How To Write A Screenplay

You’ve got a great idea for a movie except you have no idea how to write a screenplay. Sound familiar? Learning how to write a screenplay takes time, patience and dedication. Taking the time to learn how to write a screenplay properly is well worth the time and effort involved.

  1. Decide on genre. Know what type of screenplay you want to write. This will make a difference in how the characters behave, the action involved and the dialogue that will occur. Do you want to write a comedy? A thriller? Science fiction or fantasy? Watch movies and note how characters interact with each other, when action takes place, how events lead up to the main conflict, how the conflict is resolved. Do these occur in the first five minutes, ten minutes, an hour in, the end?
  2. Know the subject. The subject of the screenplay is essential. You must know what the screenplay is about. The subject is not a list of everything that happens, it is the main point of screenplay. The answer to the question – what is the screenplay about – should be answered in one sentence. The subject of the screenplay must include both character and action – a person in a place doing something.
  3. Determine setting. Setting is essentially where and when the screenplay takes place. This is important in determining how the characters will interact and the action that will take place. Is the screenplay set in the heat of summer in a small Texas town? The dead of winter in the Colorado mountains? Fourth of July at Disneyland? A small seaside resort during spring break?
  4. Create characters. The characters must be believable, even in fantasy or futuristic stories. As the writer, it is essential to know every detail of the character, how they behave, their motivations, their desires and their fears. Create an outline or character sketch to profile each character.
  5. Determine beginning, middle and end. Act I is the beginning, the setup of the screenplay. The beginning sets the tone, the scene and anticipation of the conflict. Act II, the middle, is the central conflict or problem which faces the main character. Act III, the end, is the resolution. The end is when the main character deals with the conflict in some way, this is the outcome.
  6. Present the main character with a conflict. What is the main problem facing the character. What are the major obstacles to the main character achieving his goals?
  7. Give the character a resolution. The main character must have a resolution to the conflict. This does not mean the character has to achieve his goals, but how does the character deal with the obstacles?
  8. Create a brief outline. Briefly outline the beginning, middle and end including the above details. This will help keep you focused while writing the screenplay.
  9. Construct note cards. Each scene, situation and event should be written on a separate note card. Label three note cards Act I, Act II, Act III. Place each event under the appropriate Act. The note cards can be arranged in order of occurrence, added or removed.
  10. Write dialogue and action. The dialogue should be natural to the characters. Good dialogue does not sound forced. Go to a public place and listen to a few conversations and note how people speak to each other in different situations. Dialogue should flow naturally.
  11. Learn proper form. Several books, style guides and computer software programs are available to learn the proper layout, format and terminology to use in the screenplay. This is essential before submitting a screenplay.
  12. Edit, Rewrite, Revise. Once the first draft is finished, it is time to reread, edit, make changes and rewrite the screenplay. Most screenplays require several rewrites before they are completed.

Resources:

"Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" and "The Screenwriter’s Workbook" by Syd Field.

"How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" by Viki King.

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