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Screenwriting Glossary

This glossary provides detailed definitions of essential terms related to screenwriting, including storytelling elements, techniques, and industry jargon. It's designed to help screenwriters, TV writers, and playwrights understand and effectively use key concepts in their work.

Glossary Terms

Act

A major division within a screenplay, used to structure the narrative. Most screenplays are divided into three acts:

  • Act One (Setup): Introduces the main characters, setting, and the central conflict.
  • Act Two (Confrontation): Develops the story, escalating conflicts and challenges.
  • Act Three (Resolution): Concludes the story, resolving the main conflict and subplots.

Action

The part of the script that describes what is happening on the screen, including movements, events, and activities. It is typically written in the present tense.

Adaptation

The process of transforming a source material, such as a novel, play, or article, into a screenplay. Adaptations must capture the essence of the original work while making necessary changes to fit the film medium. For example, “The Lord of the Rings” films are adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels.

Ad Lib

Dialogue or action that is improvised by the actor rather than written in the script. Ad libbing can add spontaneity and realism to a scene but should be used sparingly to maintain the script’s structure.

Allegory

A narrative technique in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract ideas or moral qualities. Allegories convey deeper meanings and often comment on social, political, or philosophical issues. For example, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism.

Allusion

A reference within a screenplay to another work of art, literature, historical event, or pop culture. Allusions enrich the narrative by creating connections and adding layers of meaning. For example, a character might say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” alluding to “The Wizard of Oz.”

Ambience

The background sound in a scene that adds to the atmosphere or setting. Ambience can include natural sounds (like birds chirping) or man-made sounds (like city traffic). It’s crucial for creating a believable environment in films and TV shows.

Antagonist

A character who opposes the protagonist, creating conflict within the story. The antagonist is often the villain, but can also be a situation or inner conflict. For example, the Joker in “The Dark Knight” serves as the antagonist to Batman.

Anti-Hero

A protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as morality, courage, or idealism. Anti-heroes are complex characters who often display both good and bad traits. For example, Walter White in “Breaking Bad” is an anti-hero.

Archetype

A universally recognizable character type or symbol that recurs across different cultures and literature. Archetypes serve as templates for creating characters and storylines. Common archetypes include the hero, the mentor, the trickster, and the shadow. For example, Luke Skywalker is an archetypal hero in “Star Wars.”

Aside

A brief remark or speech made by a character directly to the audience, often revealing their inner thoughts or feelings. Asides are typically used in plays but can also appear in films and TV shows. For example, in “House of Cards,” Frank Underwood frequently uses asides to share his plans and thoughts with the audience.

Atmosphere

The overall mood or feeling created by a scene or sequence, influenced by elements such as lighting, sound, and set design. Atmosphere helps to immerse the audience in the story and evoke specific emotions. For example, the eerie atmosphere in “The Shining” is created through its use of music, cinematography, and set design.

Audition

The process by which actors perform a scene or monologue to showcase their abilities and suitability for a role. Auditions are a crucial part of the casting process for films, TV shows, and plays.

Auteur

A filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so significant that they are regarded as its author. The term is often associated with directors who have a distinct style or vision. For example, Alfred Hitchcock is considered an auteur due to his unique approach to suspense and thriller films.

AV Script

An audio-visual script, often used for commercials, corporate videos, and multimedia presentations. AV scripts are formatted to include visual descriptions and corresponding audio/dialogue in separate columns.

A-Story

The primary narrative or main plot of a screenplay, focusing on the central characters and conflict. The A-Story is often complemented by secondary plots (B-Stories) that add depth and complexity. For example, in “Finding Nemo,” the A-Story is Marlin’s journey to find his son, Nemo.

Act Break

The transition point between acts in a screenplay. Act breaks often coincide with major plot points or turning points in the story, creating suspense and momentum. For example, the end of Act One in “The Matrix” occurs when Neo takes the red pill and enters the Matrix.

Asynchronous Sound

Sound that does not match the visual action on the screen, often used to create a sense of disorientation or to emphasize a particular element of the story. For example, hearing a character’s voice while showing a different scene can indicate a memory or foreshadowing.

Assembly Cut

The first edited version of a film, combining all the footage shot during production in the order specified by the script. The assembly cut is usually much longer than the final version and serves as the basis for further editing and refinement.

Backstory

The history and background of a character or plot element that precedes the main story. Backstory provides context and depth to characters, making their motivations and actions more understandable. For example, in “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne’s backstory includes the murder of his parents and his training to become Batman.

Beat

A unit of action or a moment in a screenplay that indicates a shift in the scene or a pause for dramatic effect. Beats help to control the pacing and rhythm of a scene. For example:

SARAH
(pause, then)
I can't do this anymore.

Here, the “(pause, then)” is a beat indicating a significant moment.

Beat Sheet

A detailed outline of a screenplay that breaks down the story into individual beats or key moments. A beat sheet helps writers structure their story and ensure that all essential plot points are covered.

B-Story

A secondary storyline that runs parallel to the main plot (A-Story). The B-Story often involves supporting characters and themes that complement or contrast with the main story. For example, in “Back to the Future,” the A-Story is Marty’s attempt to return to his own time, while the B-Story is his efforts to ensure his parents fall in love.

Big Print

The descriptive text in a screenplay that provides details about the action, setting, and characters. Big print is written in the present tense and avoids excessive detail to keep the script readable and concise. For example:

The city skyline glows with the lights of a thousand buildings. A helicopter swoops low over the rooftops.

Black Comedy

A genre of comedy that finds humor in serious, dark, or taboo subjects. Black comedies often deal with topics like death, crime, or social issues in a satirical or ironic manner. For example, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is a black comedy about nuclear war.

Blacklist

An annual list of the most liked unproduced screenplays, compiled from the recommendations of film executives. Being featured on the Blacklist can bring significant attention and opportunities to screenwriters.

Blocking

The precise staging of actors in a scene, including their movements and positioning. Blocking is essential for coordinating action and ensuring that scenes are visually effective and coherent. For example, the intricate blocking in the dance scenes of “La La Land” enhances the visual storytelling.

Blow-Up

A scene or sequence that escalates the stakes and tension in a screenplay, often leading to a major turning point or climax. Blow-ups are critical for maintaining audience interest and driving the narrative forward.

Bookend

A narrative device where similar or related scenes appear at the beginning and end of a screenplay, creating a sense of symmetry and closure. Bookending can emphasize themes and provide a satisfying conclusion. For example, “Saving Private Ryan” begins and ends with a visit to a war cemetery, framing the story.

Breakdown

A detailed analysis of a screenplay, breaking it down scene by scene to identify key elements such as locations, characters, props, and special effects. This is often done during pre-production to plan the logistics of the shoot.

Button

A short, impactful line or moment at the end of a scene that provides a strong conclusion or transition. Buttons are often used to punctuate a scene with humor, drama, or suspense. For example, in “The Avengers,” Tony Stark’s line “We have a Hulk” serves as a button to a tense exchange.

Bumper

A brief scene or segment used to introduce or close a TV show, often before or after a commercial break. Bumpers help to maintain viewer interest and create smooth transitions. For example, animated bumpers are commonly used in children’s television shows.

Background (BG)

The part of the scene that is behind the main action and characters. Background elements contribute to the setting and atmosphere of a scene. For example, the bustling city street in the background of a dialogue scene adds context and realism.

B-Roll

Supplementary footage used in film and television production to provide context, establish the setting, or cover edits. B-Roll can include shots of landscapes, crowd scenes, or cutaways of objects. For example, in documentaries, B-Roll might show the environment being discussed by the interviewees.

Byline

The name of the writer(s) credited with the creation of a screenplay. The byline appears on the title page of the script and in promotional materials. For example, “Written by Quentin Tarantino” indicates the byline of the writer for “Pulp Fiction.”

Breakdown

A detailed analysis of a screenplay, breaking it down scene by scene to identify key elements such as locations, characters, props, and special effects. This is often done during pre-production to plan the logistics of the shoot.

Character Arc

The transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. A well-developed character arc shows how a character changes in response to the events and conflicts they encounter, reflecting personal growth or change.

Climax

The point of highest tension in a screenplay, usually occurring towards the end of the second act or the beginning of the third act. The climax is where the main conflict reaches its peak, leading to the resolution.

Conflict

The central struggle between opposing forces in a story, which drives the narrative forward. Conflict can be internal (within a character) or external (between characters, or between a character and their environment or society).

Coverage

A report prepared by a reader (an assistant or script analyst) for a production company, summarizing a screenplay’s plot, characters, and commercial potential. Coverage includes a recommendation on whether the script should be considered for development.

Dialogue

The spoken words of characters in a screenplay. Dialogue reveals character, advances the plot, and conveys information and emotions. Good dialogue is natural, concise, and distinctive to each character.

Dissolve

A type of transition between two scenes in a screenplay, where one image gradually fades out as the next image fades in. Dissolves can indicate a passage of time, a change in location, or a thematic connection between scenes.

Draft

A version of a screenplay. Writers often go through multiple drafts, revising and refining the script before it reaches its final form. Drafts are usually numbered to keep track of changes and development.

Dramatic Irony

A storytelling technique where the audience knows more about a situation or event in the story than the characters do. This creates tension and anticipation, as the audience waits for the characters to discover the truth.

Dual Dialogue

A formatting technique used in screenwriting to indicate that two characters are speaking simultaneously. It is presented in two side-by-side columns within the script.

Establishing Shot

A wide shot at the beginning of a scene that sets up the context for the scene by showing the relationship between its important figures and objects. It often establishes the location, time, and mood of the scene. For example, a shot of the New York City skyline to establish that the following action takes place in New York.

Exposition

Information presented in a screenplay that provides background to the main story. This can include details about the setting, characters’ pasts, and any events that occurred before the story begins. Effective exposition is woven seamlessly into the narrative, often through dialogue or visuals. For example, in “Inception,” Cobb explains the rules of the dream world to Ariadne.

End Credits

The list of cast and crew members that appears at the end of a film or TV show. End credits acknowledge everyone involved in the production and often include special thanks, music credits, and other acknowledgments.

Ensemble Cast

A cast in which multiple principal characters have roughly equal importance and screen time. Ensemble casts are common in TV shows and films that focus on group dynamics and interactions. For example, the cast of “Friends” or “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Elevator Pitch

A concise and compelling summary of a screenplay or idea that can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, typically 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The goal is to capture the listener’s interest quickly and effectively. For example, “A teenager learns he is the last of a secret line of wizards and must defeat an evil sorcerer.”

Emotional Arc

The development of a character’s emotions throughout the story. An emotional arc tracks how a character’s feelings evolve in response to the events of the plot, leading to personal growth or change. For example, in “Finding Nemo,” Marlin’s emotional arc involves overcoming his fears to become a more trusting and adventurous parent.

Exterior (EXT.)

A standard script abbreviation used to indicate that a scene takes place outside. This is used in the scene heading (slugline) to specify the setting. For example:

EXT. PARK - DAY

Establish

In screenwriting, to establish means to introduce or set up an important element of the story, such as a character, location, or plot point. Establishing helps to orient the audience and provide necessary context. For example, the first scene of “The Godfather” establishes Don Vito Corleone’s power and influence.

A scene that interrupts the present action to show an event that happened at an earlier time. Flashbacks provide backstory, reveal characters’ motivations, or explain current situations.

Foreshadowing

A narrative technique that hints at events that will occur later in the story. It creates anticipation and prepares the audience for future developments, often adding suspense.

Fourth Wall

The imaginary barrier between the audience and the characters in a play or film. When a character breaks the fourth wall, they acknowledge the audience or speak directly to them, often used for comedic or dramatic effect.

Genre

A category that defines the style, setting, and theme of a screenplay. Common genres include comedy, drama, horror, science fiction, and romance. Each genre has specific conventions and audience expectations.

Greenlight

The approval given by a studio or production company to proceed with the production of a film or TV show. A greenlight signifies that the project has secured funding and is officially moving forward.

Guide Track

A preliminary audio track used during the filming of a scene to guide actors and filmmakers. It can include temporary dialogue, music, or sound effects that will be replaced in post-production.

High Concept

A type of idea for a screenplay that can be easily summarized and immediately understood, often with a unique and original twist. High concept ideas typically have strong commercial appeal and can be pitched in a single sentence.

Hook

An element of the screenplay that grabs the audience’s attention and keeps them interested. This can be a compelling premise, an intriguing character, or a dramatic opening scene. The hook is crucial in the first few pages to engage readers and viewers.

Inciting Incident

An event that sets the main plot in motion and disrupts the protagonist’s normal life. The inciting incident occurs early in the screenplay, usually within the first 10-15 pages, and introduces the central conflict or problem that the protagonist must address.

In Medias Res

A narrative technique where the story begins in the middle of the action, rather than at the beginning. This approach can create immediate interest and urgency, gradually revealing the background and context through flashbacks or dialogue.

Interior (INT.)

A standard script abbreviation used to indicate that a scene takes place inside a location, such as a room or building. This is used in the scene heading (slugline) to specify the setting.

Intercut

A technique where two or more scenes or sequences are edited together to appear as if they are happening simultaneously. This is often used to build tension or show different perspectives of the same event.

Irony

A literary device where the intended meaning of words is different from their literal meaning, or when an expected outcome is contrasted by an actual outcome. Irony can be dramatic, situational, or verbal, adding layers of meaning and complexity to the story.

Isolated Location

A setting in a screenplay that is physically remote or separated from other locations. Isolated locations can create a sense of confinement, tension, and focus on character interactions, often used in horror and thriller genres.

J-Cut

A type of split edit in which the audio of the next scene starts before the current scene’s visual ends. This creates a seamless transition and can be used to maintain narrative flow or create an anticipatory effect. For example, you might hear a character speaking before the scene cuts to them.

Jump Cut

A sudden cut between two sequential shots of the same subject, with only a slight change in position or angle. This creates a jarring effect that can convey the passage of time, disorientation, or urgency. Jump cuts are often used in montages or to depict a rapid sequence of events.

Juxtaposition

Placing two or more elements (scenes, images, characters) next to each other to highlight contrasts or comparisons. Juxtaposition can create deeper meaning, emphasize themes, or enhance the narrative through the interplay of opposing elements. For example, juxtaposing a wealthy character’s lavish lifestyle with a poor character’s struggles can highlight social inequalities.

Kicker

A surprising or impactful ending to a scene, act, or script that leaves a strong impression on the audience. The kicker can be a twist, revelation, or unexpected event that changes the direction of the story or adds a new layer of complexity.

Kill Your Darlings

A writing advice phrase that suggests writers should be willing to remove beloved elements (characters, scenes, dialogue) that do not serve the story or enhance the narrative. This process helps to streamline the script and maintain focus on the essential plot and characters.

Kinescope

An early method of recording live television by filming the broadcast from a monitor. Although outdated, the term may come up in historical discussions about television production and the preservation of early TV shows.

Key Light

The primary source of light in a scene, used to highlight the main subject and create depth and dimension. The key light’s placement and intensity significantly affect the scene’s mood and visual style.

Knockoff

A derivative or imitation of an existing successful film or TV show. Knockoffs often capitalize on the popularity of original works by replicating their themes, styles, or characters without introducing significant originality.

Leitmotif

A recurring musical theme associated with a particular character, place, or idea within a film or screenplay. Leitmotifs reinforce the narrative and provide aural cues that enhance the storytelling. For example, the Imperial March in “Star Wars” is a leitmotif associated with Darth Vader and the Empire.

Logline

A brief summary of a screenplay’s plot, typically one or two sentences long. A logline captures the essence of the story, highlighting the main conflict and key characters. For example, the logline for “Jaws” might be: “A small-town sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer team up to hunt down a giant white shark terrorizing a beach community.”

Limited Series

A television show with a predetermined number of episodes, typically telling a single, self-contained story. Limited series often have higher production values and attract big-name talent, providing a narrative structure that is more extended than a feature film but more focused than an ongoing series.

MacGuffin

An object, event, or character in a screenplay that serves as the trigger for the plot. The MacGuffin itself may not be of significant importance, but it drives the characters’ actions and advances the story. Alfred Hitchcock popularized this term, often using it in his thrillers. For example, the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction” is a classic MacGuffin.

Match Cut

A transition between two shots where a visual element in the first shot is matched by a similar element in the second shot. Match cuts create a seamless connection between scenes, enhancing visual continuity or thematic linkage. For example, in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a bone thrown into the air transitions to a spaceship in orbit.

Montage

A series of short shots edited together to condense space, time, and information. Montages are often used to show the passage of time, the development of a character or relationship, or the progression of events. For example, training montages in sports films show the protagonist’s journey from novice to expert.

Motif

A recurring element (such as a symbol, theme, or idea) that has symbolic significance in a screenplay. Motifs reinforce the story’s themes and add depth to the narrative. For example, the use of the color red in “Schindler’s List” serves as a powerful motif highlighting key moments and themes.

Mise-en-Scène

A French term meaning “placing on stage,” referring to everything that appears before the camera within a scene, including sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. The mise-en-scène shapes the visual storytelling and influences the audience’s perception of the story. For example, the detailed and cluttered environment in “Amélie” contributes to the film’s whimsical and quirky tone.

Monologue

A lengthy speech by a single character in a screenplay, revealing their thoughts, feelings, or background. Monologues can provide insight into a character’s motivations and inner conflicts. For example, Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis in “Jaws” adds depth to his character and foreshadows the danger ahead.

Narration

The act of telling the story in a screenplay, often through a voiceover. Narration provides background information, insights into a character’s thoughts, or commentary on events. For example, in “The Shawshank Redemption,” Red’s narration offers his perspective on the story.

Narrative

The structured sequence of events and actions in a screenplay that form the story. The narrative encompasses the plot, characters, and settings, and is designed to engage the audience and convey the intended message or theme.

Narrative Arc

The overall shape and progression of a story from beginning to end. A narrative arc typically includes an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. For example, in “The Lion King,” Simba’s narrative arc follows his journey from a carefree cub to the rightful king of the Pride Lands.

Narrator

The character or voice that tells the story in a screenplay. The narrator can be a character within the story or an external observer. For example, in “Fight Club,” the protagonist (often referred to as “The Narrator”) provides a first-person account of the events.

Nonlinear Storytelling

A storytelling technique where events are presented out of chronological order. Nonlinear narratives can include flashbacks, flash-forwards, or parallel storylines, and are used to create suspense, reveal character backstory, or explore themes. For example, “Pulp Fiction” uses a nonlinear narrative to weave together multiple intersecting stories.

Notes

Feedback and suggestions given to a screenwriter about their script. Notes can come from producers, directors, script consultants, or other industry professionals and are intended to help improve the screenplay. For example, a note might suggest tightening a particular scene or developing a character’s motivation more fully.

Non-Diegetic Sound

Sound that is not part of the story world and cannot be heard by the characters. Non-diegetic sound includes elements like the film score, voiceover narration, and sound effects added for dramatic effect. For example, the ominous music in “Jaws” that signals the presence of the shark.

Non-Verbal Communication

The use of body language, facial expressions, and other physical behaviors to convey meaning without dialogue. Non-verbal communication is crucial in screenwriting for showing characters’ emotions, reactions, and relationships. For example, in “Wall-E,” the titular character expresses a wide range of emotions through his movements and expressions despite having minimal dialogue.

Narrative Structure

The framework that outlines the order and manner in which the story is presented to the audience. Common narrative structures include the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, and the episodic structure. For example, “Star Wars: A New Hope” follows the hero’s journey narrative structure.

Needle Drop

The use of a pre-existing piece of music in a film or TV show at a specific, often significant, moment. Needle drops can enhance the emotional impact of a scene or evoke a particular time period or cultural context. For example, the use of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in “Wayne’s World.”

Narrative Device

A technique used by screenwriters to tell a story, convey information, or create particular effects. Narrative devices include flashbacks, unreliable narrators, and framing devices. For example, the use of letters to reveal plot points in “The Notebook.”

Narrative Voice

The distinct style and perspective through which the story is told. Narrative voice can reflect the personality, attitude, and background of the narrator or the writer. For example, the sardonic and witty narrative voice of the narrator in “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

On-the-Nose

Dialogue that is overly explicit and directly states what a character is thinking or feeling, often considered poor writing because it lacks subtext and subtlety. Good screenwriting typically avoids on-the-nose dialogue in favor of more nuanced and implied communication.

Outline

A detailed plan or blueprint of a screenplay, mapping out the plot, characters, and major scenes. Outlines help writers organize their ideas and structure the story before writing the full script. They can range from brief summaries to detailed breakdowns of each scene.

Over-the-Shoulder Shot

A camera angle where the camera is positioned behind one character, looking over their shoulder at another character or object. This shot is commonly used in conversations to establish perspective and spatial relationships between characters.

Page Count

The total number of pages in a screenplay. A typical feature-length screenplay is between 90 and 120 pages, with each page roughly equating to one minute of screen time. Page count is important for pacing and timing considerations.

Pacing

The speed at which a story progresses. Good pacing keeps the audience engaged by balancing scenes of action and dialogue, tension and release. Pacing can be influenced by the length of scenes, the frequency of cuts, and the flow of dialogue.

Parenthetical

A direction within parentheses in a script that provides guidance on how a line of dialogue should be delivered or what action a character takes while speaking. Parentheticals help actors understand the subtext and emotional tone of their lines. For example:

JOHN
(sarcastically)
Oh, great. Another meeting.

Pitch

A brief presentation of a screenplay idea to potential producers, investors, or other stakeholders. A pitch typically includes a logline, key plot points, and character descriptions. The goal is to generate interest and secure funding or development support.

Plot

The sequence of events that make up a story. Plot structure often follows a three-act format: setup, confrontation, and resolution. Each plot point moves the story forward and reveals character motivations and conflicts.

Plot Hole

A gap or inconsistency in the storyline that contradicts the logic of the plot. Plot holes can confuse the audience or undermine the credibility of the story. Identifying and addressing plot holes is a crucial part of the rewriting process.

Plot Point

A significant event that changes the direction of the story. Plot points are often used at the end of acts to introduce new conflicts or complications. For example, in “The Matrix,” Neo’s decision to take the red pill is a critical plot point that propels the story into the second act.

Point of View (POV)

The perspective from which a story is told. In screenwriting, POV can refer to both the narrative perspective (e.g., first person, third person) and camera shots that show what a character sees. For example, a POV shot might depict a character looking through binoculars.

Polishing

The final stage of the screenwriting process, involving fine-tuning dialogue, tightening scenes, and correcting minor errors. Polishing ensures that the script is as strong and clear as possible before submission or production.

Pre-Production

The phase of filmmaking that occurs after a screenplay is greenlit and before principal photography begins. Pre-production involves finalizing the script, casting actors, securing locations, and planning the shoot.

Premise

The central idea or concept of a screenplay. A strong premise is unique, engaging, and provides a clear framework for the plot. For example, the premise of “Groundhog Day” is a man reliving the same day repeatedly.

Prologue

An introductory section of a screenplay that provides background information or sets up the story. Prologues can establish the setting, introduce key characters, or foreshadow events. For example, the prologue of “The Lord of the Rings” explains the history of the One Ring.

Protagonist

The main character in a screenplay whose goals and actions drive the story. The protagonist faces conflicts and challenges, leading to personal growth or change. For example, in “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen is the protagonist who must survive the deadly competition.

Punchline

The final part of a joke or humorous dialogue that delivers the intended humor or surprise. In screenwriting, punchlines are crafted to maximize comedic impact and timing. For example, in “Ghostbusters,” the punchline “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” follows a triumphant ghost capture scene.

Plot Device

An object, character, or event whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of a story. Plot devices are often contrived or obvious but can be effective if used sparingly and creatively. For example, the time turner in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is a plot device that allows for time travel.

Production Design

The overall visual look of a film or TV show, created by the production designer in collaboration with the director. Production design includes sets, costumes, props, and locations, all of which contribute to the story’s atmosphere and aesthetic.

Prop

Short for “property,” a prop is any physical object used by actors during a scene. Props can be significant to the plot or simply part of the background. For example, the glowing briefcase in “Pulp Fiction” is an iconic prop that drives the story.

Protagonist

The main character in a screenplay, whose goals and actions drive the story. The protagonist faces conflicts and challenges, leading to personal growth or change. For example, in “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo Baggins is the protagonist tasked with destroying the One Ring.

Pseudonym

A fictitious name used by a writer to conceal their identity. In screenwriting, pseudonyms are often used by writers who do not want their real names associated with a particular project. For example, “Richard Bachman” was a pseudonym used by Stephen King.

Query Letter

A letter sent to producers, agents, or managers to propose a screenplay or script. A good query letter includes a logline, a brief synopsis, and relevant background information about the writer. It’s a crucial tool for screenwriters seeking representation or a production deal.

Quip

A witty or clever remark, often used in dialogue to add humor or personality to a character. Quips can enhance a character’s likability or provide comic relief. For example, Tony Stark in “Iron Man” is known for his quips, such as, “I am Iron Man.”

Resolution

The conclusion of the screenplay where the central conflicts are resolved, and the story comes to a satisfying end. The resolution ties up loose ends and provides closure to the narrative. For example, in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the resolution shows Andy and Red reuniting in freedom, fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

Rewrite

The process of revising and improving a screenplay based on feedback, notes, or new ideas. Rewriting can involve changes to plot, dialogue, character development, and pacing. Successful screenplays often go through multiple rewrites.

Reveal

A moment in the screenplay where critical information is disclosed to the audience and/or characters, often leading to a significant plot development or turning point. For example, in “The Empire Strikes Back,” the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father is a pivotal moment.

Reverse Shot

A filming technique where the camera angle switches from one character to another, typically used in conversations to show reactions and responses. This helps maintain the visual continuity of the dialogue exchange.

Rising Action

The series of events in a screenplay that lead to the climax, building tension and developing the central conflict. The rising action includes obstacles, complications, and stakes that escalate the story. For example, in “Jaws,” the rising action includes the increasing shark attacks and the town’s mounting fear, culminating in the climactic hunt for the shark.

Rom-Com

Short for “romantic comedy,” a genre that combines elements of romance and comedy. Rom-coms typically focus on the humorous aspects of romantic relationships, often featuring light-hearted plots and happy endings. Examples include “When Harry Met Sally” and “Notting Hill.”

Rule of Three

A storytelling principle that suggests events, characters, or dialogue repeated three times are more effective and memorable. The Rule of Three is often used in comedy to build up to a punchline or comedic payoff. For example, in “The Three Little Pigs,” the third pig’s house withstands the wolf’s huffing and puffing.

Running Gag

A comedic element that recurs throughout a screenplay, providing humor through repetition. Running gags can involve a particular phrase, situation, or character trait. For example, in the TV show “Friends,” Joey’s catchphrase “How you doin’?” is a running gag.

Rundown

A detailed outline of a screenplay or TV script that includes key scenes, plot points, and character arcs. A rundown helps writers and producers understand the structure and flow of the story before committing to a full script.

Reaction Shot

A shot that shows a character’s reaction to an event or dialogue, often used to convey emotion or highlight the impact of a moment. Reaction shots are crucial for building emotional resonance and audience engagement.

Rewrite

The process of revising and improving a screenplay based on feedback, notes, or new ideas. Rewriting can involve changes to plot, dialogue, character development, and pacing. Successful screenplays often go through multiple rewrites.

Resolution

The conclusion of the screenplay where the central conflicts are resolved, and the story comes to a satisfying end. The resolution ties up loose ends and provides closure to the narrative. For example, in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the resolution shows Andy and Red reuniting in freedom, fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

Reveal

A moment in the screenplay where critical information is disclosed to the audience and/or characters, often leading to a significant plot development or turning point. For example, in “The Empire Strikes Back,” the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father is a pivotal moment.

Reverse Shot

A filming technique where the camera angle switches from one character to another, typically used in conversations to show reactions and responses. This helps maintain the visual continuity of the dialogue exchange.

Running Time

The total duration of a film or TV episode, from the opening credits to the end credits. Running time is a critical factor in screenplay writing, as it affects pacing and structure.

Run-through

A rehearsal of the screenplay or script with the actors, often done before filming begins. Run-throughs help identify any issues with dialogue, pacing, or blocking and allow the director and actors to make necessary adjustments.

R-Rating

A rating given by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) indicating that a film is restricted and may contain adult material such as strong language, violence, or sexual content. Screenwriters must be aware of the rating system to understand the potential audience and distribution limitations.

Rubric

A set of guidelines or criteria used to evaluate or assess a screenplay. Rubrics can be used by writers, producers, or script analysts to ensure that key elements such as plot, character development, and dialogue meet certain standards.

Scene

A unit of action within a screenplay that takes place at a single location and time. Scenes are the building blocks of a screenplay, each contributing to the overall narrative. For example, the scene where Neo meets Morpheus for the first time in “The Matrix.”

Scene Heading

Also known as a slugline, a scene heading appears at the beginning of each scene in a screenplay, indicating the location and time of day. It is formatted as INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior) followed by the location and time. For example:

sqlCopy codeINT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY

Screenplay

A written work that serves as the blueprint for a film, TV show, or play. A screenplay includes dialogue, character actions, and scene descriptions, providing a comprehensive guide for directors, actors, and crew.

Second Act

The middle portion of a three-act structure in a screenplay. The second act typically involves the development of the central conflict, escalating tension, and character growth. It is often the longest act and includes the midpoint, where significant developments occur.

Set Piece

A scene or sequence with elaborate production elements, such as special effects, stunts, or large-scale action. Set pieces are often highlights of a film, designed to be visually impressive and memorable. For example, the lobby shootout in “The Matrix.”

Setup

The initial part of a screenplay where the main characters, setting, and central conflict are introduced. The setup establishes the world of the story and lays the groundwork for the narrative to unfold.

Shooting Script

The final version of a screenplay used during production, including numbered scenes and technical instructions for the director and crew. The shooting script is the definitive guide for filming the project.

Showrunner

The person responsible for the overall creative direction and management of a TV series. The showrunner oversees the writing staff, production, and post-production, ensuring the show’s vision is realized.

Spec Script

A screenplay written on speculation, without a prior contract or promise of payment. Spec scripts are often used by writers to showcase their talent and pitch to producers, agents, or studios.

Split Screen

A visual technique where the screen is divided into two or more sections, showing simultaneous actions or perspectives. Split screens can enhance storytelling by allowing viewers to see different events or viewpoints at the same time.

Stock Character

A stereotypical character type that appears frequently in certain genres. Stock characters are often instantly recognizable and serve specific narrative functions. Examples include the wise mentor, the comic relief, and the damsel in distress.

Story Arc

The overall progression of a narrative, encompassing the beginning, middle, and end. A story arc includes key plot points, character development, and the resolution of conflicts. For example, the hero’s journey is a common story arc structure.

Subplot

A secondary storyline that runs parallel to the main plot, involving supporting characters and themes. Subplots add depth and complexity to the narrative, often intersecting with the main plot. For example, the romantic subplot in “Titanic.”

Subtext

The underlying meaning or theme conveyed indirectly through dialogue, action, or symbolism. Subtext adds depth to characters and scenes, allowing for more nuanced storytelling. For example, in “Casablanca,” much of the romantic tension between Rick and Ilsa is conveyed through subtext rather than explicit dialogue.

Supporting Character

A character who plays a significant role in the story but is not the protagonist. Supporting characters help to develop the main characters and advance the plot. For example, Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes stories.

Synopsis

A brief summary of a screenplay’s plot, usually one to two pages long. A synopsis outlines the main events, characters, and themes, providing a concise overview of the story. It is often used in pitches and submissions to producers or agents.

Suspense

A storytelling technique that creates anticipation and anxiety in the audience, keeping them engaged and eager to see what happens next. Suspense is often built through pacing, music, and withholding information. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of creating suspense in his films.

Symbolism

The use of symbols to represent larger concepts or themes within a story. Symbols can be objects, characters, or events that carry deeper meaning. For example, the green light in “The Great Gatsby” symbolizes Gatsby’s unattainable dreams and desires.

Scene Transition

The method by which one scene ends and another begins. Common transitions include cuts, fades, dissolves, and wipes. Transitions help to guide the audience through the narrative and indicate changes in time or location.

Script Coverage

A report prepared by a reader or script analyst that provides a summary and evaluation of a screenplay. Coverage includes a synopsis, comments on the script’s strengths and weaknesses, and a recommendation for further consideration. It is used by production companies and agencies to assess potential projects.

Storyboard

A visual representation of a screenplay, consisting of a series of drawings or images that depict the key scenes and sequences. Storyboards help filmmakers plan the visual aspects of the story, including camera angles, shot composition, and pacing.

Speculative Fiction

A genre encompassing stories that explore imaginative and futuristic concepts, often including elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Speculative fiction allows writers to explore “what if” scenarios and address complex themes.

Screenwriting Software

Computer programs designed to assist screenwriters in formatting and organizing their scripts. Popular screenwriting software includes Final Draft, Celtx, and Scrivener. These tools streamline the writing process and ensure industry-standard formatting.

Script Doctor

A writer brought in to revise or rewrite a screenplay, often to address specific issues or enhance certain elements. Script doctors may work on dialogue, structure, character development, or pacing to improve the overall quality of the script.

Tagline

A short, catchy phrase or sentence used to promote a film or TV show, summarizing its tone and theme. Taglines are often used in marketing materials to attract audience interest. For example, the tagline for “Jaws” is “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

Teaser

A brief segment at the beginning of a TV episode or film that captures the audience’s attention and sets up the story. Teasers are designed to intrigue viewers and encourage them to keep watching. For example, the teaser of a crime drama might show the discovery of a body before the main credits roll.

Teleplay

A script written specifically for television. Teleplays include additional formatting elements such as act breaks and commercial break indicators, tailored to the TV medium’s structure and timing.

Theme

The underlying message or central idea of a screenplay. Themes explore universal truths or human experiences and provide deeper meaning to the story. For example, the theme of “The Shawshank Redemption” is hope and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Third Act

The final portion of a three-act structure in a screenplay. The third act resolves the central conflict and ties up loose ends, leading to the story’s conclusion. It includes the climax and resolution. For example, in “The Dark Knight,” the third act includes Batman’s final confrontation with the Joker and the resolution of Harvey Dent’s storyline.

Three-Act Structure

A common narrative framework that divides a screenplay into three parts: setup, confrontation, and resolution. This structure helps organize the plot and ensure a coherent story progression. For example, in “Star Wars: A New Hope,” the first act introduces Luke Skywalker and the conflict with the Empire, the second act develops Luke’s journey and the battle against the Death Star, and the third act resolves the conflict with the Death Star’s destruction.

Throwaway Line

A line of dialogue that seems inconsequential but can provide humor, character insight, or foreshadowing. Throwaway lines are often used to add realism and depth to conversations. For example, in “The Big Lebowski,” many of the Dude’s casual remarks are throwaway lines that enhance his laid-back character.

Title Card

Text displayed on screen to convey important information, such as the film’s title, location, or time period. Title cards are often used at the beginning of a film or between scenes to provide context. For example, “Star Wars” opens with a title card that reads “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

Treatment

A detailed narrative summary of a screenplay, outlining the main plot points, characters, and key scenes. Treatments are often used to pitch a story idea to producers or studios before writing the full script. They provide a comprehensive overview without going into full dialogue and scene descriptions.

Turning Point

A significant event or moment in a screenplay that changes the direction of the story and propels it forward. Turning points often occur at the end of acts, introducing new conflicts or revelations. For example, in “The Matrix,” Neo’s decision to take the red pill is a turning point that shifts the story into the second act.

Two-Hander

A screenplay or film that primarily focuses on two main characters, often involving their relationship or conflict. Two-handers rely heavily on the dynamics between the two leads. For example, “The Odd Couple” is a classic two-hander that centers on the contrasting personalities of Felix and Oscar.

Table Read

A read-through of the screenplay by the cast, director, and other key crew members. Table reads help identify issues with dialogue, pacing, and character interactions, allowing for revisions before filming begins. They also help actors understand their characters and the overall flow of the story.

Tag

A short scene or piece of dialogue added to the end of a screenplay or TV episode to provide additional closure or set up future storylines. Tags are often used in sitcoms and TV dramas. For example, after the main plot of a “Friends” episode concludes, a humorous tag scene might show the characters in a lighthearted situation.

Ticking Clock

A narrative device that creates urgency and tension by introducing a time constraint that the characters must meet. Ticking clocks raise the stakes and drive the plot forward. For example, in “Speed,” the ticking clock is the bomb on the bus that will explode if the bus slows down below 50 mph.

Treatment

A detailed prose description of a screenplay, outlining the story, characters, and major scenes. Treatments are often used to pitch a film or TV project before a full script is written. They provide an overview of the narrative and highlight key elements.

Trope

A common or recurring theme, motif, or device in storytelling. Tropes can be clichés or conventions that audiences recognize and understand. While tropes can be useful for quickly conveying ideas, overreliance on them can make a story feel unoriginal. For example, the “reluctant hero” trope is often used in action and adventure stories.

Twist Ending

An unexpected conclusion that subverts the audience’s expectations. Twist endings add surprise and can reframe the entire narrative, encouraging viewers to reconsider the story from a new perspective. For example, the twist ending in “The Sixth Sense” reveals that Dr. Malcolm Crowe was dead all along.

Typographical Style

The specific formatting and style choices made in a screenplay, including font, spacing, and alignment. Adhering to industry-standard typographical style is important for readability and professionalism. Most screenplays use 12-point Courier font, with specific margins and spacing conventions.

Two-Shot

A camera shot that includes two characters, typically framed to show their interactions and relationship. Two-shots are commonly used in dialogue scenes to emphasize the connection or contrast between characters. For example, a two-shot might be used to capture the banter between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Tension

The sense of suspense and anxiety that keeps the audience engaged in the story. Tension is created through conflict, uncertainty, and anticipation of what will happen next. Effective use of tension can make scenes more compelling and emotionally impactful.

Treatment

A detailed summary of a screenplay, often used to pitch the story to producers or studios. A treatment outlines the main plot points, characters, and major scenes, providing a clear overview of the narrative. Treatments can vary in length but typically range from a few pages to around 20 pages.

Table Read

A read-through of the screenplay by the cast, director, and other key crew members. Table reads help identify issues with dialogue, pacing, and character interactions, allowing for revisions before filming begins. They also help actors understand their characters and the overall flow of the story.

Tag

A short scene or piece of dialogue added to the end of a screenplay or TV episode to provide additional closure or set up future storylines. Tags are often used in sitcoms and TV dramas. For example, after the main plot of a “Friends” episode concludes, a humorous tag scene might show the characters in a lighthearted situation.

Unreliable Narrator

A narrator whose credibility is compromised, making their version of events questionable. This technique creates suspense and intrigue as the audience must discern the truth from the narrator’s potentially biased or deceptive account. For example, the protagonist in “Fight Club” is an unreliable narrator whose perception of reality is distorted.

Unity

The coherence and consistency of a screenplay, ensuring all elements work together to form a cohesive whole. Unity involves maintaining consistent themes, character motivations, and narrative structure throughout the script. A well-unified screenplay ensures that every scene and character contributes to the overall story.

Upstage

A term borrowed from theater, referring to the area of the stage furthest from the audience. In screenwriting, “upstage” can also mean to draw attention away from another character or action. For example, a secondary character might unintentionally upstage the protagonist by performing a more dramatic action in the background.

Voiceover (VO)

Narration in a screenplay where a character’s voice is heard over the action but they are not seen speaking. Voiceovers can provide background information, insight into a character’s thoughts, or commentary on the events of the story. For example, in “The Shawshank Redemption,” Red’s voiceover narrates parts of the story.

Visual Effects (VFX)

Special effects added to a film or TV show in post-production to enhance the visual elements. VFX can include CGI, green screen compositing, and other digital enhancements. For example, the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” were created using a combination of practical effects and VFX.

Visual Storytelling

The practice of conveying a narrative primarily through visual elements, such as cinematography, production design, and acting, rather than relying heavily on dialogue. Visual storytelling is crucial in screenwriting, as films and TV shows are visual mediums.

Villain

A character who opposes the protagonist and creates conflict within the story. Villains are often the primary source of tension and obstacles for the protagonist. For example, Darth Vader in “Star Wars” is the main villain who opposes Luke Skywalker.

Verisimilitude

The appearance of being true or real. In screenwriting, verisimilitude refers to the believability and realism of the story, characters, and dialogue. A screenplay with high verisimilitude makes the audience feel that the events could plausibly happen in the real world.

Voice

The distinct style or perspective of the writer as expressed through their screenplay. A writer’s voice can be characterized by their choice of words, tone, and unique approach to storytelling. For example, Quentin Tarantino’s voice is recognizable for its sharp dialogue and nonlinear narratives.

Vignette

A short, descriptive scene or sequence that focuses on a moment or detail within the larger story. Vignettes can be used to develop characters, set the tone, or highlight themes without advancing the main plot. For example, the various stories in “Pulp Fiction” are composed of interconnected vignettes.

Wardrobe

The costumes and clothing worn by characters in a film or TV show. Wardrobe choices help define characters, indicate time periods, and enhance the visual style of the production. For example, the distinctive suits worn by the characters in “Reservoir Dogs” are an important aspect of their identity.

White Space

The empty space on a screenplay page, which includes the margins and the spaces between lines of dialogue and action. Proper use of white space improves readability and pacing. Screenplays should have ample white space to make them easy to read and visually appealing.

Wipe

A type of scene transition where one shot is replaced by another through a sweeping motion across the screen. Wipes can be used to indicate a change in time or location. For example, “Star Wars” famously uses wipe transitions to move between scenes.

WGA (Writers Guild of America)

The labor union representing screenwriters in the United States. The WGA negotiates contracts, ensures fair pay, and provides support for writers. Membership in the WGA is a mark of professional recognition for screenwriters.

Working Title

A temporary title given to a screenplay or film during its development. Working titles are often used as placeholders until the final title is decided. For example, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” was originally developed under the working title “A Boy’s Life.”

Write-Up

A written analysis or summary of a screenplay, often prepared by script analysts or readers. Write-ups can include coverage, notes, and feedback on the script’s strengths and weaknesses, helping writers improve their work.

World-Building

The process of creating a detailed and immersive setting for a screenplay. World-building involves developing the history, geography, culture, and rules of the story’s universe. This is especially important in genres like science fiction and fantasy. For example, the world-building in “The Lord of the Rings” includes the detailed creation of Middle-earth and its various races and histories.

Writer’s Block

A common challenge where a writer is unable to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. Overcoming writer’s block often involves finding new inspiration, changing writing habits, or taking breaks.

Whip Pan

A quick, rapid movement of the camera from one subject to another, creating a blur effect. Whip pans can add energy to a scene and are often used to reveal new information or change focus quickly.

Wild Sound (Wild Track)

Audio recorded on set without accompanying visuals, used to capture background noise, dialogue, or sound effects. Wild sound is often used to enhance the audio quality during post-production.

Work-In-Progress (WIP)

A screenplay or film that is still in development and has not yet been completed. WIPs are often shared with collaborators for feedback and revisions before the final version is produced.

Wrap

The term used to indicate the completion of filming for a particular scene, day, or the entire production. When a director calls “wrap,” it signals the end of shooting.

Zeitgeist

The defining spirit or mood of a particular period in history, captured through cultural, intellectual, ethical, and political climate. Screenplays that tap into the zeitgeist often resonate strongly with audiences by reflecting contemporary issues and concerns. For example, “The Social Network” captures the zeitgeist of the early 21st century’s tech boom.

Zero Draft

The very first draft of a screenplay, often a rough and unpolished version that serves as the foundation for future revisions. A zero draft allows writers to get their initial ideas down without worrying about perfection. It’s also known as a “vomit draft.”

Zoom

A camera technique where the lens changes focal length, making the subject appear closer (zoom in) or further away (zoom out) without moving the camera itself. Zooms can create dramatic emphasis or reveal important details. For example, the famous zoom shot in “Jaws” when Chief Brody realizes there’s a shark in the water.

Disclaimer:

The definitions provided in this glossary are meant to offer a general understanding of screenwriting terms. For precise and detailed guidance, it is recommended to refer to professional screenwriting resources and verify the terms within the context of your specific projects.

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