Knowledge of these screenwriting terms is very important for a screenwriter who is starting his or her journey into the screenwriting world. Knowing these terms will help you flow with the conversation of other screenwriters, as they won’t be able to tell that you’re a novice. It will also help you understand the screenplays you’ll be reading. Trust me, you’ll need to read as many screenplays as possible. Here are some of the screenwriting terms you need to know:
ADAPT: To write a screenplay from a pre-existing story.
ANTAGONIST: An antagonist is a character who tries to inflict pain on the main character.
BACK TO: This is a transition that is used when going back to a scene that was left for another scene.
BACK TO PRESENT DAY: This is an indication that a character has finished remembering past events and is back in reality.
BEAT: Indicates a short pause.
CHARACTER: This is an imaginary person in a story.
COMMISSIONED SCRIPT: This is a screenplay written by a screenwriter who has been paid to write.
CONTINUOUS: The movement of a character’s action from one scene to another without interruption in time.
CUT TO: A quick switch in scenes.
DIALOGUE: The conversation that goes on between the characters.
DOUBLE BEAT: Indicates a longer pause.
EXT.: This means exterior. It simply means the scene should be shot outside.
FICTION: This is a story that isn’t based on facts. It is a fabricated and untrue story.
FADE IN: This is used at the beginning of a screenplay. It means the shot should be brought in slowly from complete darkness to a normal scene.
FADE OUT: This is used at the end of a screenplay. It means the shot should be taken slowly from a complete scene to darkness.
FLASHBACK: This is used whenever a character wants to remember a past event.
FORESHADOWING: This is an advance hint a screenwriter gives for a future event in the story.
INSERT: This is used when the screenwriter wants to direct the camera to something important in the scene, usually inanimate objects such as a wall clock, a ring that fell on the floor, a piece of paper, and so on.
INT.: This means interior. It simply means the scene should be shot inside.
I/E (INT./EXT.): This means in a particular scene, the camera will be taking shots from the inside (INT.) and outside (EXT.).
INCITING INCIDENT: This is a stirred-up event that destabilises and gives the protagonist a goal.
INTERCUT WITH: This is a transition that takes us back and forth between two or more scenes.
LATER: This is the passage of a long time period.
LOCATION: The entire environment that is considered for shots to take place.
LOGLINE: This is a brief summary of a screenplay in one sentence that stimulates the interest of the reader.
MAIN CHARACTER: This is the character that is affected by the decision of the protagonist.
MOMENTS LATER: This is the passage of a short time period.
MONTAGE: The sequence of brief actions.
NON-FICTION: This is a story that is based on facts (a true-life story).
O.S./O.C.: This means off-screen (O.S.) and off-camera (O.C.). This is used when an off-shot character speaks to an in-shot character.
OUTLINE: A scene-by-scene breakdown of a story.
PLOT: This is an interrelated sequence of events that come together to form a story.
PROTAGONIST: The character who pushes the story or plot forward through the decisions he or she makes.
QUERY: This is a written pitch.
SCENE: This is a particular place in a location where an event is to be shot.
SCREENWRITER: A person who writes a screenplay.
SCREENPLAY: A written breakdown of a story into scenes for a motion picture with instructions from the screenwriter.
SHOOTING SCRIPT: This is the director’s and the cinematographer’s copy. The shooting script is more complex because all the shots have been planned so that shooting can be easier and faster.
SLUG LINE/SCENE HEADING: A group of block letters that begins a scene.
SPEC SCRIPT: A spec script, also known as a speculative script, is a screenplay written without being paid to write, but the screenwriter has the intention to sell it after it is written.
STORY: The sequence of real or fictional events.
SUBTEXT: This is the underlying meaning of dialogue.
SUPER: This is the short form for superimpose. Whenever it’s seen in a screenplay, it means whatever is written there should be displayed on top of the shot. For example: two years later, one month later, etc.
SYNOPSIS: A brief summary of the major points of a screenplay.
V.O.: This means voice-over. It’s used when a character seen on screen says what’s on his or her mind without his or her mouth moving; it can be used when a character is remembering what another character said; and it can also be used when a character’s voice is heard over the phone, radio, or walkie-talkie.
With the above simply defined screenwriting terms, you have no reason to be afraid of the gathering of screenwriters who use these terms, nor do you have a reason to be afraid to speak in the gathering of screenwriters using these screenwriting terms.
Please note that this isn’t the entire list of screenwriting terms, but with these few terms, you can be comfortable whilst you learn more for yourself. When it comes to screenwriting, the more you write, the more you learn.