The Four Basic Elements of Screenwriting

There are four basic elements in screenwriting. You can use them to achieve any story.

[1] Scene Headings
[2] Scene description/Action
[3] Character attribution
[4] Dialogue

4 Elements

[5] Transitions
[6] Parenthetical
[7] SFX, VFX, etc. (you really don’t need to use these)
[8] Author’s note (again, use sparingly.

More elements

You don’t really need transitions, but they’re nice to have now and then. You can insert lots of stuff into a script, but in point of fact, you could accomplish any storytelling effect with the main four.

Some will argue that a screenplay doesn’t necessarily need dialogue, dialogue attribution or even characters. Someone might argue that you could theoretically convey everything you need to convey in a screenplay with all dialogue and no action (I have actually read a script like that). While these arguments might technically be right, I hope you’ll join me in ignoring them.

So there are four main elements in screenwriting and these “primatives” can be used to accomplish anything in the art form. And it’s easy, too. The .jpg examples cited here are inarguably a screenplay. They have all the parts, and it’s formatted correctly (for a short, anyway).

And yet, it’s a terrible screenplay. It’s boring, nothing happens, and it’s not fun to read. And that’s the fun/horror of screenwriting. The form takes a minute to learn, a lifetime to master. It’s all about doing the basics of screenwriting, but using them to create a story that another person might find entertaining.

But how do we do this? Good question. Read on.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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