How to Format a Screenplay
Elements of a Screenplay
What is a Beat Sheet
How to Use a Beat Sheet
The Script Grid

By Dr. Melissa Caudle

Learning to format a screenplay is nothing more than following a set of established rules and guidelines.  The more you adhere to them and practice, the better you will be at writing a screenplay.  Please remember that this section is not the end all or gospel on screenwriting techniques.  Rather, it is an overview of the basics to get your started and tips to help you through the writing process.

If you do your research, you will find many books on the market with in-depth instruction.   Research each carefully to determine which is the best reference book for your current need. Likewise, to make your screenwriting journey easier, use a screenwriting template offered free online.  One excellent free program for screenwriters is Celtx.  Microsoft Word also has a free screenwriting template available.  I personally prefer Final Draft for my screenwriting needs although this program must be purchased from their company.

There are three reasons for the rigidity of formatting a screenplay to industry standards:

1.  The script can be broken down and easily understand by industry professionals to obtain an objective view of the overall screenplay.

2.  Although readers will always interpret your screenplay differently, by following the standard format it enables the reader to locate the time, place, action, characters, dialogues etc. throughout the screenplay easily.  This becomes crucial when it is time to start production.

3.    Allows for easy scanning of the entire screenplay.  I have had one MGM script reader flip backwards through the screenplay.  If it isn’t formatted correctly, they don’t read it at all.  That is how important formatting your screenplay correctly is for you.


Use letter-sized paper (8.5 x 11 inches).  Avoid using a fancy font.  Courier font, 12 point, 10 pitch is usually the best and easiest for people to read.  Avoid using any bold print, abbreviations (other than INT., EXT., V.O., O.S. Etc.), and no italics.

Page Margins

Left: 1.5 inches
Right: 1 inch
Top: 1 inch
Bottom: 1 inch

Screenplay Element Margins
  • Slug line: left margin 1.5 inches
  • Action: left margin 1.5 inches
  • Character name: left margin 3.7 inches
  • Dialog: left margin 2.5 inches, right margin 2.5 inches (or 6 inches from left edge of page)
  • Parenthetical: left margin 3.1 inches, right margin 2.9 inches
Spacing Between Elements

There are several rules governing spacing between elements.  Adhere to these guidelines.

Always-Single Space
·         Between Character Name and Dialogue
·         Between Character Name and Parenthetical
·         Between Parenthetical and Dialogue

Always-Double Space
·         Between Slug line and Action
·         Between Action and more Action
·         Between Action and Character Name
·         Between Dialogue and the next Character Name
·         Between Dialogue and Action
·         Between Action and Slug line
·         Between Dialogue and Slug line


You never number your cover page.  Thereafter, the page numbers go in the upper right-hand corner.  Many industry insiders say to never number your first page of the screenplay.


You must always bind your screenplay before presenting it to industry insiders.  Us 80 lb white card stock for your cover, 20 lb white for the interior, and three hole punch it.  Use 1 ¼ brass brads in the top and bottom hole.  Do yourself a favor and purchase the expensive brads and not the cheap ones.  The cheap brads often come loose and the reader is left with a mess.  It’s very frustrating.

Expected by late August, one of my next book releases, Save the Dog:  Basic 101 Screenwriting will be published. It will be part of the Quick Guidebook Series for Screenwriters. Therefore, be sure to subscribe to this blog and visit often as I update it on Thursday evenings as well as frequently during the week.


Every screenplay is written the same way following the same basic structure.  The basic structure includes for elements:
·         Slug lines,
·         Action,
·         Character Names
·         Dialogue

Two of the four elements are ALWAYS PRESENT – slug lines and action.  A scene does not have to have a character or dialogue and in essence is solely the location and action involved.

JUNE 28, 2012

Welcome to the newest section of Dr. Mel's Blog.  However, it is probably the oldest section in that in 2003,  I started an online magazine called ScreenwritersRus.  Then, on the historic day on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina changed all of that when she came rolling through New Orleans and the surrounding areas.  I was one of the several hundred of thousands of people who were impacted. My home was severely damaged forcing my family to re-locate to the Alabama Gulf Coast area while my home was being repaired. This displacement lasted over two years.

During that time, I wasn't able to maintain the magazine and it shut down. Now, thanks to blogging, I am able to get a little bit of it back by placing some of my previous articles, as well as newly written ones, in this area. I will also be able to offer tips and suggestions concerning screenwriting and interact with other screenwriters right here on the blog. I look forward to this section of my blog, as writing is one of my favorite things I like to do. Not only do I love screenwriting, having written 15 scripts, but I also love writing books. I have written numerous books just for the screenwriter that are available on, Barnes & Noble, and Books A Million.  The books are also translated into five languages and are selling world-wide.  My books for screenwriters are:
  • Just Beat it!  How to Develop and Create Beat Sheets:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
  • How to Write a Logline:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
  • How to Write a Synopsis:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
  • How to Create a One Pager:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
More books will be published in the future specifically for the screenwriter.  However, this book series is also fantastic for the independent filmmaker and reality show creator as both require the same marketing tools.

If you are looking for the easiest way to locate and purchase these books, go to my author page on Facebook.  For your convenience, I have added the look below.  Just click on the picture of all of my books  that follows and your will be taken to that page. While you are there, be sure to check the "LIKE" button.

So, welcome to my newest section, The Script Scene.


“Fantastic!  Dr. Mel makes it easy for screenwriters to learn from the ground up.  Pardon the pun, but she doesn’t miss a beat.”  Kati Thomas

“I wish I had read this book first before I dove into writing my screenplay “Texas Longhorn.”  It would have saved a year of my life.”  Jim Boniheimer

“I wrote three other screenplays before purchasing this series.  WOW!  My only bad thing to say; why were these not available a year ago?”  Henry Mansfield

“When I bought another author’s book, “Save the Cat,” I thought I hit a homerun.  That was until I came across Dr. Mel’s series in my college bookstore.  Now I hit them out of the park.”  Tommy Boelter

“I can see why Dr. Mel’s books are a must for every screenwriter’s library.  I can’t live without mine.”  Martha Henderson

“It’s one thing to read about a topic, but it’s another to know it after reading it.  That is exactly how I feel.  Dr. Mel leaves nothing to chance.  Her books are truly remarkable.  If you’re sitting on the fence on whether you should purchase her book series, I say jump off and go for it.  It will be the best investment in your screenwriting career.  I really mean it.”  Jessica Samuels

“If you’ve read Syd Field, you haven’t read anything.  If you’re serious about writing a screenplay, then get serious and buy Dr. Mel’s book series.”  Veronica Luke

“Dr. Mel gives screenwriting a new and fresh look.  I love the way she uses her own screenplays to demonstrate for us how to do it.  She really knows her stuff.”  Frank C. Morris

“There is nothing quick about these books – they’re thorough.  A must have for serious screenwriters.”  George Mutaskis

“I bought three of Dr. Mel’s books.  They are addicting as she unveils things about screenwriting like no one else can.  I’m going to buy anything she writes from here on out.”  Vicky Landers


The Script Scene section of my blog includes articles and information specifically for the screenwriter. I will discuss formatting issues, contests, marketing tips, pitching tips, and other aspects the screenwriter needs to know about screenwriting. I will use portions of my own scripts to demonstrate the information I share with you on this page.

If you have a particular area you would like for me to address, just post the question, and I'll do my best to answer it.

by Dr. Melissa Caudle
Excerpt from the book Just Beat it! How to Develop and Create a Beat Sheet

No matter if you have an Academy Award winning director, cinematographer, costume designer, and a producer; you won’t get an Academy Award winning film unless the screenplay itself is worthy.  The Academy Award process begins in the written word and the vision of the screenwriter.  There is something inherently unique and powerful to a well-written script that doesn’t occur by happenstance.  There is a rhyme and a reason as to why Academy Award winning screenplays receive the coveted award – the beats inherent in these award-winning screenplays.  I think you already know this.  Why? Because you probably did a Google search on beat sheets which brought you to this page.  And, then, I also believe it because of one of the following isolated reasons.
  • Somehow, the screenplay you wrote isn’t sticking in the minds of the readers.
  • Your screenplay isn’t flowing correctly. It simply feels "Odd."
  • You may have a great Act I, but your Act II falls apart, and your Act III isn't powerful.
  • You received coverage from a script contest saying that your beats missed the mark. 
  • You haven’t begun writing your screenplay, although it is in your mind and you can’t sleep because you think about it all night.
  • Your screenplay doesn't leave an impact and is unforgettable. 

No matter your reason, something is keeping you from writing a powerful screenplay.  You don’t know what, or the direction to take to resolve the problems within your own screenplay. 

If you haven’t started your screenplay and you are in the developmental process, using a Beat Sheet Development Form will help you to establish the beats of your screenplay.  Use a Beat Evaluation Form as a scale to isolate areas to revise your screenplay.  In essence, beats are the foundation of all screenplays. If the beats are not included within the screenplay, your screenplay will not have the impact you desire. That is one reason I strongly suggest you use a beat sheet to develop your screenplay before you write it. If you have already written your screenplay, I recommend you evaluate your screenplay according tot he beats. When you develop a beat sheet for a screenplay after the fact, it is easy to identify the weak areas.

A beat sheet is important in many ways:
  •  Provides an outline of key plot points.
  • Allows a manager, agent, or producer to become acquainted with your screenplay.
  • Provides focus to the screenwriter,
  • Helps to develop the three-acts.
  • Assists the screenwriter in writing a synopsis and treatment.

By definition, a Beat Sheet is a multi-page document that outlines your screenplay from the beginning, middle, and end of Acts I, II, and III.  There are several formats depending on the usage and there isn’t a pre-determined amount of listed items.  Mostly used by screenwriters to develop the story and plot of their screenplay prior to writing the script.  It guides the screenwriter.  

Example Beat Sheet Format

1.      Matthew drives through the city.
2.      Matthew arrives at the park.
3.      Matthew prays for his sister.
4.      Blaze feeds the ducks.
5.      Judas stands in the shadows.
And so forth….

We can also vary the type and style of “beats” in a screenplay. There are four kinds of beats in a screenplay.

· Scene descriptor beat
· Plot beat
· Emotional beat
· Dialogue beat 

Lastly, keep in mind the following areas when writing ideas for your “beats” for the beat sheet:

· Location of scene.
· Characters in the scene.
· Reason characters are in a scene.
· Conflict of the scene.
· The plot twists.
· Transformation of the characters.

Developing a beat sheet is much like forming an outline.  All well-written scripts have several things in   common:

· They follow the three act structure (set up/build conflict/resolve conflict).
· They have a distinct beginning (1/4 of film), middle (1/2 of film), and end (1/4 of film).
· They show action rather than describe action.
· Limited great dialogue (not on the nose dialogue).

t    There are many different formats for a beat sheet. They are as individual as the screenwriter. The goal is to design the style that you are comfortable with and progress from there.  In my book, Just Beat it! Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters, (more than 200 pages), I include specific and detailed information on developing a beat sheet and I provide the beat sheet for my short film The Keystroke Killer.  Actually, I provide you four different version s of The Keystroke Killer's beat sheet to demonstrate different format techniques. I also include the Beat Sheet Development Form I use to write my screenplays, and the Beat Sheet Evaluation Form I use to evaluate my screenplays and those submitted to me for consideration. The great news is the book is affordable and cost less than $13.00.  Watch this brief video on the Just Beat it!

     Purpose of Just Beat It

     The purpose of Just Beat It! Quick Reference Guide for Screenwriters is to inform the reader on how to develop and create a beat sheet and to evaluate the finished screenplay using beat sheet parameters.  Using this method increases your chances of writing a solid screenplay based on a researched method from previous Academy Award winning screenplays.  Once you complete your screenplay using the development method, your chances improve of winning script contests, obtaining funding, or getting it produced. 
      A beat sheet is important in many ways:
·         Provides an outline of key plot points.
·         Allows a manager, agent, or producer to become acquainted with your screenplay.
·         Provides focus to the screenwriter,
·         Helps to develop the three-acts.
·         Assists the screenwriter in writing a synopsis and treatment.

     Also included in this book is another short film script - Tommy’s Song.  This script, written by Dylan S. a first-time screenwriter/actor, is an example of how he, after a consultation on using a beat sheet to develop his screenplay.  I thought it would be useful for you to eavesdrop on our conversation and his process as a learning tool in developing your own beat sheet and screenplay.
I    don’t stop with Tommy’s  Song.  In fact, I also include several versions of the beat sheet for the short film The Keystroke Killer that became an instant cult classic and explain how I developed it.

       The other books in this series are:
  • ·           How to Write a Logline:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
  • ·          How to Wrote a Synopsis:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
  • ·         How to Create a One Pager:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters
  • ·         How to Write a Treatment:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters

I      I  have several other books that may be of interest to you.  These include:
  • ·         Writing Loglines, Synopsis, and a One Pager for Film and Reality TV
  • ·         Inside the Writer’s Mind:  Developing a Script Using Your Past Experiences
  • ·         Fundraising for Low-Budget Films
  • ·         The Reality of Reality TV:  Reality Show Business Plans

      Now for the same reason as I wrote Just Beat it, coming soon are additional books including Creating a TV Series:  Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters.  This book discusses how I developed the short film The Keystroke Killer script into a television series.  I include not only the short film script, but also the first pilot episode script Transcendence.  It takes you behind the scenes as I created The Keystroke Killer television series.  How often do you get that opportunity?

By Dr. Mel Caudle

Do you need to strengthen your screenplay. Take a look at the following script grid that I created for my production company On the Lot Productions, LLC. This is the exact grid I use when I evaluate submitted screenplays for review. To get the most benefit from my script grid, evaluate your own script using it. It just might help you isolate the details. Use this Script Grid, along with the Beat Evaluation Form found in my book Just Beat it! Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters to enhance your own work.

Script Grid

Type of Material:            SCREENPLAY                                                   Title:
Number of Pages:                                                                                        Author:       
Submitted By:                                                                                             Circa:          
Submitted To:                                                                                             Location:
Analyst:                                                                                                      Genre:        
WGA #:                                                                                                      Copyright Date:


Does the screenwriter have a treatment?  If so attach.

Does the screenwriter have a synopsis?  If so attach.

Does the screenwriter have character breakdowns?  If so attach.

Does the screenwriter have any graphics?  If so attach.



Story Line





Production Value





Needs Work


Action lines clearly and concisely manifest visual action and literal context.

Scenes avoid the problem of continuing beyond optimal length.

Spelling, grammar, and proofreading.

Page count.


The script’s physical presentation.


The script effectively manifests a compelling theme and adheres to it throughout the story.





Needs Work


The protagonist clearly manifests both internal and external goals.

The protagonist has consistent opposition to his/her goals.

The protagonist is sympathetic and/or engages our emotional investment.

The protagonist clearly changes / has an arc.

The supporting characters are unique and add value to the story.

All of the characters are authentic to their backgrounds.

The script has an effective antagonistic force, direct or indirect.





Needs Work


The script has a strong structural foundation that serves the story, classic three-act structure or otherwise.

Plots and subplots work together.

The set-up is concise, and effective.

The story has well-designed reversals.

Transitions are effective and appropriate to the story.

Every scene has relevance.

The story includes an effective dramatic climax / payoff.

The setup is resolved effectively.

A catalytic situation drives the plot.

Dramatic conflict and tension build across scenes, throughout the plot.





Needs Work


Originality / freshness.                                                           

The story has a clearly defined target audience.

The story clearly has mass audience (universal) appeal.

The story includes a conceptual “hook” that could potentially be used to effectively market the film.               




Needs Work
The lead character is castable / has star appeal.

The visual arena of the script is stimulating.

The project has International appeal.


Mechanics:                 __________                         COMMENTS:
Character:                   __________
Structure:                    __________
Market Value:           __________
Production Value:  __________
 GRAND TOTAL:        __________

Please rate the script attached according to these elements:

Registered with WGA:    Yes   No            US Copyright:    Yes   No     
Rate the Logline:  Excellent   Good  Fair   Poor    Comments:  _______________

Special Recommendations to Producer:

REVIEWED BY:  ____________________________________  DATE: _____________


______PASS    _____CONSIDER  _____RECOMMEND



Note:  Any magazine, website, newspaper, news station, book author, etc. has the permission of Dr. Melissa Caudle to use and reprint the Script Grid as long as you provide immediate credit to Dr. Melissa Caudle as the author published directly beneath the Script Grid and you post the following short biography about Dr. Melissa Caudle along with the following website addresses.  

Short Biograhphy:  Dr. Melissa Caudle is a producer, director, and screenwriter who lives and works in Hollywood South. She has written 15 screenplays and produced multiple independent films. Likewise, she has written numerous books for screenwriters in her Quick Guidebook for Screenwriters which are available from: and She also writes a weekly blog for the film and television industry called Dr. Mel's Message available at For additional informaiton, E-mail Dr. Mel at

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