Oh formatting, formatting, formatting. 99.9% of screenwriting questions can be answered with one simple piece of advice – stop worrying what people think and grow a pair. I get it, there are dozens of people out there who call themselves script consultants who like to shout from the rooftops about how using too many lines in an action paragraph, using the term “we see”, or even using the odd adverb is screenwriting suicide.
These dullards spend their lives parasitically feeding off the need for approval new writers desperately crave and are obsessed with the superficial because the real subjects of storytelling craft and artistry are beyond their ability to understand.
If another writer, consultant, or reader chooses to judge our storytelling abilities on such superficialities of petty formatting rules, rules which are more often than not exist only in their minds, then we owe it to ourselves to turn the other way and run, run as fast as possible away from those people.
You’re Not Freaking Tarantino
We know the drill. The topic of screenwriting rules is discussed for the 800th time this week on a screenwriter forum and someone brings up how Tarantino gets to write how he wants because he’s “paid his dues”.
Here’s the thing – Tarantino never paid his dues before expressing himself as an artist. You know why? Because he’s a true artist, and true fucking aren’t obsessed with trying to box themselves in and fit a mold. Tarantino had his writing rejected over and over, to the point narrow-minded producers were scrawling abuse on his cover pages and mailing the script back to his agent. To the point that, after finishing his first draft of Reservoir Dogs, he told his producer that, if he didn’t like it, he’d go shoot it himself anyway. What Tarantino didn’t do was pussy out. Just the same as he didn’t pussy out when Tony Scott wanted him to rewrite True Romance (My Best Friend’s Birthday/On The Road), just the same as he didn’t pussy out when the first Sundance Director’s Institute panel ripped his directing style, just the same as he didn’t pussy out when Harvey (Scissor Hands) Weinstein insisted he cut his ear slicing scene, just the same as he didn’t pussy out when Oliver Stone sat him down and criticised him for making movies instead of films. And, you know what, he didn’t pussy out when Pulp Fiction was rejected on grounds of too much violence and poor structure – despite there being a $1m writer/director deal at stake. Tarantino is not a writer who’s ever been given permission to do as he wants – he’s a writer who has the strength to give himself permission to do what he wants.
And this is the same story over and over for all the writers we admire. They are damn good storytellers who take control of their scripts, making them their domain, because they know it’s their job to make the script their domain. What’s really needed on the page? Confidence and enthusiasm, two elements that will be significantly lacking in any writer who’s become scared of their own shadow.
How To Format A Screenplay
- Use screenwriting software (here’s a list).
- Read a bunch of screenplays to see how varied they are.
- Use what brings out the best in yourself as a writer and enjoy it.
- Put confidence and enthusiasm on the page.
How Not To Format A Screenplay
- Try not to stray too far away from the norms. Our role is to be creative with story and words, not typography and layout. That’s it.