How to Write an Abridged Script

Writing an Abridged Script seems easy, but the huge number of rejected contributions indicates it is harder than it looks. If you want to write an Abridged Script that gets featured on the site, it's an incredibly good idea to read this page, despite how obscenely long it is.

Script Elements

Abridged Scripts consist of a few elements:

  1. Scene Headings - These set a scene, INT. YOUR MOM'S CAR, or EXT. NEW YORK. INT means interior (inside something), EXT for exteriors (outside).
  2. Action text - Regular text that describes what is happening onscreen. JULIA opens the fridge and guzzles MILK.
  3. Characters - These are the character names right before dialogue to indicate who is speaking.
  4. Dialogue - These are the lines the characters are saying. Abridged Scripts are mostly dialogue.
  5. Parentheticals - Things the character is doing while speaking lines. (cutting celery) for example.
  6. Transitions - CUT TO:, FADE TO:, etc. They describe scene changes.

Formatting

Send scripts in a plain text file. Don't try to replicate screenplay format in Microsoft Word, that's just a pain in the ass. Use Notepad or vim or Textmate and write a text file.

Please write your script in Simple Script Markup. You don't have to format it perfectly or anything, but it makes life easier if you do a halfway-decent job of adhering to it.

Here's how to write in SSM:

FADE IN:

INT.  A BUILDING

This is action text.  It describes what is happening in a scene.

 JOHN:
 Character names and dialogue both start with a space.

 JANE:
 (interrupting)
 Don't forget about parentheticals!

 JOHN:
 Right, those start with space too.  Character names also end with colons.

SMASH CUT TO:

EXT.  FOREST - NIGHT

Scene changes end in a colon but don't start with a space.  Notice also that there are no linebreaks in order to force word-wrapping.  Word-wrapping is handled automatically, you can just make lines as long as you want.

END

Note: Submissions written in .celtx format are also accepted, but still kind of annoying. Do not send PDFs.

Abridged Script Conventions

Here are some Generic Abridged Script Authorship Tips. These are guidelines, not rules (mostly), but over the years they've been found to be generally good to follow.

Scene Headings

  • Don't give a scene-by-scene breakdown of a movie. Try to compress into fewer scenes. If two scenes occur in the same place but with another scene between them, work the middle scene's relevant information into a line of dialogue without leaving the location.
  • Don't bother changing the scene for minor changes. For example, if some character starts in his NEW YORK CITY APARTMENT and then goes to his NEW YORK CITY OFFICE, you can just have EXT. NEW YORK as the scene heading, then use action text to mention when he is in his apartment and when he is in his office.
  • After a new scene heading, a line of action text should explain why the scene is there and who is in the scene. The first thing after a scene heading shouldn't be dialogue.

Action Text

  • Action text should be short. Instead of "SO-AND-SO types into the computer, which displays 'PLEASE INSERT DISK' on the screen", just make a new character named "COMPUTER" that says, via dialogue, "Please Insert Disk." Be creative and avoid a wall of text.
  • Action text should rarely criticize the movie itself. Think of action text as an objective narrator, not you. The action text can't say the movie is stupid, a character has to do that.
  • In normal screenplays, the first time a character is introduced (in action), their name is ALL CAPS. In an Abridged Script, ALL CAPS are used for every ACTOR NAME or RELATIVELY IMPORTANT NOUN. This is only for action text, names should have regular casing everywhere else, including dialogue and parentheticals.

Characters

  • If the actor appears onscreen, use their full name instead of their character name. If they are the voice for something animated, use CGI ACTOR-NAME. You can use character names only if the character or the actor portraying them is inconsequential (a good example is a minor Transformer).
  • Avoid character names like GIRL FROM THAT OTHER MOVIE or GUY FROM TV SHOW. If you want to reference something else the actor was in, do so in dialogue or action text. Give the actors their real names.
  • Any major character needs to be introduced, typically in action text, before they have a line. They shouldn't just appear with something to say.
  • Spellcheck actors' names. Use IMDB.com.
  • Not every character needs to be in an Abridged Script, even if they are played by a noteworthy actor. If a character does nothing that directly advances the plot of the movie (or the portion of the plot you're covering), they may not even be worth mentioning.

Dialogue

  • Every line of dialogue should be a joke, a criticism of the movie, or the setup to a joke. If a line of dialogue ONLY advances the plot, it should be done as a joke of some kind or removed.
  • Keep it short. More than 3 sentences and people will skip it. Break up long dialogue with something happening. Even a (pause) can help.
  • Avoid "talking heads" where it's just a handful of characters talking to each other. Break it up with action text every so often.
  • Characters can summarize themselves when they are first introduced. "Hi , I'm going to be painfully unfunny comic relief for the duration of this pile of shit." Once a character has been established, it's too late to do this. A character with a noteworthy trait, such as a superpower, can just state his or her trait to another character.
  • A lot of times dialogue will contain a verbal sparring between two characters. It's not enough to just have characters say "fuck you!" or "shut up!" in riposte, be creative.
  • Feel free to emulate the speech mannerisms of characters with noteworthy accents or dialogue patterns. Just make sure it's readable (if I can sound it out and understand it, you're golden)

Parentheticals

  • Sometimes action can be condensed to parentheticals. If a character has a line, then slaps another character, then has another line, you can just put both lines together separated with a (slaps so-and-so)
  • Parentheticals must be on their own line, not the middle of a sentence.
  • Though not okay in real screenplays, feel free to insert parentheticals AFTER dialogue if they are easy-to-describe actions performed by the speaking character that occur after a line has been said, such as "(runs away)"
  • Don't overdo it. Favor action text for action in general.

Transitions

  • Transitions are rarely worth putting in scripts. You don't need to end every scene with CUT TO. Only if the transition is directly relevant. If you're typing "CUT TO:" before every scene change, you're doing it wrong.
  • Abridged scripts start with FADE IN: and end with END.

Most Common Rejection Reasons

Here are the most common reasons that a script gets rejected. Try to avoid this stuff.

  • Not Enough Jokes - Pretty simple but easily the most common problem. Sometimes scripts are just an endless series of criticisms of the film, without actually being funny. Pointing out a flaw in the movie is neccessary to mock it properly, but simply stating a problem isn't really a joke.
  • Too Much 4th Wall Breaking - Generally, the characters in the script should reflect their actual characters in the movie, but heightened for satire. They shouldn't be hyper-aware of the fact that they're actually in a movie or talk too much about movie stuff (plots, special effects, etc). You might need to break this to make a particular point, but too much of it can make all of the characters a mouthpiece for the author. Almost every comment can be rewritten without this. For example, a simple "Since this is a romantic comedy and I am a best friend character, I will do whatever you request!" can easily just be "As a typical spineless best friend, I will do your bidding until you no longer require me!" Try as much as possible to keep the script contained within the film's environment.
  • Not Following The Movie - Abridged scripts should be understandable to people who haven't seen the movie, so the script needs to cover the same story beats as the actual film. Just like the real screenplay will establish why characters are moving from one scene to the next, and what their motivations are, the Abridged Script does too.
  • Too Slow - Don't take forever to get into the main story of the film. If I were to describe, say, The Hangover, in a single sentence, it would be something like: "three guys wake up in Vegas unable to remember their party the night before, and they have to find their friend". Since that's the main thing of the movie, we should be in Vegas with the characters unable to remember the party no later than the second scene of the movie. The entire first act establishing characters should be compressed into the first scene of your Abridged Script. A lot of contributors make the mistake of taking forever introducing characters before the plot gets going. Often the beginning of an abridged script just lags forever - a good way to write one is to assume that the "start" of the script is already written and start at the next scene, then go back and write the intro when you're done.
  • Too Long - Abridged Scripts are meant to be SHORT. Try not to exceed 1,500 words or so. Obviously movies with complex plots or even movies that are, themselves, very long, will go over this length, but try to keep it as short as you can. When you really try to "trim the fat" you'll often find that you can make multiple points and multiple jokes in a single chunk of dialogue with tight wording.
  • Tired Tropes - Yes it's hypocritical but there are some tropes that just show up too often on the site, and it's a good way to get a contribution rejected. Examples include:
    • Using the AUDIENCE as a character (or even worse, some audience segment like "BOOK FANS IN AUDIENCE" or "MEN IN AUDIENCE"). Usually this reads as the author inserting themself into the script.
    • "(actual line)" - this is for when a line is so utterly and completely ridiculous that including it in the script will make readers think you made it up. It's not for a line that's kind of stupid.
    • Starting the script in INT. HOLLYWOOD STUDIO where the meeting happens that greenlights the film. Just get to the movie's plot already.
    • References to "enduring" or "sitting through" the movie. Nobody watches a movie against their will, nobody has to endure a movie; you can just leave.
  • Being Wrong - Abridged Scripts naturally point out flaws in a movie, but ignoring in-film explanations in order to invent "plot holes" makes the author come off uninformed. Do your research, use IMDB and TheMovieSpoiler.com. Know what you're talking about - if you're going to take a shot at the movie, don't miss.
  • Too Many In-Jokes - A lot of times contributors select their movie because they are huge fans of the film, franchise, or source material. Nothing wrong with that, scripts written from the perspective of someone who knows their stuff about it can be the best ones. But be sure your script isn't predominately jokes and references that only die-hard fans will get, most readers won't be as big a fan as you. Also be careful never to come off like a "whiny fanboy", particularly if you're familiar with the book/comic/miniseries/whatever a film was based on and most of your criticisms are about differences from the source.
  • Future Awareness - Most contributions are for older movies, but far too many of them "cheat" and reference events from years after the movie came out. It's okay to have a few of these references but overdoing it makes you look kind of smarmy, particularly if most criticisms are comparing the film unfavorably to a version that came later when special effects were better or budgets were higher. In general, the Abridged Script for an older movie should be something that could have been published when the movie was actually released.
  • No Ending - The end of an Abridged Script is often the second hardest thing to write, don't let it drag on and on and don't let it fizzle out. It's often a good idea to save your harshest criticism of the film for the final line, or use the end to summarize your main complaint about the movie as a sort of "TL;DR"