Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How to Format Your Script

written by Toksvig

Someone asked me today if there's an industry standard way to format a musical theatre libretto, in the same way that I understand there are expectations for TV and film scripts.

To my knowledge, there isn't an industry standard. Having said that, there are certain things you can do to make sure your libretto is easily and clearly read.

Here's a PDF with an example.

Although your script doesn't have to look exactly like this, here are a few details of this layout that make it easy to follow:

The font used is Arial. It's a similar font to Helvetica, fairly common, and easy to read because it's very plain. Unlike such fonts as Times New Roman, there are no extra decorative parts to any of the letters. (Which font you like reading is, of course, a personal choice.)
There is a wide margin to the left and the right of the text. The wide left margin allows for holes to be punched in the pages without risk of punching through the text. The wide right margin allows actors/directors to make notes beside the text.

The character names are centred on the page. This allows for the eye to travel straight down the page, and for the actor to see who is speaking before they get to the actual line. This is a very common form of layout in the USA, but in the UK, formats often put character names to the left of the dialogue. Either is fine, depending on personal preference. 

Note that stage directions, lyrics and dialogue are easy to distinguish. This is achieved in two ways:

The left-alignment of each differs slightly. Stage directions are furthest from the left margin, lyrics are slightly closer to the left margin, and dialogue closer still. This allows the eye to distinguish the difference without having to focus on the content of the text.

Stage directions are in italics. LYRICS ARE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Dialogue is in normal text. Again, the eye has to work less hard to distinguish between the three.

There is a line of space between each different 'section' of the text. 

It can also be useful to put a header or footer on every page of the libretto, containing the title of the show, the mark of copyright and the page number. The latter, in particular, is incredibly useful in readings and workshops.

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