Spec Killers #3: Day and Night

Anyone who has ever written a screenplay should know what a slugline is (aka scene header). It’s one of the first things a screenwriter will learn and one of the first things a screenwriter will make a mistake with.

The most common slugline mistake is the time of day. The mistake: substituting “DAY” or “NIGHT”. I see this mistake at least 1 out of every 3 scripts. Any script consultant will tell you the same.

Instead of:


The writer will write:



When all you need is “NIGHT”.

Now, there have been plenty of arguments about how substituting “DAY” or “NIGHT” is not a bad thing. That it doesn’t take away from the story and actually puts the reader more into the story.

Let me give you three reasons why not using “DAY” or “NIGHT” can potentially kill your script:

1) There’s no need to be fancy:

It may seem like “DAY” and “NIGHT” would bore the reader. They read those words two hundred times a day. In our spec screenplays, we need to spice it up a bit right?

Not really.

Using “TWILIGHT” or “MAGIC HOUR” almost feels pretentious. And there’s just no need for that.

Sure, it may not affect the story, but does it HELP the story? Does it tell the story better to know that it’s “AFTERNOON” instead of just “DAY”?

Your job as a writer is to let the reader know if the sun is out or not. And “DAY” and “NIGHT” will do that just fine.

There’s no reason to make it fancy.

2) You’re drawing attention to the slugline:
Sluglines for screenwriters are similar to the phrases “he said” and “she said” for novelists. If you have ever taken a course on novel writing, one of the first things they tell you is to write “he said” more often then substitutions like “he exclaimed”, “he screamed”, “he pontificated”, and so on.

The reason for this is so that the “he said” becomes invisible. The reader reads it quickly and then moves on.

Same with your sluglines.

When you read enough screenplays, your brain is trained to scan the slugline, extract the location and move on. “DAY” and “NIGHT” help make it a smooth transition.

Even a word like: “EVENING” can stall a readers brain. Bringing attention to the slugline.

You want your reader to know where your characters are and tell your reader quickly. The reader’s day is a busy one. Don’t let the little things make their day busier.

3) It’s not your job:

Here’s the big one. The time of day that each scene is shot in, is not the decision of the writer, but of the director of photography. Ultimately, you really have no say in the matter.

So if the DP wants to shoot a scene at “MAGIC HOUR”, that’s the DP’s call, not yours.

The writer writes the story and the DP decides how to light it. A writer who has a problem with this is a writer no one will want to work with.

Just like every rule, there are exceptions. There will be situations where an exact time actually helps the story.

Lets take a vampire story for instance:


This helps build tension. We all know what happens when the sun goes down in a vampire story.

Another example is if your story is told within a 24 hour period. It may prove useful to be more specific with the time of day.



You don’t need ‘em.

90 percent of the time, good ole “DAY” and “NIGHT” will do you just fine.

Put your creativity in your story. Not in your slugline.

If you have any questions or opinions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at: support@readerproof.com

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