Writing a screenplay: Scene headings

A scene heading is an element that specifies the time of the scene and where the scene takes place in a screenplay. It is also a separator between the main scenes.

In a screenplay page, a scene heading is written in capital letters, left-aligned with 12pt Courier New font which looks like this:

writing a screenplay

Now let’s have a look at the elements of a scene heading one by one.

Writing a screenplay

INT. and EXT.

If the scene takes place in an interior place like an apartment, a scene heading must begin with INT.

If the scene takes place in an outdoor place like a park, it must begin with EXT.

THE NAME OF THE PLACE

The name of the place where the scene takes place must be written directly. However, we recommend using short and general expressions that can be quickly visualized in the reader’s imagination. For example, instead of MEN’S DRESSING ROOM, CITY STADIUM, you can just type DRESSING ROOM.

DAY and NIGHT

Simply use DAY if the scene is in day time, or NIGHT if it is at night. If you think that it will help the reader, you can include special expressions such as DAWN.

How should a good scene heading to be?

Should be simple

Making a reader confused is not the kind of experience we want in the scene heading before we write the real action. Therefore, unnecessary details should be avoided in this part. For example, you do not need to include scene numbers and character names in the scene heading. Although these applications are useful in terms of workflow, they seriously impair the reading experience. We recommend to not to add these type of details to the original screenplay that will be used for the presentation. However, you can prepare another version with the scene numbers and character names only for your use.

Screenplays are read and evaluated in a short time. If your screenplay will be presented to a reader for evaluation, at this stage, any additional items that you add extra will be a pain for the reader. Don’t be insistent on scene numbers and character names like every amateur screenwriter. A well-written screenplay reveals the presence of characters not through the scene headings, but through the actions of the characters. In addition, the scene headings already separate the scenes from each other, doing the same job second time by adding scene numbers is unnecessary.

Should be used economically

You don’t need to add a new scene heading unless the place and time of the event changes. You can continue writing under the same scene heading. In some cases, indoor and outdoor shootings may take place at the same time. This is not always the case when you need to add a new scene heading. We advise trying to indicate these changes under the same scene heading as much as possible. Because too many scene headings disrupt the reading experience and make it difficult for the reader to comprehend the event. Even if you enliven the event in different scene headings in your mind, leave detailed processing of the scene changes to the moment of shooting. Remember, the important thing here is the reader’s understanding of the events and actions.

For example; if a scene takes place in a house and our character will walk from the living room to the kitchen, you don’t need to add a different scene heading for the kitchen. We can apply the same example to short-term space changes between the entrance hall and the garden of the house. In such cases, you do not need to add a new scene heading even if the interior and exterior features of the space change. Because the reader can imagine these little changes very easily without extra indications.

Screenplay template

In order to better understand the topic, at the end of this series of posts, we will prepare and share a screenplay example.


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Writing a screenplay FAQ

What is the importance of the scene heading in writing a screenplay?

A scene heading is important in that it specifies where the event takes place, the time and the internal and external characteristics of the space, and it acts as a separator between the main events in the story.

How does a scene heading look like in a script?

EXT. COURTYARD – DAY

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