How to write a screenplay

So you want to write a screenplay? Good for you!

Few things are as rewarding as typing in the final FADE OUT: on your own personal magnum opus.

Few processes are as frustrating.

Screenwriting is an immensely difficult skill that only a few celebrated individuals can claim to have have mastered. People like William Goldman, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Lawrence Kasdan, and Billy Wilder. The greats.

That leaves us mere mortals to struggle with the process as bang our heads against the wall in tune with our keyboards to knock out the next great Hollywood blockbuster. Myself included.

Still interested? Good. Being stubborn and a hard headed S.O.B. are some of the most important qualities any screenwriter can have to begin with so your already ahead of the curve.

Now be prepared to spend the rest of your screenwriting career forever behind it. But you’re stubborn remember? You don’t know any better. And that’s exactly why you’re going to succeed.

Feet First

Years ago I was just like you. I wouldn’t have considered myself a screenwriter in any way. I didn’t know a slugline from a logline, but I liked telling stories and thought I’d try my hand at writing them out. So I took a screenwriting class at my local community college. I enjoyed it and It was fun. At the end of the class I had an idea for a kick ass story I just HAD to tell. I started writing it. The first ten pages came easy. I was halfway there I thought.

But I had a full load of other classes to take while juggling 30 hours a week working. I took a day off from writing. Then a week. Then months. Then years. Through it all I never forgot about my story and would often work on it mentally, day dreaming while taking long road trips or during the slow nights at work. I told anybody who would listen about my story proudly and that one day I would finally finish writing it. One day. When I had time and could start again. Maybe tomorrow. Or if not then next week for sure.

Eventually I stopped telling people about my movie. What had been my pride and joy had become my secret shame. Every now and then a friend would ask me how the movie was coming along and I’d have nothing to say. I realized I was all hack and no act. Just a bunch of talk, like everybody else out in the world. I knew my movie inside and out but had nothing to show for it.

That’s when I overcame my first mental hurdle. I had read somewhere that no idea was worth anything that hadn’t been written down. Without being written out an idea couldn’t be shared with others. Couldn’t be commented on, Couldn’t be told what sucked and needed to improved or what was awesome and great just the way it was. Even the worst written screenplay in the world was better than mine because at least it existed.

With that little nugget of sage knowledge implanted in my head I vowed to make my new year’s resolution that year to finish my screenplay once and for all before the end of the year.

So I sat down in front of my computer, blew the virtual dust off my Final Draft and got to work and quickly came to one horrible realization.

I had no idea what I was doing anymore.

Going Back to School

In the years since my one semester of screenwriting class I had forgotten all there was to know about writing a script. But I didn’t let it phase me because when I get motivated to do something, I mean really  high self efficacy, gonna prove the haters wrong, chip on my shoulder motivated I’m a real stubborn son of a bitch. I just wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

And as I wrote I studied. I searched out other screenplays to see how they’re supposed to look and read. I reached out to other aspiring screenwriters and learned from their examples, and often harsh critiques. When I watched movies began deconstructing scenes into script format. I spent hours reading screenwriting books at Barnes and Noble hoping to glean tips and tricks from the “pros.” I searched the internet for the same. Some websites were helpful, while others were not.

And I through it all I kept writing. My story took shape. Problems I never knew existed with characterization and structure arose and I relished in the challenge of solving them. Until early one morning when I came to my final scene and finally wrote out the two most gratifying words for any screenwriter. FADE OUT.

And two months ahead of schedule!

I felt exhilarated. Like a runner crossing the finish line for their first marathon. I was on cloud 9. For the first time I was finally able to share with others exactly what I had kept bottled up in my head for years and so I did to a select few.

And they told me my script sucked.

It was only my first draft. My story was bloated. The pages were full of typos and grammatical errors. The dialogue went on forever. Some people couldn’t even make it past the first few pages.

But like I said, I’m a stubborn SOB. I jumped back in and rewrote a second draft. Then a third. Fourth. Fifth. Sixth. I lost track of how many times I went back over my story. But each time I did I knew was script was getting better. My story was getting tighter. The dialogue sharper. My descriptions more vivid. And most importantly my page count got smaller and smaller.

Screenwriting is a craft. It’s one of the most intellectual and challenging ones there is. Anybody can tell a story. My two year old tells me stories all the time as she goes on and on about her day at preschool or why the sun disappears at night. But to write a full and engaging story in the least amount of space possible, now that is an art.

I’m no expert. Not that long ago I was just like you. Full of eager ideas and struggling to just find the time to write them in a way well enough to hold a reader’s attention past my first ten pages. But I’ve learned a lot since then and it’s my hope this site can help you overcome the initial barrier that I struggled with so much when I first started writing again.

Because that barrier is large.

But we’re too stubborn to know any better.

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