Writing a screenplay for a movie is some people’s dream, but the process of writing it might not be so dream-like. It takes a lot of dedication to sit down and write, then comes the arduous, and potentially heartbreaking process of having to shop it around. If you’ve never written a screenplay before, there are many things to consider, not least of which is the actual format. If your script doesn’t have the classic formatting structure of all other scripts, it’ll get tossed out. This site shows budding screenwriters exactly how to format their script.
Don’t think that any part of this process will be easy. For every day where it seems as though the story just flows out of you, there will be three where you’ll be looking for any excuse to not write. After you learn these tips and guidelines, this course on workshopping your script will help hone it into something really special.
Before You Start
Sitting down to a blank Word document or blank sheet of paper in a typewriter can be scary. While you may have a story and characters in mind, actually starting the writing process is difficult. In this section, we’ll show you how to organize your thoughts so you can get started writing your screenplay. This article on how to write a script will pair well with the tips you’ll learn below.
- Have a good idea. Without a good idea, you shouldn’t bother starting the writing process. It helps if the concept is original, and if not, at least an unusual twist on a well-known story. No one wants to see another unoriginal romance movie, but a romance movie on the moon? That’s another story.
- Create good characters. They don’t all have to be likable or relatable, but at least one of them does so the audience has someone to root for. Otherwise, make them as out there as you’d like. It may help you to use character archetypes to help you form these people. Archetypes are character blueprints that have existed for centuries and that we are all familiar with. These include The Innocent (Snow White), The Hero (Indiana Jones), and The Jester (most Jim Carrey comedy roles), among others.
- Outline the story. Once you’ve got your basic concept and the characters that will live in this world, outline the arc of the story. Where do the characters go in the story, both physically and emotionally? How do they interact with each other? Will anybody learn anything? Once you have these questions answered, the rest should just write itself.
The Writing Process
Once you’ve done the preliminary work, hopefully your creative juices are flowing and you not only have ideas for the actual script, but are excited to get these ideas down on paper. Once you begin the actual writing process, these tips will hopefully help keep you on the right path.
- Set a schedule and stick to it, writing every day if you’re able. This is sound advice for several reasons. First off, writing every day will help you improve as a writer. Doing anything every day for an extended period of time will make you better at it. Second, if this is something you’re truly passionate about, you will want to get in the habit of doing it all the time, because if you’re lucky enough to do this for a living, you’ll have to do it almost every day.
- Write what you know. One of the tenets of all writing is to write about what you’re familiar with. If you stray too far away from what’s familiar to you, it may sound fake to your audience, and will not bode well for you. Hopefully you also have a good understanding of your strengths as a writer. Stick to these and you’ll be fine.
- Keep your goals in mind. If you get stuck with a scene and can’t figure out what should happen next, remember that not only does the scene itself need a goal and resolution, but the characters are also going somewhere in the story. Step back if you need to, and reassess what each character is doing, and why.
Now That You’re Finished…
So you’ve dotted all of the t’s and lower case j’s in your screenplay. You’re getting there, but not quite yet. You next must further hone your work, then get it out there to be made. If you are able to get to this point, but find you have trouble getting your script filmed, this course on DIY filmmaking shows you how to make and sell your movie yourself, and this course on the business of screenwriting will show you how to position it for selling.
- Proofread, edit, then read it out loud. Once you’ve edited the script, pass it around to get advice, then edit it more with this advice in mind. And even though the dialogue might have sounded great as you were writing it, it might be a totally different story once you actually say the words out loud. Once you’ve finished the first edit, read it out loud to yourself, or better yet, get a group of friends or local actors to perform it, and see how it works in real life, then edit again based on this performance.
- Get it into the hands of professionals. If you want to take control of your script, send it to the people who can get it made. Enter it into competitions, have someone come up with a budget, find a cast, find a budget, talk to producers. Without this step, your script is just paper.
Writing a screenplay will be much more difficult than we’ve described here, but you’ll find out soon enough. It will be a labor of love, and there’s a chance it won’t end happily. But don’t get discouraged – write about something you know and are passionate about. If you’re interested in using a script drafting software to help you out, this course on the Final Draft software can help you crank out a professional looking screenplay.