As you dive into the world of screenwriting, you’ll come across the term “slug line.” But what is a slug line? Understanding the purpose and formatting of a slug line is crucial to create a well-structured screenplay. Essentially, a slug line is a single line used to introduce each new scene, describing the location, time, and setting. These scene headings help establish the pacing of your screenplay and offer important visual cues to the reader.
When writing a slug line, you’ll need to use uppercase letters and follow a specific format. Usually, a slug line begins with the scene’s setting, either “INT.” or “EXT.” for interior and exterior, respectively, followed by the location, and then the time of day. As you develop your screenplay, remember to use slug lines effectively to differentiate between scenes and maintain clarity throughout your script. This way, your screenplay will be well-organized and easy to understand, making it appealing to producers and directors who may be interested in your work.
Slug Line Basics
Definition and Purpose
A slug line, also known as a scene heading, is a fundamental component of a screenplay. It informs the reader of the setting and time of day for a specific scene, making it clear when a new scene begins. In a slug line, you’ll find information about whether the scene takes place indoors or outdoors (written as INT. for interior or EXT. for exterior), the location, and the time of day (for example, DAY or NIGHT). This line helps both the reader and the production team visualize the scene, determine its pacing, and potentially estimate its budget.
In addition to the master scene heading, slug lines can also be found as subheadings within a scene. These subheadings are used to draw attention to vital script information or changes in location or time within the scene.
Origins and History
Although the exact origins of the term “slug line” are hard to pinpoint, it’s believed to have evolved from the practice of using “slugs” (small pieces of metal used to create spaces in typesetting) in print media to signal a new section or a transition between two storylines.
In screenwriting, slug lines have been a standard part of the script format since the early days of cinema, helping filmmakers and screenwriters better organize and structure their stories. Over the years, the use of slug lines has become an essential aspect of the screenplay and an invaluable tool for screenwriters to craft a visual story on paper.
By learning about slug line basics and mastering the art of scene headings, you can create a visually engaging and well-structured screenplay that tells a compelling story for your audience. Remember, the key to a successful and professional screenplay is not only about the content you write or your characters but also how you effectively utilize critical elements like slug lines for a clear and concise presentation.
Scene headings, also known as slug lines, are crucial for establishing the setting of a scene in your screenplay. These headings indicate the location and time, while the text is written in uppercase letters to draw attention and set the pace of a scene. When writing slug lines, it’s essential to be concise and clear to provide an easy-to-understand visual direction for the reader.
Here’s an example of a scene heading:
EXT. PARK - DAY
This tells you that the scene takes place outside (
EXT.) at a park, during the day (
Action lines are the written descriptions of the events and characters’ actions that unfold within a scene. These lines should be formatted in standard text, single-spaced throughout your screenplay. They provide the visual direction and context for the reader, as well as giving insight into the character’s motivations and emotions.
When writing action lines, use brief and clear descriptions to convey the information necessary for understanding the scene. Avoid lengthy explanations and focus on compelling, easily-visualized details.
Anna walks over to the bench and sits down, taking a deep breath. She looks around, noticing the beauty of the flowers in bloom.
Formatting dialogue in your screenplay is crucial to show which character is speaking and provide a clear understanding of the dialogue’s flow. It is necessary to follow these formatting rules:
- Write the character’s name in uppercase letters, indented from the left margin.
- On the next line, write the character’s dialogue, which should be enclosed by quotation marks and indented even further.
Here’s an example of dialogue formatting:
ANNA "I can't believe how beautiful this park is."
Keep in mind that formatting is essential to convey the scene, setting, and characters in screenwriting properly. By using scene headings, action lines, and dialogue formatting, you can construct a compelling screenplay that guides the reader through your story and sets the foundation for a successful film or series.
Slug Line Components
A slug line begins with the indication of whether the scene takes place inside or outside, using INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior). The specific location of the scene should follow, providing the reader with a clear setting for the action. For example, you might write “INT. COFFEE SHOP” or “EXT. CITY PARK”.
Time of Day
Next, include the time of day the scene occurs in the slug line, such as DAY or NIGHT. This helps set the mood and atmosphere for the scene. An example would be “INT. COFFEE SHOP – DAY” or “EXT. CITY PARK – NIGHT”.
In addition to location and time of day, your slug line can also describe relevant visual elements that set the scene’s atmosphere, mood, or tone. While these elements can be added in the action lines or camera directions, including them in the slug line ensures they are not overlooked.
For example, if a scene takes place during a rainstorm, you could write “EXT. CITY PARK – NIGHT – RAINING”. This helps create a clear picture of the scene in the reader’s mind.
Here’s a summary of the slug line components in a simple table format:
|Location||INT. COFFEE SHOP||Establish the scene’s setting|
|Time of Day||DAY||Set mood and atmosphere|
|Visual Elements||RAINING||Enhance the scene’s description|
As you write your screenplay and incorporate slug lines, keep in mind the importance of clarity and brevity. Using appropriate formatting, such as H3s, tables, and bullet points as necessary, will help convey important information to your reader effectively and efficiently. By focusing on location, time, day, action, and visual elements, you can create a vivid and engaging screenplay that captures your audience’s attention.
Effective Slug Line Writing
Clarity and Brevity
As a screenwriter, it’s essential to keep your slug lines clear and concise. Your slug lines serve as scene headings in your screenplay, helping the reader quickly understand the context and setting of each scene. Focus on providing the necessary information about the location, time of day, and whether the scene takes place indoors or outdoors.
When writing slug lines, make sure to use uppercase letters for clarity. Stick to clear and simple language, avoiding verbosity and abbreviations that could confuse readers. Remember, your goal is to help the reader, other screenwriters, and members involved in the film production quickly grasp the scene’s essential elements.
Some tips for creating effective slug lines include:
- Use master scene headings for new locations or shifts in time.
- Employ subheadings for continuous scenes within the same location.
- Limit the detail in slug lines to the necessary information.
To streamline your slug line writing process, consider using specialized screenplay software. These tools often come with built-in formatting guidelines and templates, which can simplify the screenwriting process. Utilizing screenwriting software ensures that your script adheres to industry standards, making it more accessible to readers and production teams.
Some popular screenwriting software options include:
By following these guidelines and using screenwriting software, you can create effective slug lines that contribute to your screenplay’s overall structure and readability. This, in turn, will help convey your story and characters more effectively to film production teams and readers alike.
Further Reading: Best Screenwriting Software
Slug Line in Journalism
A slug line in the context of journalism refers to a short phrase that summarizes the subject of an article. It’s used to identify the story as it moves through the editorial process. The term has its origins in the printing process, where a slug was a metal bar used as a line divider or a full line of type with a Linotype machine ^.
When you are writing an article, consider using slug lines as subheadings to break down the main points for a reader. This not only makes the article easier to read and understand but also helps guide your writing process.
Incorporating relevant slug lines into your article can enhance its news storytelling aspect. By using descriptive words and phrases, you can effectively capture the essence of the story. When creating slug lines for your article, consider the following:
- Keep it brief: A slug line should be just a few words that describe the content of a story concisely.
- Use clear and concise language: Select words that are unambiguous and easy for your readers to understand.
- Stay neutral: Be mindful not to use sensational or exaggerated language in your slug lines.
Utilizing slug lines can enhance your article’s structure and storytelling, ensuring that your readers can more easily follow and understand your journalistic work.
Remember to use a confident, knowledgeable, neutral, and clear tone in your writing. By paying careful attention to your slug lines and overall article structure, you can create an engaging and informative piece for your readers.
Slug Lines in TV and Film Production
Differentiating TV Shows and Films
In television and film production, slug lines play a vital role in setting the scene for both the cast and crew. When writing a screenplay or script for a TV show or film, you must include slug lines to indicate the location, time, and specific elements of a scene. These lines help differentiate between TV shows and films by providing essential details about characters, scenes, and the overall plot.
For example, the slug line for a TV show might differentiate scenes by using distinct character names, settings, or even episode numbers, while a film slug line would focus more on the overall story arc, locations, and pacing. By using slug lines, the director and the production team can better organize, visualize, and execute the story being told on screen.
Directing with Slug Lines
When directing a TV show or film, slug lines are crucial tools for conveying the visual elements of a scene. They provide essential information for the director and cinematographer, enabling them to plan shots, transitions, and other aspects related to the visual layout of the story.
Slug lines can also be used to indicate specific shots or camera movements, such as close-ups, wide shots, or tracking shots. By including slug lines in your screenplay, you give the director valuable insight into your vision for the scene and help them bring your story to life on screen.
Here are some examples of slug lines in TV and film production:
- INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY
- EXT. CITY PARK – NIGHT -INT. OFFICE – LATER
These slug lines not only set the location (interior or exterior) but also the time of day, providing essential context for the characters, plot, and overall feel of the scene.
Slug line examples from iconic movies
Here are a couple of slug lines in two iconic movies. These slug lines are perfect, they’re important, succinct, and most importantly, they bring attention to a critical point without overdoing it.
Let’s check out the slug lines from Parasite and John Wick.
Parasite slug line example
A great example of a slug line used as a subheader is in the movie Parasite. This is used to show a quick location change.
Parasite uses it well and allows the reader to quickly understand the quick pace of location change mid-scene without breaking stride.
John Wick slug line example
In this John Wick example, this is used to drive the reader’s attention to an important point in the plot. The empty gun, in which they use the simple slug line “CLICK CLICK.”
Slug lines in action scenes can bring attention to a key factor; they help build pace, help drive the scene, and push the scene along.
Read more on: How to craft EXCEPTIONAL secondary characters
Remember, using slug lines effectively can make a significant difference in the production value and storytelling of your TV show or film. Ensure you include clear, concise, and accurate slug lines to help the director and production team create a compelling and visually engaging story.
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