10 Steps That Will Make You A Better Writer: How To Write A Screenplay

Tim Robbins in The Player

  1. Read as many scripts and plays as you can 

I put this even above brainstorming for ideas simply because in order to be a good writer you need to read good writing! You will learn so much from other writers in terms of dialogue, setting the scene, style and story techniques. You should always be reading good material. First try going for the writers of some of your favourite films. Many of the screenplays are available via amazon. You can get free transcripts online but I would be wary of these since they often differ greatly from the finished film version of the script. I also recommend stage plays for your reading material since plays by their nature must focus on good dialogue and character development as a primary storytelling device.

  1. Brainstorm ideas that interest you, use the tabloids for inspiration.

By the time you’ve done your reading of scripts you will no doubt already have some ideas cooking. Write down your ideas, I tend to mindmap mine and then add to these by scouring over the tabloids a rich resource for writers. The Mailonline  (mailonline http://www.dailymail.co.uk) is a particular favourite of mine. There is at least one article everyday I could make a story from.

  1. Write a small story outline, or scenario. Set up a situation, must be dramatic

Once you’ve whittled down your ideas to the ones that interest you the most, write a brief outline of your story. Or even just the situation, this should be no more than a paragraph.

  1. Pick two characters from your outline and put them in an immediate situation together, make them talk, what do they say

This tends to be the part where most people procrastinate and stall. My advice…just crack on with it, the sooner they start talking the better. The key here is in creating a situation interesting enough that will inform on the dialogue. You can have your characters talking about what their favourite brand of tea is but if the situation is they’re talking about this to keep their mind off the fact they’re about to parachute into enemy territory in the middle of the Cambodian night, well that’s interesting! Again the reading you’ve done earlier will help you with the dialogue.

  1. Always think of creating drama/tension in a scene

Once you start writing you should be able to visualise the scene as you go. If you find the scene is lulling, end it sooner or introduce something new to the mix. You should always be working to maintain the drama, keep the stakes high, and remember why this scene is crucial to the entire story. Why these characters need to say what they say.

  1. Write through the block, even if you think nothing comes or what you have is not good, keep writing till the end

Usually about two thirds of your way into the story you’ll come across a block, things just seem to have stalled and you don’t make any progress. Make sure you keep writing through these times since this is the graveyard of many would be screenplays. Many get left here at this stage unfinished, its much better to keep writing, keep your characters talking and have a finished screenplay that needs work than an unfinished one that gets abandoned. Remember you will definitely end up polishing characters, plot and dialogue in the latter drafts. No one writes a perfect script on the first draft! This is a good time to go back to step 3 remember what the ultimate goal of the story was and keep writing till you reach that.

  1. Remember great stories are made in the rewrites, comb over your script what grabs you what bores you

Once you have your finished story, congratulate yourself, and give yourself some reward for your efforts. The next stage involves detailed analysis of each scene; see what keeps you excited and what bores you. Remember the aim is to keep the stakes of the story high, what is each characters goals and how do they go about getting it. How they get what they want defines who they are. This is the part where you can identify any sections that seem clunky or awkward.

  1. Get feedback

The next step following an initial rewrite and one that shouldn’t be overlooked, getting feedback on your script is vital. You should aim for people who are use to reading scripts; script readers are available for hire. I tend to like using actors since they are the ones who will ultimately be bringing your story to life. Actors will instinctively know what feels natural and what’s plain awkward. Be careful when listening to peoples advice though, usually you will already have an idea of what needs to be worked on (they often are the sections you raced through during the block stage in step 6). Remember that ultimately its your story and no one else’s, you know the tale you want to tell.

  1. Rewrite based on your instinct and the feedback you’ve got

Once you’ve got your feedback and hopefully some constructive criticism you can go back to your script with renewed energy and work on ironing out those details. These will be things like any plot holes that were discovered, a scene that seemed to drag on a bit, or a character that didn’t seem to have a reason to be there.

  1. Repeat the last two steps till you are 100% confident with your script.

Lastly you will be going back over steps 8 and 9 a few times, this is where your story really will begin to flesh out. Stay true to your story but listen to constructive criticism, and be honest with yourself and the material you’ve created. Remember not everyone is going to love your script; after all we all don’t like the same movies!

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