10 Easy steps in How to Write a Screenplay

10 Easy steps in How to Write a Screenplay

A Lesson by Chelsea

Difficulty: Easy!


  • 1

    Learn proper script formatting. There are dozens of guidebooks that will give you the correct script writing format, or better yet, pick up software like Final Draft or Scriptware. One of the biggest clues to a reader that a script will be lousy is that it simply doesn't adhere to proper formatting. Always use spell check, and make sure that you're grammatically correct in your descriptive passages. You are allowed to use bad grammar in dialogue, only because many people do speak that way.

  • 2

    Have something to say. Too many screenplays are dependent on special effects and visuals. There are the means to tell as story, not the story. Summarize the essence of your tale in a single sentence, a premise that draws a parallel between cause and effect. It helps to have a strong point of view. Go back to the classics for examples. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the premise is that unrestrained ambition leads to destruction. In Othello, unchecked jealousy destroys. Make the premise specific and hang all the action on it.

  • 3

    Drama is conflict. You need to strong opposing forces both wanting the same object to maximize dramatic tension. In "Raiders of the Lost Ark", both Harrison Ford and the Nazis wanted the Arc of the Covenant.

  • 4

    Begin with a bang. Readers can usually tell within a few pages whether or not the script was worth reading. Since most of our audiences have short attention spans, you need to begin with a strong dramatic opening. Again, think of Raiders. Who will ever forget the boulder rolling after Indiana Jones?

  • 5

    Know your characters thoroughly. Write biographies for each. Remember, within the context of the screenplay, plot flows from the characters not the other way around. Dialogue should come from who your people are. When I'm in the flow, I can literally hear my characters talking in my head and I type down what they say. Read all your dialogue out loud. Make sure that your characters speak the way people talk.

  • 6

    Use a three act structure. Most plots can be summarized quite simply. Put your characters up a tree, throw stones at them and get them down again

  • 7

    Employ turning points. One great way to hold a viewer's interest is to employ at least two major turning points in your scripts. Once you've put your train on the rails and set it going, after twenty pages, veer off in a different direction. Don't let your audience settle in. Do the same in your third act, about twenty pages before your finish.

  • 8

    Keep your scripts to between 100 and 120 pages. Screenwriting is like poetry. Every word should count. Leave the shot choices to the director unless something specific is needed to clarify a story such as a close up of a bloody glove.

  • 9

    Register your script with the Writer's Guild of America. It won't stop somebody from stealing your idea, but if you can prove access and prior creation, you might just have a worthy lawsuit if a movie is made that parallels yours.

    More importantly, your title will be registered.

  • 10

    Don't be discouraged. There are literally thousands of screenplays written annually. In this year of sequels, fewer and fewer original movies are produced.

  • Comments

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    Posted 5 Years Ago

    great list of things people should know. 9 is something a lot of new screenwriters don't know about.And its something that many writers fear.

    [send message]

    Posted 5 Years Ago

    Very well said all the way around. Loved the analogy put on number 6:

    "Use a three act structure. Most plots can be summarized quite simply. Put your characters up a tree, throw stones at them and get them down again"

    Very funny, and very much more so true. I would also recommend stating that short scripts are not only great practice, but can/may lead to a bigger idea, and then you may just have a feature length screenplay. Another great addition would be timing. Meaning for every page, expect that to be roughly one minute on average of the film and/or play you are writing. Other then that I see this as a great starter kit for writing any screenplay.
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    Added on May 28, 2011
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