The Top Screenwriting Terms for Novice Screenwriters
Knowledge is power and it's always good to know your trade terms. Below are the top screenwriting terms and their general definitions.
In regards to the more technical format terms, remember that they should be used only when necessary. Screenwriters should always avoid directing the camera within the script. Sometimes you'll need to be CLOSE ON something important in the script, or a sequence may require you to utilize CONTINUOUS within the scene heading. However, in the end, always use anything beyond location, scene heading, and dialogue sparingly.
The scene description, character movement, and sounds as described in a screenplay.
Can be used in the parenthetical or action to indicate a pause in the character’s dialogue or movement.
All CAPS the first time you meet them in the Action. A person on the screen at any moment.
When you want to draw a reader’s eyes or imagination to a particular object on the screen like a text message, a sled named rosebud, or a scar.
Sometimes, instead of DAY or NIGHT at the end of a SLUGLINE/Location Description, you'll see CONTINUOUS. Continuous refers to action that moves from one location to another without any interruptions in time – like a high speed chase through a mall with different stores.
Ends some scenes to provoke a reaction – you can cut to a joke, or to the opposite of what a character recently stated.
What a character says in the script. “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
A transition mostly used in older films. Stylistically shows one image dissolving into another.
A shot from a distance telling us where we are — New York City? The Dust Bowl? The Congo?
Exterior. This scene takes place out of doors. This is mostly for a Producer to help figure out the cost of the movie.
One of the more common transitions. You FADE IN: on the left and FADE OUT: on the right of the page. You can also FADE TO: on the left — usually used for scenes that transition in longer lengths of time.
Interior. Producers will use this to tell what sets need to be made.
Intercutting or INTERCUT BETWEEN:
Used to show different scenes happening at the same time. Like a boy eavesdropping on his parents, a phone call in two different places, or the murder of all the mob bosses in town during a baptism.
INTO FRAME/INTO VIEW:
When a character enters during a scene and you want to highlight that entrance.
JUMP CUT TO:
A cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly. This type of edit gives the effect of jumping forwards in time.
MATCH CUT TO:
A transition between scenes where one thing becomes another like jumping into a pool that matches to the same character diving into bed.
A numbered sequence in a story that shows one or several characters completing a series of actions. Like Rocky’s training sequences.
O.S. or O.C.
Off Screen or Off Camera. Maybe a character is yelling to another one or throwing something — it describes anything not taking place on the screen.
An emotion or action put before the dialogue and under the character’s name to let the actor know how they should say the line.
Point of view. This became popular with found footage movies but generally refers to the first person advantage as seen in movies like Halloween.
After a slugline a scene describes what happens in a particular place at a particular time.
This is the truly final draft used on set by the production people, actors, and director to make the movie from the screenplay.
Denotes a new scene in the screenplay.
SMASH CUT TO:
An especially sharp transition. This style of cut is usually used to convey destruction or quick emotional changes.
A screenplay not commissioned by a studio or producer. It is the idea of the writer only.
SUPER, SUPER TITLE, or TITLE
Refers to words on the screen like the scroll in Star Wars or the little titles telling you in what city or time period the script takes place.
A close-up of a person or thing. Basically, like the space has been squeezed out of the area between camera and subject.
Descriptive term for how one scene 'transitions' to another scene. Used appropriately, these can be used to convey shifts in character development and emotion
Voice Over. Like in The Shawshank Redemption, Sunset Blvd., even the beginning of War Of The Worlds – it denotes dialogue only the audience can hear.