How To Write A Screenplay
If you want to write a screenplay, you need a really good original story. So study the news, make notes of things that intrigue you, watch films and TV, and find for inspiration everywhere. If a feature is too much of a challenge, start with two minutes (two pages) and work up to 10, then 30.
Work out your story in prose form first – someone will want a synopsis at some point.
- Horror? keep it short and breathless.
- Romance? make it fizz with sexual tension.
- Comedy? make us laugh.
Plot, plan, re-plot, re-plan
First work out what happens in every scene. Some people create this step outline using bespoke screenplay software, while others use index cards that can be laid out and moved around.
Stories need sound foundations and building blocks. People who suffer from writers’ block usually haven’t worked out their story. They gallop through 40 pages, and grind to a gut-wrenching stop, often abandoning the project.
Any fool can write the first draft of a screenplay
The first draft is great fun. You can write without restraint, throw in the gags, and add locations and characters without worrying about cost implications.
As a scriptwriter you must follow a certain style to be taken seriously. Hopefully, you can find out the screenplay format from places like the BBC Writersroom or buy specialised software like Final Draft. Ignore the format at your peril, and check your work with a fine toothcomb – typos and literals also mark you down as amateur scriptwriter.
Find the poetry
Characters should be differentiated by the way they speak: their poetry, while you can demonstrate your writing skills by crafting the stage directions in your poetry. As in the treatment, write the stage directions implying the affect you want to have on the audience.
Eric freezes in his tracks.
What was that?!
He holds his breath, heart thudding in his throat.
Someone… something insinuates out of the shadows.
He flinches, dares to turn his head a little…
Oh my god, no…..
Be concise and avoid adverbs
Some script readers and producers will not read a screenplay with adverbs in it. If you need an adverb, then your verbs aren’t working hard enough.
Example: She opened the door, slowly, carefully, and walked in on silent feet. (12 words)
Alternative: She tiptoed in (3 words)
Remember you have a limited amount of time to tell your story so cut the waffle.
It’s finished. Erm, not quite.
It may take a year or more to write a feature. Take a moment to congratulate yourself. Now put it in a drawer and forget about it. Clear your head and go back to it with a steely objective eye after a month.
If you have friends whose opinion you trust, give the screenplay to them to read. Or pay script readers for a report. Check out what work they have had produced before you hand over your cash (anything up to £200 for a report). These professional reports can be useful, as friends hesitate to tell you if your grand opus is a crock and may not know why.
Your first screenplay draft is just the start. Be ruthless when you return to look at it – does every character earn their lunch? Does every scene move the story along?
Study any feedback you’ve had. It’ll annoy you and furniture can be harmed during this time. Every criticism can feel like an injection of battery acid.
It may take you a couple of days to get over it. Once you do (and you have to if you want to succeed in this business), go back and see whether you agree with the point being made. It may trigger a better solution or a wittier line.
The art of being a scriptwriter is re-writing.
Now the hard work of editing, thinking, re-thinking, re-structuring, and re-writing starts. Your screenplay should be about 90 pages or the project becomes too expensive and unappealing: longer films mean less screenings equals less ticket sales.
All of this must happen before you send the script out. Make sure it’s the absolutely best it can be. And even when you think that, allow it to rest for another while before giving it a final polish and tighten.
Producers and agents will only read your screenplay once.