I recently read a fascinating book, Blind Reason, by Patricia Griffon. The author happens to be a friend of mine, and when I finished the book I told her I thought it would make a great movie. She said that she had envisioned it as a movie when she was writing the book, but she had no time to create a movie script from it. So I volunteered to do the scripting. I’d never done it before, but heck, I was a freelance technical writer for twenty years, how hard can it be?
I went to my trusty pal, Scrivener, which – in my personal experience – is the absolute best author’s program. In the movie industry, there are very specific standards prescribed to screenwriting. However, Scrivener has a script-writing format, which took all the guesswork out of formatting the document those standards. Below are some of those specifications.
Scripts are always written in Courier 12 pt. The top, bottom and right margins of the screenplay are 1”. The left margin is 1.5” to accommodate three hole punch paper and binding. The title page identifies the name of the movie, the author, and the author’s contact information.
One page of script generally equals one minute of movie time. As a result, movie scripts should be no more than 120 pages, although 80 pages is ideal.
The story is formatted into specific screenplay elements. Here are some:
Scene Heading – (all caps) identifies the location and time of day, for example:
INT. – KITCHEN – DAY (action takes place inside, in the kitchen during the day)
EXT. – STREET – NIGHT (action takes place outside on the street at night.
The scene heading should be one line.
Action – Always written in the present tense, identifies actions taken by the characters. Only things that can be seen or heard should be included in action.
Character – The person who is speaking. The character name is in ALL CAPS, and immediately is followed by the dialogue.
Dialogue – What the character is saying. Upper/lower case.
Parenthetical – A direction for the character, like an attitude or feeling. Parenthetical entries are frowned upon, however, because it’s the director’s job to tell the actors what to do.
Extension – Identifies how the characters voice will be heard on screen. For example: (V.O.) – Voice over indicates that the characters voice is heard but not spoken.
Here’s an example of a correctly formatted script:
When you use Scrivener or one of the other scriptwriting programs, you simply select the element you want, and the program applies the indents, capitalization, and other formatting.
OK, so back to my project. Pay attention, this is a lesson on how NOT to do it. I set up the book on my iPad, and typed the text onto my Mac, formatting the text into the elements of the script. I had to figure out how to set up background information about a character. Sometimes this became a Flashback, or sometimes the information could be included in the Dialog. It took about a month to turn the entire book into script. However, the first script came out at over 400 pages — much too long.
At that point, we started paring down the script. After four or five revisions, we were reducing the page count, but we had a long way to go. So I took a different route (which I should have done in the beginning, before I even started writing). I made an outline of the most important elements of the book, the parts that absolutely had to be there to tell the story. Then we cut out all the rest — the side stories that had nothing to do with the main plot, the characters that didn’t need to be included. By focusing on the main elements and characters of the story, I could focus the script on what was important. I also reorganized the story line so that flowed in one timeline. A book can jump around between locations and sub-stories from chapter to chapter, but a movie needs a more linear story line to keep the audience engaged.
The final script that you submit to producers must be in the standard format: printed on three-hole punched paper, covered in card stock, with two brass brads (always leave the middle brad empty). Marketing the script is, of course, how you make your money. Luckily, Trish has many connections in the movie industry, so our fingers are crossed. Hopefully, my efforts will pay me back “someday, maybe” but in the meantime, I had the opportunity to learn a valuable skill that I really enjoy doing.
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Linda Gray worked as a free-lance technical writer and instructional designer for over 20 years. Now retired, she has been living in Costa Rica for over 15 years. Read about her adventures on her
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I admire any writer who wants to tackle a blind character. But so many writers take up this challenge and FAIL. They research blindness by reading other fiction books, by observing their blind colleagues and acquaintances, and by tying on a blindfold and pretending to be blind themselves.
I understand the challenges your characters face, their triumphs, their hopes and their fears, because I've lived them. I work with people who have varying degrees of blindness every day, so I've seen every challenge, every situation you could imagine.
Let me share my knowledge to improve your writing. You can create blind characters that readers will fall in love with.