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May 4, 2023

Screenplay Formatting Mistakes You Should Avoid

Screenplays require meticulous attention to detail, as even minor formatting mistakes can detract from the story.

Fortunately, screenwriting software like Arc Studio automates most of the process, leaving only a small margin for error. However, you should strive to remove all formatting errors from your script before submitting. Let's explore common formatting mistakes and how to avoid them.

These mistakes typically fall into two categories: the basics and stylistic norms.

The basics

Here are some basic checks you should do on your script before you submit it or go looking for more detailed formatting issues.


Prioritize impeccable spelling. A script with spelling mistakes in its first three pages can be disqualified from consideration. Use spell check, and proofread for homophones.

Scene heading format

Scene headings must be entirely capitalized and follow this structure: INT. or EXT., location, and time of day (e.g., INT. HOSPITAL ROOM - DAY).

Character introductions

Capitalize a character's full name upon first introduction. Ensure consistency in character names throughout the script.

Post-edit cleanup

After making edits, double-check that all changes have been implemented correctly, and there are no inconsistencies or confusing elements.

Automated formatting errors

Thoroughly proofread your script to catch any formatting mistakes caused by automated software.

A screenshot of Arc Studio screenwriting software
Arc Studio helps you automate the formatting process but you still need to check it for errors

Beyond using automated tools, consider having a trusted friend or colleague read through your script to identify any errors you may have missed. Fresh eyes can often spot mistakes that might have gone unnoticed due to your familiarity with the content. Additionally, reading your script aloud can be helpful in identifying awkward phrasing or inconsistencies in dialogue.

Stylistic norms

Here are some stylistic norms you should adhere to when formatting your script. As with everything in screenwriting there are times when you can disregard these rules but more often than not you need to comply with them.

Avoid cut to

Cut to...: Avoid excessive use of "CUT TO" as it disrupts the flow and consumes valuable page space. Convey transitions through descriptions and paragraphing.

Scene headings

Include a new scene heading whenever the scene, time, or location changes. Only use "Continuous" when action moves seamlessly between locations.

White space

Maintain concise and precise writing, creating ample white space on the page. Aim for paragraphs of four lines or less.

Filmable content

Ensure that everything written is filmable. If a detail is important, find a way to visually convey it, rather than relying on un-filmable descriptions.


Develop a consistent writing style that provides an enjoyable experience for the reader.

Dialogue formatting

Properly format dialogue by placing the character's name in all caps, centered above their lines. The dialogue itself should be indented and follow traditional punctuation rules.

Avoid using excessive parentheticals to describe how the dialogue should be delivered, as this can disrupt the flow of the script and limit the actors' creative interpretation.

Action lines

Keep action lines concise, focusing on the most crucial visual elements of the scene. Use active verbs and avoid overly descriptive language that can slow down the pacing of the script. Remember that screenplays are primarily a visual medium, so focus on writing clear, evocative action lines that effectively convey the scene's mood and energy.

Page count and pacing

Aim for a page count that aligns with industry standards, which typically range from 90 to 120 pages for a feature-length script. Maintain a steady pace throughout the screenplay, balancing dialogue, action, and exposition to keep the story engaging and well-structured.

Be mindful of pacing when introducing plot points, character arcs, and scene transitions, ensuring that your story unfolds naturally and maintains the audience's interest.

Subtext and visual storytelling

Incorporate subtext in dialogue and action, allowing characters' emotions and motivations to be revealed through their words and actions. Instead of explicitly stating feelings or thoughts, use visual cues and implied meanings to create a richer, more nuanced narrative that encourages audience engagement and interpretation.

Conflict and obstacles

Introduce conflict and obstacles throughout your screenplay to maintain tension and propel the story forward.

Conflict can be internal (character vs. self), external (character vs. character, character vs. nature), or societal (character vs. society). Ensure that characters face challenges that test their resolve, force them to grow, and contribute to the story's overall theme and message.

Character development and arcs

Create well-rounded characters with distinct personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. Establish character arcs that show growth, change, or revelation over the course of the story.

A strong character arc can make your protagonist more relatable and memorable, as well as provide an emotional throughline that connects the audience to your story.

Formatting is important

Story formatting is important because it allows directors, producers, and other cast members to visualize what you have written.

In a competitive industry in which there are more screenplays than ever being pitched, it’s important that you don’t give executives an excuse to discard your screenplay. After putting in potentially hundreds of hours drafting writing and re-drafting your work it’s counter productive not to put in those few extra hours of extra polishing.

What’s more, formatting is no longer tedious as tools like Arc Studio largely automate the process.

Don’t forget our software is completely FREE to download today, no credit card is required.


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Screenplay Formatting Mistakes You Should Avoid
Mark Hennigan

Mark is a screenwriter, writing coach, life-long film fan, and self-confessed story structure nerd.

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