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November 30, 2021

How To Write A Slugline

When it comes to laying out your screenplay, sluglines are your bread and butter. Otherwise known as scene headings, they are the most common direction given to the directors and those performing the script. So, you may now be wondering how to write a slugline in the first place. Don't worry we will get to that and all the details below.

Be sure to understand what a slug line is and when you can use it before writing your first draft. Correcting them after you've miswritten your first draft can be a pain that can take you several hours to rectify.

Formatting is just as much a part of the craft of being a screenwriter as storytelling.  

How To Write A Slugline

A slugline - also known as a scene heading - is written at the top of every scene. They are written in capital letters. Remember Arcstudio will format this for you correctly and automatically. You have to right-click and press the scene heading option or use command and 1 on your keyboard.

What Is A Slugline?

Scene heads give us basic details about the scene we are about to see unfold. Every change of location and time should be given in a scene heading.

The convention is to begin a slugline with INT or EXT - short for internal or external. Sometimes if the scene takes place partly outside and partly inside, we will see INT/EXT. Scenes that take place inside cars generally also use INT/EXT.


It would help if you also mentioned the time of day: evening, afternoon, morning, it's relevant to the scene.

A great slugline example is this one from the script of The Devil Wears Prada:

Source: https://imsdb.com/scripts/Devil-Wears-Prada,-The.html

Try to give a pithy summary of where w are and the context of the scene. A few sentences are all you need, and one sentence alone often does the trick.

Don't Overdo The Description

If you're adapting your novel for the screen, you might be tempted to offer us paragraphs of Description. Avoid this. While this works for a novel, for a script, it's unnecessary. Your Description is not going to be read by the audience, and the purpose of the script is to tell the director and the cast where we are situated.  

Any details you give in terms of set decoration or how a character is dressed are likely to change. They will be subject to decisions by the casting director, set designers, and directions and will also largely be dictated by the picture's budget.  

In the film and TV industry, the rule is roughly a page per minute. Adding too much Description in the scene headings, and you'll soon find your script is too long.

Mid Scene Location and Time Changes

A slugline is generally supposed to be a master heading that appears every time we switch scenes. But with modern editing and storytelling techniques, we often want to change locations mid-way through a scene.

Alt-text: A film such as The Mechanic or its sequel Mechanic Ressecurtion with lots of fast-moving action sequences will require careful planning when it comes to using scene headings.

Source: https://decider.com/2017/11/19/mechanic-resurrection-on-hbo-go/

We think of this as a sub-slugline. However, there is no difference between a mid-scene location change and a normal slugline. They are formatted the same way.

One example of when we'd want to use a sub-scene heading to denote location changes could be when a character changes rooms inside a building. If we are situated inside a family home, a parent may walk upstairs from the living room to the bedroom. We may follow them, leaving one room and entering another.

Equally, in a police serial, an officer may step out of the car to chase after a suspect on foot. In which case, we'd need not just an indication of action but a new slugline to indicate the change of scene from the car to the outside.

We also may want to indicate the passing of time without starting a new scene. A great example is if characters have been studying hard in a library. This is common in the early Harry Potter films: Hermionie and sometimes Harry and Ron are often seen looking in the library, and hours go by.

Alt-text: In Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire, the main trio searches the library for hours for clues as to the second task in the Triwizard Tournament. Here we see the passing of time in the same location.

Source: https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Hogwarts_Library?file=Trio_library.jpg

Or perhaps you have a scene with detectives plowing through boxes of evidence for new clues.

You can use a scene heading for this. One great way to do this is to use the scene heading LATER. This simply helps us understand that an unspecified amount of time has passed.

If you want to be more specific, you could use:

LATER THAT EVENING, LATER THAT DAY or LATER IN THE DAY.

In Action Sequences

Using sluglines for action sequences must be handled carefully. If you change scenes a lot, you need to think creatively about how to express this on paper in the most concise way.

It might not always be as straightforward as writing in a new scene heading whenever you location.

This could interrupt the flow of the script. Instead, you might want to use your slugline to situate us more generally. For example:

EXT - DAY - THE BUSY STREETS OF LONDON

You can then use the action shortcut to describe the nature of your character's movements in more detail.

If You Are Unsure, Do Your Research

Do some research if you are unsure how a certain scene should be formatted or include a slugline.

If you are in midflow on the first draft, then it might be best to carry on with the story and leave yourself a note to address this later. Or you could keep a specific book with formatting corrections that you can tick off.

If you are connected in the film industry - a writer or director - you could ask them when they have time. Contrary to popular belief, the film industry is thriving, so people working in the industry are likely to be busier than ever. You may need these useful contacts later on in the process, so don't bug them with every minor formatting problem you face.

Source: screenshot taken off the website by myself.

Alt-Text: The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb) is a great resource that you can use to ensure your script is formatted correctly.

Another great way to check that you have formatted your script correctly - particularly if you have a particular question - is to read scripts. Many of these are available online for free on sites such as Internet Movie Script Database.

https://imsdb.com

You can see how other writers have formatted similar scenes.

How To Write A Slugline  

Using sluglines in your screenplay correctly is imperative. If you fail to do this, you can look like an amateur to directors and executives when you're pitching to companies like Netflix. This is a bad look and can affect how your script is read. It might even lead to your script being dismissed without being read.

This might seem unfair, but the TV and film world is competitive. Standards are high. Thankfully scriptwriting software like Arc Studio Pro makes it easy for you as it formats your script automatically and as you go along.

However, like any computer program, you can't rely on it, sometimes it might have interpreted your actions as a slugline or your dialogue for a slugline. Formatting your screenplay still requires your input, though you can consult thousands of scripts with slugline examples that are now available online for free.

You must ensure that you check that your sluglines are formatted correctly before you submit your screenplay.

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With Arc Studio, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

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How To Write A Slugline
Harry Cunningham

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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Go to Desk

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