is important, and we'll talk about that a little later in class...
THE SIX MAIN ELEMENTS
Most things which appear on the screenplay page can be categorized into one of the following six elements:
1) Scene header
If you were ever in a school play then you'll see it's not a million miles removed from how they were presented.
Let's go through each of the categories (they are numbered on the pages below) and find out a little about them.
1. SCENE HEADER
You generally put three bits of information into a scene header.
The first thing you need to convey is whether the action is outside, inside or both. EXT. is used for exterior, INT. is used for interior, and E/I is used for exterior/interior (or I/E).
Next, you state where the scene is taking place. In the example above, it's an APARTMENT BLOCK.
Finally, give a sense of the time.
If the action is switching from location to location (say, for example, you're writing a scene and the characters are moving through a house) then you wouldn't necessarily want to keep reminding the reader that it's NIGHT every time the characters enter a new room. Some writers would simply use the word 'CONTINUOUS' to show that the action is continuing, but other writers prefer just to drop this third element if it is obvious through dialogue and action that the scenes are unfolding in real time.
No points for guessing that this is used to describe action. You can also use it to describe the scene and to give a brief character description. Always put a character's name in block capitals when you first introduce them, and always indicate their age if they are important characters.
As mentioned earlier, you are not writing a short story or a novel - you are writing a film, so bear this in mind when you write your action.
In a short story, it would be fine to say something like 'Detective Easkey got to the top of the stairs and stopped a moment to catch his breath. The stairs, for some reason, reminded him of his honeymoon on that cruise ship with the huge staircase. God, what was the name of that cruise ship again? He couldn't remember. He couldn't remember much anymore. It was horrible to be getting old.' But whether or not Detective Easkey is thinking about cruise ships or honeymoons is totally irrelevant for the purpose of the film's action.
One piece of advice that I keep in mind is to not write what cannot be shown. It's not a hard and fast rule, and breaking it can often be a nice way to convey something to a potential director. I remember one character description I read where it gave a physical description of a character and then said something like -- He's also an ex-con, but we'll get to that later. It stuck with me. You can imagine a director's eyes lighting up when he saw that line, but don't over-do it or you'll end up with a short story.
Easy. Every time a character speaks, you put their name in capitals on a line by itself.
Again, easy. This is what the character says.
This comes in brackets between the character's name and their dialogue. The boundaries can often blur between when to use paretheticals and when to use action. Generally, you'd go for parenthetical if you want to communicate the pacing/intention of the dialogue.
By the way, you hear stories of some actors crossing through all of the parentheticals for their character because they don't want to be told how to deliver their lines by the writer! If this is ever a problem for you... well, it's a nice problem to have, because it means someone is making a movie that you've written! Used properly, parentheticals are a good tool.
These are being used less and less in screenwriting but they haven't completely disappeared, hence the inclusion in the screenplay pages above.
You'll notice there was no transition used when Detective Easkey went from inside the apartment block corridor to inside the apartment. That's because everything else made it abdundantly clear that he had gone from one place to another.
At the end of the apartment scene, we cut to a coffee shop. The CUT TO indicates that we have had a complete change of location. You could argue that the scene description itself would make that clear. This is one of those things where it comes down to personal preference.
CUT TO is one of a few different types of transition - there's also DISSOLVE TO, SMASH CUT, FADE OUT, etc.
CREATIVITY AND THE OTHER 0.1%
Using 0.1% as a figure to represent the other elements is not meant to detract from their importance. It's just that the intention of this page is to help new writers learn the basics of screenwriting and get started. It has already taken you six or seven rotations of your mouse's scrolling button to get this far down the page, so we don't want to give your finger an injury or overload your brain.
I can't stress enough how much screenwriting software will help you, both with what has been discussed above and with the elements not covered. For example, the front page of a screenplay also needs to follow a particular format, but any half-way decent screenwriting software will take care of this for you, so we won't go through it here.
And it's the same for all of the six elements discussed here. The software will help you with it - in most cases, it can even predict what's coming next. Once you've done your scene-heading, it will default to action. Once you've done your character name, it will default to dialogue. And so on.
As you develop, you'll want to experiment with voiceovers, characters speaking off screen, characters speaking at the same time, action seen from a particular character's point of view, focusing attention on something specific... and again, the software makes this intuitive and easy.
This lesson should be enough to get you started on your screenplay. Type 'free screenwrting software' into Google, select one which you like the look of and get writing! We don't want to endorse one over any other but email, Facebook or Twitter us if you can't make up your mind and we'll give you a recommendation.
Before class ends, here is the best advice I can leave you with:
Read screenplays and write.
There are literally thousands of free screenplays available to read online. Download a couple based on your favorite movies and read them. Also try a couple from movies you have never seen, then watch the movies afterwards. If you do that, it'll take you maybe half a day in total. You'll never look back.
Next up, write something. Whether it's feature-length or a ten page short, there are plenty of contests to enter, including ours. Whether you choose to enter ours or not is up to you, but if you do decide to enter contests, always choose ones which guarantee you feedback. That way you can learn from constructive criticism, plus you know someone has actually read your work. Doing well in contests is also a great way to get positive attention and help you break into a competitive industry.