What is the difference between a scriptwriter and a screenwriter? Frankly, even if you ask some experienced writers, they would instinctively answer – none, they are the same. But, are they?

The reason that there might be confusion arising when these two terms are defined lies in the fact that one of these categories is broader than the other. On the other hand, each of them has a number of sub-divisions dealing with different specific types of writing.

Essentially, scriptwriting is a broader category than screenwriting. Screenwriting is, which itself includes writing for cinema and TV, is actually part of scriptwriting. It bears a separate term due to its specifics and writing process.

On the other hand, scriptwriting, although it includes screenwriting, usually refers to writing a script for everything else. It could be a movie trailer, a radio ad script, or a video game script, among other things.

As one expert explains it, the real primary difference between scriptwriting and screenwriting is what the writer’s function is.

A script is normally what the actors or broadcasters are saying, it is totally concerned with dialogue, also it has little to do with stage direction or setting the scene in some description.

The real focus here is relaying a story and the words behind that. Sound effects or lighting instruction have little to do with scriptwriting. Anything that is not directly concerned with the actors is omitted.

However, the screenwriter has to inform everything else that is going on that was omitted from the script. Probably the director will find this more useful than one of the actors, although a screenplay would be extremely useful also.

A screenplay written by a screenwriter relays all the various parts of the filming that are outside of the actor’s remit (above).

What is scriptwriting?

Let us then start with scriptwriting. According to the definition of the above source, scriptwriting is where a writer puts together the content that will be used in all manner of live or recorded presentations. “It could be the dialogue for a chat show of the narrative used in a news broadcast.

One might call writing the script for a movie as scriptwriting, but such a script usually is for multiple characters. This type of writing does not encompass the visuals of a movie or a TV show. Scriptwriting is all about what is being said on a film or a set, what the content of the actor’s relays.”

So what do then the scriptwriters do? As All About careers notes, “scriptwriters are the incredibly talented people who write scripts for feature films, sitcoms, television dramas, radio plays, cartoons, TV adverts, West End musicals, and anything else you can think of where adlibbing actors just won’t suffice.”

The scriptwriting process tends to involve the following course of action: idea generation and research, planning, character development, and then writing. Scriptwriters write every aspect of a script, from the dialogue to the stage directions.

Their job is to write material that is intended to be performed. This offers scriptwriters a different kind of creative challenge. It’s essential that the dialogue is believable and the film or show ticks along at a decent pace. What’s more, scriptwriters must take other things into account, such as pre-watershed restrictions.

The majority of scriptwriters specialize in a particular genre, such as comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, horror or action.

Some work as salaried staff writers for production companies,, but the majority of scriptwriters work as freelancers, selling their scripts ‘on spec’ or working on a contract basis.

What is screenwriting?

Based on a definition by StudioBinder, screenwriting is actually creating content for visual mediums. These include all types of films, TV, and online videos. According to this source, screenwriters “write screenplays for feature films, short films, television, commercials, and video games. They create the dialogue, the characters, and the storyline of a script.”

Essentially, according to the Academy of Art University, screenwriter encounters six main types of scripts/screenplay types during his career:

  • feature film;
  • live-action TV series;
  • short-form film and video content;
  • animated TV series;
  • video games;
  • short web series and mini0-series.

Many in the general public would think that writing a screenplay for a film is the same as writing for TV as a medium. As screenplay expert, Brodie Rush points out,” TV writing and feature film writing are inherently different because the expectations of producers are so different.”

When a feature film producer reads a spec script from an emerging writer, they’re really looking for a unique voice: a writer who can tell a great story in a way that no one else can tell it. TV producers would like that unique voice too, but for TV producers it’s about more than just telling a great story. It’s about telling a reproducible one, which can be told again and again, for years and years, in a way that fits within the current business model of a very specific network. This leaves TV writers with a challenging quandary: how do you shape your TV pilot to fit the distinct formulas required by each network, without compromising the unique voice as a writer that actually gives you a chance of selling it? (Above)

What is the difference between a scriptwriter and a screenwriter – different types of scripts

Let us then get back in more detail to the six main different types of scripts listed above.

  • Feature film – Feature film scripts are traditionally written by one writer or a team. After the first final draft, a script may then be modified, edited, or “workshopped” by new or veteran writers. A feature film-length script will usually be about 120 standard pages, on average, assuming that a page is equivalent to a minute on screen.
  • Live-action TV series – TV series tend to be written in teams. The job of a single writer is to meet with a group of writers in a writers’ room every day or a few times a week. On their own, they’ll come up with storylines, subplots, jokes, new characters, and dialogue. Sometimes, they’ll be assigned something specific for someone else’s script. Other times, they’ll take the lead with a story all their own.
    Live-action series can be serial or episodic. Because of commercials, half-hour stories tend to run approximately 22 minutes (between about 22 and 45 pages). Hour-long stories require about 45 minutes of script.
  • short-form film and video content – Short-form film and video content may be narrative fiction, documentary-style, or introductory/biographical in nature. Corporate enterprises usually use the latter to promote products or services. These scripts run the gamut from short and sweet (just a few minutes long) to substantial, but not quite feature film-length (perhaps 20 to 30 minutes long). Because of their shorter nature, it’s not uncommon to have a smaller budget with these sorts of content (as opposed to network TV writing, for example).

More on types of scripts

  • Animated TV series – Like live-action TV, animated TV series can episodic, although they can also be serial. Lengths tend to be the same; however, you’ll rarely see an hour-long animated series, so 22-minute scripts for a half-hour show (about 22 to 45 pages) are more common. Also, like live-action TV, you’ll commonly write as a team for animated TV series. This is traditional for adult animated series, such as The Simpsons or King of the Hill. However, children’s animated series can be different and may only necessitate one writer or a writing duo.
  • Video games – The gaming industry seeks screenwriters who can spin a unique tale to serve as the introduction to a game’s storyline. The plot must then lead to actions and developments, which change based on each player’s moment-to-moment decisions.
    To stay in line with the world of the story, screenwriters must follow the guidance of project directors and narrative designers. Therefore, teamwork is crucial, but writers themselves tend to work on their own. Some games may come in series or “episodes.”
    Because video game stories can spin off in many directions, scripts tend to be quite long and have multiple possible beginnings, middles, and endings.
  • Short web series and mini-series – Usually, small production teams work on short web and mini-series. One writer may also be acting as a director/producer/actor and a skeleton crew. In other words, these are often smaller projects akin to short-film and video, so writers may wear many hats and must be open to collaboration.
    Short web and mini-series scripts may be serial or episodic, depending on the genre. Veteran writers recommend keeping these scripts short – about five to 10 minutes per episode is traditional. (All above based on Academy of Art descriptions)

Scriptwriter or screenwriter – getting the job done

So answering the question what is the difference between a scriptwriter and a screenwriter we can come to the conclusion that we are speaking about something that seems like a nuance.

Still, the differences are there and they can very often make or break a project if you don’t get exactly the writer you need. Somebody might be perfect to write a short feature film, but you just might need another specialist who works on scripts for TV or video ads.

Big film and TV companies usually have their own full-hire screenplay writers or writing teams. On the other hand, independent and business projects in most cases rely on the expertise of freelance scriptwriters or screenwriters.