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20 screenwriting terms for aspiring screenwriters

By BBC Maestro

Film and TV
Last updated: 25 May 2023

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, there’s lots to get to grips with – including the lingo used, both in the industry, and when writing and formatting scripts. To help you out, we’ve put together this glossary of 20 screenwriting terms that every budding filmmaker should know.

180 rule

The 180 rule is a simple rule of filmmaking which states that, in any scene with two or more actors, there’s an invisible line dividing them. The camera should always stay on one side of this line so that the spatial relationship between the characters is consistent between shots. The camera can move anywhere in the scene, as long as it stays on the same side of the line throughout.

So, if you have an actor who leaves a room on the right side of the frame in one shot, they should then enter from the left side in the next shot.  

You can, of course, break the 180 rule – this is known as ‘jumping the line’ or ‘breaking the line’ – but it’s always best to learn and understand the rules before subverting them.


In a script, a beat is a small pause or break in dialogue or action, often used to indicate a shift in tone or a character's reaction. It’s a structural element that indicates a pause or a shift in tone, and it could be anything from an action to a line of dialogue.

Beats help to move the action along in your narrative. They should be written into the screenplay as ‘BEAT’ or ‘A BEAT’.

In his BBC Maestro course, Filmmaking, Edgar Wright explains a helpful tool for getting the beats right in your screenplay:

“There’s also a really helpful tool I use known as a ‘Beat Sheet’ which is a concept whose origin derives from Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat! You take the total page count of your screenplay and it roughly tells you where each beat should hit by page number. Though this is not an exact science, it can be incredibly useful when you’re trying to tighten your material and get it into a properly finished form.”



This one is quite simple – but essential. It’s the spoken words between characters in a screenplay.

Dialogue is a crucial element of TV and film, but writer and director Jed Mercurio warns against an over-reliance on it. In his BBC Maestro course, Writing Drama For Television, he says:

“You should always question the value of something being delivered in dialogue. Do not tell the audience something that they already know. Characters shouldn’t relate information to one another that the audience has already seen. Either keep the dialogue and don’t dramatise the scene or show the scene and don’t include the dialogue.”

Diegetic sound

There are two main types of sound in a film: diegetic and non-diegetic sound. As Edgar Wright explains:

“Simply put, diegetic means sound that comes from within the world of the film, while non-diegetic means to come from outside the world of the film. Almost a reality versus fiction situation.”

Diegetic sound, then, is any sound that comes from within the world of the film, such as a ringing phone or a car engine. It’s useful for establishing a sense of place, helping viewers to understand what’s happening on screen, and making the world you’ve created feel more real.

A car driving past

Establishing shot

An establishing shot sets up the scene. It lets the audience know where it’s taking place, reveals character information, and can establish a mood for what’s to come.


Exposition is a description added into your script to get across important information that needs to be told, but that isn’t necessarily action or dialogue. It’s a way of telling a story and creating a world that’s just as powerful – if not more so – than the conversations between your characters. As Jed Mercurio explains:

“Some of the best and most important storytelling is contained within the movements and actions described for your characters. So, when writing your script, you need to control the reader’s eye. You need to make the stage direction, as powerful and as important as the dialogue.”

Insert shot

An insert shot, sometimes called an ‘insert cut’ is when a shot is inserted into a scene to add emphasis. These are often close-up shots that convey a character’s emotion or reaction to something, or it could be a close-up of a particular event, such as a vehicle unleashing weaponry in a car chase scene.

Jump cut

This is when a single shot is broken up with a cut that makes the action seem to jump forward in time. You’ll often find them in montages, and they’re also a popular choice for YouTubers and vloggers today, where you’ll see them talking to the camera about one subject, then the next instant they’ll be in the same position but talking about something else.

It’s a stylistic choice that makes the edit visible, and so whether you choose to use jump cuts or not will depend on the effect you’re trying to achieve.


A logline is a brief summary, usually one or two sentences, that describes the central concept of a screenplay.


A parenthetical is a piece of information that’s written into your script. It’s placed between your character’s name and their dialogue, and it helps to add context to how something should be said.

You don’t want to overuse parentheticals as it’s the actor’s job to interpret how the lines should be said. But there are times when they can be useful, as Jed Mercurio notes:

“I would caution against overusing parentheses. The reading of your script should be flowing and effortless. And the dialogue should convey the emotional state of the character. It should not be necessary to write (angry) or (sad) and so forth. But it is crucial if a line would otherwise be misunderstood, such as when someone is lying...”

Pilot script

A pilot episode is the first episode of a TV series. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first episode chronologically – rather, it can come from anywhere in the series. It should showcase the show and lets networks and producers decide whether they want to commission a full series.

A pilot episode, then, needs a pilot script. As Jed Mercurio explains:

“Your first pilot script must be a story that best showcases the concept of the series. The pilot script is used to assess whether an original series is going to go into production. If your script does not showcase the series well enough, you will be asked to revise it and you may have to reconsider the pilot story entirely. This happens to many writers. I’ve been through a number of rethinks on different shows. This is okay, it is part of the process, what you are doing is optimising the script to showcase what the series promises to deliver.”

Point of view

In screenwriting, point of view (or POV) refers to the camera angle – specifically, that the camera shows us a first-person point of view from the character’s perspective.

Series bible

If you’re writing a TV show, you’ll need a series bible. This is a document that explains what your show is about, including important things like the story, style and themes. As Jed Mercurio puts it:

“The series bible is the distilled promise of the series written in a digestible form.”

It should contain your idea, the type of series you’re making, the number of episodes, and the type of series (serialised, episodic or hybrid). You’ll use it to pitch your idea, alongside your pilot script – so it’s a very important document indeed!

Shooting script

A shooting script is the version of a script that’s used during filming. It’s been reviewed and marked up by directors and cinematographers with their notes for camera fades, camera directions and other technical details, and is ready for production.

Slug line

A slug line is sometimes also known as a scene heading. It’s a brief description of the location, time, and sometimes other relevant details at the beginning of a scene.

Spec script

A speculative script is a screenplay written by a screenwriter without a prior contract or commission, similar to a pilot script for TV.

A storyboard of an idea


A storyboard for a film is a visual outline which depicts everything that happens, scene by scene, in a comic strip format. It makes it easy for you, as well as your cast and crew, to know what should be happening at any given stage of your film. Edgar Wright is a big fan of storyboarding. He explains:

“I’ve storyboarded every frame of every one of my films since Shaun of the Dead. And I, personally, couldn’t imagine shooting anything without them. I find it an essential part of the process that helps me to visualise the ideas in my head while also providing me a way to quickly convey to the cast and crew what I’m trying to achieve on each shooting day.”

Table read

You won’t need to write this term into any scripts, but it’s a useful thing to do as part of the screenwriting process. It’s sometimes called a read-through, and it’s simply the process of getting your cast and crew together to read your script aloud. Edgar Wright explains the benefits:

“There’s always a specific way you think a script sounds when you’re saying the lines to yourself in your head. But when you’re able to get other actors, or even just friends and family members, to read the lines out loud, you’ll make completely new discoveries about which parts of the script are succeeding and which parts might need to be readdressed.”

Three-act structure

If you’re writing a film, you’ll need to become familiar with the three-act structure. It’s a common way of structuring films, splitting the action into three parts, with important plot points happening in each to drive the story forward.


If you’re utilising any voiceovers in your script, when a character narrates over the action, you’ll need to indicate this in your script. This is usually written as V.O.


Of course, there are many more technical terms when it comes to screenwriting and filmmaking, but these are some of the essential terms you need to know when starting out. 

If you want to learn more, why not take a course from the experts? Try Jed Mercurio’s, Writing For Television, if you’re a budding TV writer, or Edgar Wright’s Filmmaking if you’re keen to make work for the big screen.