Writing a screenplay for a feature film is something that comes naturally to a select few, but typically requires a serious focus and dedication to gain the skills necessary to master. If you’re a little nervous about it, that’s a okay, because it means you’re not alone. After all, screenwriting isn’t something that we learn in grammar school, but there are a ton of resources through books, communities, forums, online resources and schooling that can guide the articulate wordsmith from a beginner to screenwriting expert!
But the truth is that screenwriting is within your grasp. If you’ve ever told a story in your life, you already have the basic knowledge needed to write a movie. From the arc of conflict in a script to writing natural dialogue to how a script should be formatted. All you need to supply is the irresistible story, and you’re on your way. With all that being said, here are a few tips that might help you to start to understand your screenplay and make your first draft go a little more smoothly. These will assist in getting you started as you get into the thick of writing.
THE ROUGH DRAFT
First understand that this is only a draft, it is only a draft. You are brainstorming writing down your thoughts and ideas a rough draft. This is the time for experimentation and risk-taking. At this stage, there are no rules you can go back later to perfect your draft.
Even professional writers write and rewrite and tweak for a long time before ever getting to the brilliance of a great screenplay. So don’t be discouraged, just let your natural instincts flow. Be creative and imaginative. Remember at this stage there are no rules.
CHOOSE AN IDEA THAT EXCITES YOU
For first time efforts it may be easier to write what you know. It’s just easier to write familiar settings and characters. That said, you’re writing a screenplay to explore something new, to have an adventure, to step outside your everyday life. You-and your characters-aren’t going to make it through 30 days and nights of screenwriting if your subject matter is so familiar it puts you to sleep. So write a story that excites you, one that you want to tell to your friends, one that you can’t stop thinking about, one that would be a movie you’d love to go see.
Don’t be afraid to join a writing group where you share your work with others. Some of the best screenplays have come out of writers’ groups. If you’re serious, then join a serious writing group where members push each other to turn out their best work. If you can’t join one in your community, you can sometimes find writers’ groups online. The best thing that you and your script can possess is passion.
Watch a lot of movies. Approximately 100,000 screenplays are written a year. Hollywood produces roughly 500 feature films a year. You can learn something from almost every movie out there. Most of us can talk tirelessly about our favorite movie scenes, plot twists, and happy endings. First, try reading the screenplay for a movie you know and love. Pay attention to how the familiar elements in the film-plot, character, setting-were initially described using text. Next, read a screenplay for a movie you’ve never seen before. Try to imagine the finished film in your head. Then watch the movie and see how the text was translated into a visual medium. Begin to understand the relationship between text and film. Start to learn the shape of a screenplay.
Read a screenplay while you watch the movie
With one eye on the script, watch a movie with the other eye. Notice how a well-written screenplay follows the adage, “Show, Don’t Tell.” Even though you’re reading words on paper, a well-written script shows you the movie in your mind. Before you start writing your screenplay, read several screenplays. Read at least 5 or 6; it would be better to read even more. You can download screenplays off the internet, or you can find them at a library. It doesn’t matter how you read them, just be sure to read them. Learn the form. After you’ve read 5 or 6 screenplays, you’ve figured out that screenplays follow a particular format. This format must be followed.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS
People don’t go to the movies to see scary, romantic, or exciting situations; they go to see memorable human beings reacting to scary, romantic, or exciting situations. Which means your big goal as a screenwriter is to create real characters that the audience will want to watch. As you’re working with your characters and plotline, it’s helpful to remember that what you’re writing will ultimately be viewed in a single 2 to 2.5-hour sitting. Your film has a lot of ground to cover in a very short period of time, and it has to hold the audience’s attention for the duration! Given these parameters, your story doesn’t have much time to dawdle or drift. You can help jump-start this engine by putting powerful, significant, or extreme situations and motivations into your script.
Enjoy the process.
If you type an average of 45 words-per-minute, you can type an entire script in just 5 or 6 hours. Thinking about your characters, developing your plot, and coming up with ideas for scenes obviously takes a lot more time. Have fun with it. A screenplay is a plan for a future movie. What this means is that when you start writing, all the information in a screenplay must eventually translate into either images or sound, the twin languages of film. This is fairly manageable when writing dialogue, since people talking translates rather nicely to an image and a sound. But writing action and description can be a different story. Especially for those of you who have written a novel or other prose, this translation process-and its pitfalls-can take some getting used to.
Learn the business.
This is an aspect of screenwriting that too many writers overlook. The irony is that the solitary nature of screenwriting is counterbalanced by the fact that your script is going to be the blueprint for a film that may hire hundreds of people. You had better understand how you fit in the whole film making process. The best scripts don’t always get made. Don’t limit yourself to just feature films. Writing a good script is a skill valued by a lot of people and companies. You can take these skills to advertising agencies, production companies, and even video game manufacturers.