What should I do first???

What should I do first???

A Lesson by Gabriel Strange

The first steps are usually obvious but it's always best to remind yourself every now and that that your a writer and you need to write.


I have spoken to many young and budding screenwriters, who have just left university but haven’t found there full drive or desires yet.  It’s always hard to make that first jump to your first script for your own pleasure and practice.  But it’s the one that is a statement and says I’m a screenwriter.

The biggest barrier is fear, fear that you may suck, fear that you can’t do it and fear that other people may think you suck. Well I’ll let you into a secret that all screenwriters have hidden away in a drawer, they all have a first script and they all suck so don’t worry about it, my first script is a bag of pants. I still love it because it taught me so much and the characters were fun and enjoyable to write, with its bad structure, no verticality and overall it suckyness. I may bring it out for a few people to read every now and then. So don’t be afraid of your script sucking, because they first few you do will suck big time and every writer no matter how good has gone through the same.

Now that’s over with time to write a script that sucks. Knowing that it’s by far going to be the worse script of your life frees you up to go nuts and just do something utterly random. Save your good ideas until you have at least two feature films written. Yes your second film will suck but not as much as the first.

Your first Feature Script

I did mine while I was in my second year at university; because there wasn’t much else they could teach me as everything else comes from practice. So I set myself a challenge to write a feature script and take it through two drafts. This included the one sheet information treatment and character bios. I even did a few sample scenes from the characters past (this was fun).

But what to write is a big question, I picked something that I enjoyed watching but isn’t my preferred genre, I did a coming of age comedy set in a UK university. Nothing original or inventive and something fairly easy to get into and write; yes I wrote a fluff script. This also helped as I was in university at the time I didn’t need to do that much research. Writing from experience is always a good start.

You can always go overboard on research; I prefer to do some surface skimming to get a general idea so there aren’t any major flaws. Then on the second draft do research where it’s needed, the affect research has on a script reduces exponentially the more you do. It’s usually not worth going into deep research unless there is something very specific that the plot revolves around. Look at it this way film never accurately portrays the world but they create a suspension of disbelief, if you can maintain that suspension then research is only needed to keep that going.

Anyway back to what to write, I recommend something you know well enough as spending more than a few hours research on a script that will never be made and only be seen by a few friends, isn’t worth the effort.  Above all else keep the story goals simple and easy to follow, going to complex at this point is a waste of time.

So a nice simple out of your preferred genre story, that you don’t need to research. Yes this will be the worst thing you ever write. But the experience and skill you will pick up are worth there weight in gold. Also you can brag about how you have completed your first feature script.

Another Advantage

One thing this will do for you is that it will be the first step into building your portfolio of work. If you only have one script when pitching an idea to a director or producer they will laugh at you, if you say this is my 5th or 6th script now that sounds impressive. The other scripts you’re not pitching are probably various shades of suck. But they know that you take your script seriously because this is the best of the others, this is the one you’re confident about. Also if the idea you’re pitching fails you can at least pitch the sucky ideas, with the knowledge you can rewrite them better now.

Trying to Convince the World you’re a Writer

This is the hard part; no one will take you seriously if you have never written a script. However there are some simple and not so simple things you can do to show everyone you’re a writer.

1)      A Blog – Yep this is the kind of thing you need maintain you may only get ten readers, but that’s not what’s important. A blog is a good way to express yourself in a nonstory format, and if you update it at least twice a week it keeps you writing. I recommend WordPress, it’s not fussy and easy to use but mainly it’s free.

2)      Join the Writers’ Guild – This is an easy step and for a student it’s cheap. It makes people think you’re a little more serious, plus when you do get a commission they can help, especially if you haven’t got yourself an agent yet.

3)      Write your first feature script – As detailed above.

4)      Filing – Keep a series of files each in their own folder separated by genre, every time you have an idea create a document name it and put it in a folder. I have hundreds of these, some are only one line of text others are several pages. This is your other ideas to pitch when your first idea fails.

5)      Find some actors – Local student actors are always useful start building an address book of them.

6)      Write your second feature script – I recommend a love story, it’s not hard to write but it’s hard to make convincing. Now use the actors you have found and act out some if not all the scenes in the script. They will ask questions, lots of them, this is a good way to see how well you know your story. Crib sheets are useful. Keep a note of anything you have no clue about as this is the stuff you need to be aware of in your next script.  Seeing the script acted out really shows how you’re writing works and if your dialogue flows and has a rhythm. Make a note of any changes suggested and rewrite the script. Do this through a few revisions and at each stage be very observant of how an actor interprets your lines. This will tell you if what you have written is hitting the right places.

7)      Write a Spec Script – This is a script that will never be made or sold but it’s the best work you can do at that time. It’s you it’s something your passionate about and something you have to spend many weeks researching. This is to show the world you can write and maintain a narrative. Because of this I recommend doing an adaptation (it will never get made or sold remember so you can skirt around copyright as long as you don’t claim it’s your original idea). This also means the agent or producer can compare your work to the original and see if you capture the essence of the work while creating an entertaining screenplay. Also if someone tries to steal your work they have the original copyright to take on.  This script will never be made or sold, forget budget, go wild imagine the perfect cast, the perfect locations and a story that can flow freely.

8)      Get an Agent – This bit is hard but for a new screenwriter it shows that at least one industry professional likes what you do. Also you will have someone on your side to help you sell your scripts. Sending a script to a production company is one way to lose your idea. This is where your spec script comes in; send it to an agent explain it’s an adaptation and you don’t own the rights so can’t sell it. But it is an example of what you do and that should they take you on you will write your next script based of any demand in the market they foresee. The same goes for producers.

9)      Write – This is obvious, but a banker spend 40 hours a week working in banking, a writer should spend about the same in writing activities: research, blogging, developing ideas, revisions, writing, working on films/with actors and on occasions going for long walks so you can gather your thoughts. Your a writer you want this to be your job, treat it as such.



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Added on September 1, 2012
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Gabriel Strange
Gabriel Strange

Cardiff, South Glamorgan, United Kingdom

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I found myself huddled up in a Grebo community in the Midlands, here I started working in Publishing, well not really working more running around panicking as ..