If you are serious about getting your script written, then it’s time to familiarize yourself with Final Draft! This is the preferred screenwriting software among industry professionals. It’s equipped with all of the necessary tools to properly format and notate your script. Today, I’m breaking down the basics of how to use Final Draft.
open a new document
Final draft does offer templates based on the type of script you plan to write (i.e. screenplay, single camera comedy, play), but for now, let’s just work with a blank document to focus on getting acquainted with some of the functions and what they mean.
here’s what your blank document will look like:
set the scene
First thing’s first: your scene heading. This is also called a slugline. This tells the reader very specifically where the scene is taking place and when. Scene headings always start by identifying whether the specified location is an INTERIOR (INT.) or EXTERIOR (EXT.). This is helpful for production coordinators when they are planning their shooting days. I’ll cover this in another article. Examples of sluglines that properly identify the where and when:
INT. HOTEL LOBBY – MORNING
EXT. FRONT YARD – NIGHT
At the bottom right corner of your final draft document, you’ll see a tab that reads SCENE HEADING. This drop down menu allows you to manually change formatting options, but I’m going to show you a quicker way to do it.
back to our scene heading:
Once you’ve established your scene, hit ENTER on your keyboard. This will take you to the next line. Take a peek at the dropdown menu in the bottom left corner – it should now read ACTION. You will use the action format to describe the movement within the scene – the stage directions. Below, you’ll see that I set the scene in the library using the ACTION formatting.
When I was ready for a character to speak, I hit ENTER to get to the next line. HERE IS YOUR SHORTCUT: Hit “ENTER” again, and the same exact formatting dropdown menu will appear within your document. From there, you can easily use the “up” and “down” arrows on your keyboard to select the necessary format. We need to identify whose line it is, so I’m going to choose CHARACTER:
After selecting CHARACTER, Final Draft will automatically know that the next line format should be DIALOGUE, so go ahead and hit enter again, and start typing the line of dialogue.
I am a huge fan of parentheticals. Maybe too much so 🙂 Your parenthetical is a way of shedding a bit more light on the intentions of the dialogue. Here, I wanted to make it clear that Michael was intentionally trying to spook Jenny, so I noted that, as he said the line, he grabbed her shoulders. Often times, parentheticals are used to convey tone (i.e. dryly, sarcastically, wistfully). Parentheticals help clarify intentions.
Transitions indicate a distinct, abrupt visual change, and will likely be used sparingly. CUT TO and SMASH CUT TO are both examples of abrupt visual changes (SMASH CUT being the sharper and more jarring of the two). You might also use the TRANSITION formatting for FLASHBACKS. In this case, I’ve set up a scene just prior to a car smashing into a library – I decided to use a SMASH CUT because, if I were to keep writing, I’d set the next scene in an emergency room during rapid fire triage. Most scenes will come to a natural end or give way to the next scene more fluidly, but in the case of an abrupt change, a transition might be necessary.