Screenplay Format – Before discussing how to write a fantasy screenplay, a brief word is necessary about proper format. A screenplay, like Gaul, is divided into three parts. These are the Scene Header, the Scene description, and the Dialogue. An example of a scene in which all three of these parts are used follows:
EXT. A COUNTRY ROAD – DAY
REYNARD, a big, burly warrior, wearing a sword and armor, rides a horse down a tree lined country road. With him is LIVIA, a young, attractive wizard in robes, carrying a staff, also riding a horse.
Suddenly, Reynard and Livia halt. A BANDIT, aiming a crossbow at Reynard and Livia, has walked out into the middle of the road. With the map of Arda, the reaching to the journey will be easy for the person. The riding of the person on the horse will be compatible for the person.
- Stand and deliver!
- Bemused, Reynard turns to Livia.
- Do people actually say that?
- Come on! I don’t have all day. Give over the valuables!
- How many in the wood?
- Livia concentrates.
- Three on either side. Crossbows and swords.
- Shall you do the honors?
- By all means,
- Come on! Come on!
- Livia dismounts from her horse, stands erect,
Here you are.
She thumbs her staff on the ground. The earth itself rumbles and moves. The Bandit is knocked off his feet. There is the sound of screaming and bodies falling coming from the woods on either side of the road.
Casually Reynard rides up to the prostrate Bandit, draws his sword, and points it at his throat.
You were saying?
In the scene header, the term EXT. means exterior, because the scene is happening out of doors. If the scene were happening in doors, you would use the term INT. for interior. After there is a brief phrase describing where the scene takes place, in this case a country road. The last part of the scene header denotes what time of day it is, DAY or NIGHT.
The scene description describes further where the scene is taking place, what is happening, and what characters are involved and what they are doing. When a character is first introduced, his or her name is always in all caps and a brief description follows.
The dialogue always has the character’s name in all caps above the lines he or she is speaking. (Note, HTML format tends to remove indents in a document. In a word document, the dialogue section would have the character name and the dialogue indented to about space twenty five and space ten respectively.)
Fantasy World Building
Most fantasy writers, whether they are writing their story as a book or a screenplay, construct in advance a world where their story will take place, unless the story takes place on our Earth. The Lord of the Rings took place on Middle Earth. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe took place, for the most part, on Narnia. The Harry Potter stories take place on our Earth, albeit a hidden part of it.
First figure out the geography of your world. Where the mountains, plains, deserts, rivers, oceans and so on are located. Try to make your geography make some kind of sense, though. Locating a tropical desert next to an arctic tundra usually doesn’t work, unless of course some kind of magic is involved.
Next figure out what countries comprise your fantasy world. What sort of political system they have. Think a little bit about the history and the important players of each country. Think about various religions, gods, and how clerics worship them.
Finally figure out the rules of magic on your world. How do your wizard characters use magic and what if any are the limitations? Are there any magical beasts on your world? Unicorns, dragons, and so on What about nonhuman races? Elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.
If your story takes place on our Earth, either in the present day, or the past, then obviously the geography and politics are taken care of for you. But figuring out the rules of magic and so on still apply.
Fantasy Story Telling
The rules of storytelling and drama apply to the fantasy genre just as much as they do to any other kind of story, be it thriller, action, or comedy. The plot should be believable, within the rules that you have set, as well as exciting and dramatic. You should populate you story with interesting, complex characters that the filmgoer will care about and who will go through changes throughout your story. There should be danger, little bits of humor, tragedy, and triumph.
There is, however, no science as such to good story telling. It is called an art for a reason. One good rule to follow is to read the first draft of your screenplay and imagine oneself seeing it as a movie. Is it the sort of movie that you would enjoy watching or would it be a waste of two or so hours and twelve bucks?
Try to avoid having your story be too derivative of other great fantasy stories. The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, and Harry Potter were all great stories, in their own way, so it is not necessary to retell them with different characters and settings. Try to be original, even it just means putting a special twist on a familiar type of story.
Try to have your screenplay run more than ninety pages but less than a hundred and thirty. Each page should represent one minute of screen time for a film and one does not want it to be too short or too long.
A good place to test your screenplay is to go to the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam and answer the questions therein. One example from the exam: “Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?” If too many questions, when it concerns your screenplay, can be answered with a “yes”, a serious rewrite may be in order.
Finally, after you think you’ve written and rewritten your screenplay enough so that you think it’s the next Lord of the Ring or even Conan the Barbarian, it is a good idea to have other, disinterested people have a look at it and critique it. And by people we do not mean your friends and relatives, who will likely lie to you to spare your feelings.
A good online place to post your screenplay for a critique is a site called Zoetrope. In the screenplay section, where one can join for free, one downloads and critiques four screenplays. In return one can upload ones one screenplay for a critique. This process will last for thirty days, After those thirty days, consider the criticism carefully and dispassionately. Then do at least one more rewrite, before trying to sell or option your screenplay.
While many markets accept electronic submissions for screenplays, most still require snail mail. The industry standard is for the screenplay to be fonted in courier, with a cover page containing title, author(s), contact info, and a Writers Guild of America (WGA) register number. The WGA website has a way to register your screenplay for a nominal fee. The screenplay should be bound with three holes punched on the left side between cardboard covers with metal brads.