Let’s get one thing straight– writing a script isn’t easy, even for seasoned professionals. Still, there’s no reason to feel you can’t write a good script: you can. You just have to work through the process and revise until it is what you envisioned. Don’t fret, we’ll help you get through the screenwriting trenches. However, first, let’s go over all the basics you need to know.
Craft and solidify the story you want to tell
Typically, in the early stages of screenwriting, you’ll have a massive number of ideas you want to implement in your screenplay. On the other hand, if you don’t have a ton of ideas, consider writing about a topic you’re very familiar with to help ideas naturally emerge. In the very early stages of screenplay writing, it is good to have tons of ideas. Write them down as they come to you. Eventually, when you believe you’ve found what you want to write about, write a logline.
What is a logline? A logline is one or two sentences that will describe your story in a compelling way. Try to keep it as short as you can. The fewer words you use to describe your story, the more you will solidify and understand what you want to write about. If your logline is too muddled with too many ideas, hone it down.
After creating the logline, develop your characters. Shape them to fulfill the story you defined in the logline. Give them goals in the story that they are trying to achieve. Also, regardless of what kind of movie you’re trying to make, your characters need a purpose and a conflict or challenge to overcome. Their goals and how they try to achieve them will give meaning to the plot. It doesn’t matter if your plot is on point. An interesting plot will be shredded to pieces by an uninteresting, flat protagonist.
Write an outline
So, you have all these ideas about where you want to take your story. It’s now time to fit all the ideas that fit together. Writing an outline is similar to completing a puzzle that’s been mixed with other random puzzle pieces. You have all your ideas laid out and you have to figure out which pieces fit together and set aside the ones that don’t fit.
Your outline should break down every important plot point in the story. Furthermore, it should break them down in order, so that it follows the storyline as it will be presented in the movie. In this stage of screenwriting, you will have to think about structure and pace. You can decide to go with a traditional three-act structure, or you can shake things up with your own. If you are just beginning though, it might be helpful to start with a tried-and-true structure that has a beginning, middle and end.
Expand on the outline with a treatment
Now that you have the basic structure of your story, it’s time to start expanding your ideas with more details. Basically, this is going to be a much more detailed version of your outline. While the outline focused on skimming the surface of your screenplay, the treatment allows you to dive deeper. So, you can write dialogue or even make notes about what settings should look like. This stage should be loose. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your story.
It’s time to write your script
The most important thing to get right during the final stages of screenwriting is formatting. You’ve gone through the loose, fun brainstorming stage of screenplay writing. When you start writing your script, it’s time to be structured. Also, write your script in present tense. Plus, remember the adage: show, don’t tell. You are writing for a visual project. As such, it is best to use visuals to tell the story more than dialogue. After you finish writing, have someone else read it and take their thoughts into consideration.
Here’s a basic breakdown of the format you should follow when writing your script:
Scene Heading: Scene headings indicate a change in location and time. Every single scene change needs to start with a scene header. This will make it clear when the scenes are changing to whoever is reading your script.
To create a scene heading, being the heading with prefixes like INT., EXT., and INT/EXT. Those abbreviations are shortened from “INTERIOR” and “EXTERIOR” respectively. These are used to state when the scene is cutting to a different room or area in the same setting. Scene heading prefixes are always capitalized.
Say you are writing a scene inside the Oval Office in the White House at night. You would write it as:
INT. WHITE HOUSE OVAL OFFICE – NIGHT
Action: This section describes what is happening in the scene. It isn’t dialogue.
Character name: For dialogue, put the name of the character who is about to speak right above their lines.
Parenthetical: These are mini scene descriptions written between a character’s name and their dialogue. They describe the action or emotion that should accompany a piece of dialogue.
Dialogue: This is what a character is saying verbally.
Rewrite and edit
Once you finish the first draft of your script, take a little time to recharge. After a few days away, come back with fresh eyes and reread what you wrote. It’s your first draft, so there are bound to be things you’ll want to rewrite and fix. Keep doing this process until you feel it can’t be revised any more. Then, get help for others. Have friends read it or even a professional editor. Even professionals write multiple versions of their script. It’s just part of the process.
Now that you know the basics of screenwriting, it’s time to start brainstorming and figuring out what you want your future movie to be about. Happy filmmaking!