How to Read a Screenplay


Screenplays are strange beasts – part novel, part play, and all fun. But it’s best to know HOW to read them in order to enjoy them!

  • The SCENE HEADING or SLUGLINE is the brief description at the top of each scene, typically including the location of the scene, the time.
  • When a CHARACTER appears for the first time, their name will be written in CAPITAL LETTERS.
  • Dialogue is centered in screenwriting and the character’s name appears directly above the dialogue in CAPITAL LETTERS.
  • Anything in (parentheticals) are used to convey a character’s attitude or actions. 
  • Some actions may also appear on its own like to help break up the dialogue between characters.
  • Most movie scripts are written with a three-act structure in mind: Act 1 introduces the main characters, the world they live in and the major conflict of the story. When reading the script, take note of the major conflict and the clear goal of the main character(s). Sometimes a character may change their mind, so watch out for switcharoos. The first act typically lasts 30 pages. Act 2 escalates the conflict, sends the hero on their journey and typically lasts about 60 pages. Act 3 ties it all together, giving the hero their final confrontation and complete their character arc. The third and final act typically lasts 30 pages.
  • A good screen play allows for character development of some kind so the main character or characters need to change. When reading the script, take note of where the character grows or evolves or devolves. There should be several moments of change.
  • Take NOTES as you READ! Either on a hard copy or a notebook or on your pdf on the computer.
  • Break the script down scene by scene as you read. You may wish to read the whole script once and then find the various scene breakdowns on a second read. Scripts are SHORT so you should be able to do this with ease.
  • Study the writing style!
  • Try reading the script aloud (and with others!) to help bring it to life.