by John Finnegan |
If you're new to screenwriting and you've been looking at some samples online, you'll probably come across parts of a script that are in upper case or capitalised.
You might also be wondering when to use upper case in your script. In this post, I'll explain when this technique is used and why it's used.
Where Upper Case appears in a Script
Character Names/Scene Headers/ Transitions
This might sound obvious, but the character names that appear in the dialogue section of your script will always appear in upper case. The same goes for scene headers or slug lines and transitions. I'm grouping all of these into one because you won't even have a choice in the matter as all screenwriting software will automatically format this information in capitals. Easy.
2. Character Introductions
Okay, so this one is more complicated. Whenever we meet a character for the first time in a script (even if they are a minor character), always put their name in upper case in the scene description or action. But only do this for their first appearance.
There's actually a good reason for this. Not only does it help a reader (such as an actor) identify when a certain character makes their appearance, but it also helps with character name retention. In a film, we not only get the character's name spoken aloud, but we also see them on screen. We remember their name but also their face. As the film unfolds, and we are surrounded by characters and names, it's easy to recall who's who because of our ability to recall faces and spoken names.
In a script, this is harder. If you have characters with similar names, it can be difficult to tell if you've come across this person before, particularly if you are skimming through the script like many producers and agents tend to do.
By capitalising their name only in their introduction, it becomes easier for us as readers to recall if this is a new character or not. This might not sound like a big deal (and many writers starting out forget to employ this technique) but trust me, when you're dealing with lots of obscure characters (think House of Cards or Game of Thrones), this can be a lifesaver.
3. Highlighting Key Objects/ Information
Less complicated but still important to keep in mind. As with the second point above, it can also be hard for us to keep track of important objects or pieces of information in a script (not so much in a movie when you can see it on screen). With this in mind, it's also acceptable to put these objects (like a gun or a piece of evidence in a crime scene) in upper case so that the reader's attention is drawn to it.
There's no hard rule on doing this, you have to use your own judgement on whether or not it's appropriate. However, don't make the mistake of overusing this technique with every pointless object or prop in your story. It loses its effectiveness.
Is it important?
Very. Using capitalisation appropriately in your screenwriting is a sign that you are giving consideration to the person reading the script. It shows that you understand the unspoken rules of screenwriting and are thinking like a pro.
Sure, there'll always be examples out there where someone has formatted it differently and that's fine, I guess (see Figure 4), but the tips above are considered best practice and, as I always say, no one ever lost a writing gig because they erred on the side of caution.
John Finnegan is an Executive Producer at The Script Department and a Senior Lecturer in screenwriting at Falmouth University. Find him @johnfinnegan247