If you are a writer you probably know that writing a great script is easier said than done. It’s thrilling to the ego when you stumble upon that great idea, but we are all too familiar with the earth shattering feeling of disappointment when you get stuck trying to turn the idea into words on the page. Screenwriting isn’t an exact science, but there is a basic system to help you craft a great script and get it out in front of producers.
- Write What You Know
Having an idea is the easy part, but what is the execution? What is it about this story that makes it so great? A writer must have a unique voice unlike any other, granted that doesn’t mean there won’t ever be similarities. Nobody comes up with anything completely original anymore, but in order to write a good screenplay a writer needs to write a story that only they can tell.
When you show your friend a movie they’ve never seen, it’s your job to be able to tell them what it’s about. In one sentence you should be able to give an accurate synopsis of the film so your friend knows what they are walking in to. The same is applied to screenplays. Writers are asked to include a logline, a one sentence summary of your film’s premise as a whole. A few examples are:
“The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.”- The Godfather
“A Las Vegas-set comedy centered around three groomsmen who lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him.”- The Hangover
3. Outline, Outline, Outline
There are some people who claim writer’s block doesn’t exist, but writers know that there are times where you hit a wall in the creative process. If you want to write a great script, it starts with an idea, but you need to build a road map. Keeping in mind 3-act structure, writers need to carefully plan out each act break, making sure the character’s journey is an interesting one and finally wrapping it up in a suitable conclusion.
4. Show Don’t Tell
The harsh reality of any screenwriter is that you will have to make cuts. Writers are constantly editing their work and it is usually because the dialogue contains no action. Younger writers tend to start out with a few bad habits and they are easy to break with a few things to remember. Firstly, if the action doesn’t move the story forward, DO NOT WRITE IT! Next, and probably most important, don’t get repetitive. Avoid saying the same things twice. Lastly, avoid cliches.
5. Create A Complete Character
In order for your screenplay to work, each character must have a unique voice. If you want to layout your character’s backstory, stretch important information. However, don’t lay their situation bare all at once, let it unfold naturally as the story moves along.
6. Just Finish It
The final step to writing a good script is simply get it done. So often writers get wrapped up with the quality of their script when really your main priority is to finish it first. Once you finish your screenplay, read it out loud.
7. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite
A big part of writing a screenplay is rewriting it. Nobody writes something great the first time around and if by some stroke of luck they do, it’s not from a lack of practice. You think this article was written only once? Now, that you have finished writing your screenplay, you’re thinking “Now what?” Now is your chance to get it in front of an audience.
It’s all about who you know and who likes you. The ordinary film student doesn’t exactly have a million connections upon graduation, so finding someone to read your script can be difficult. In this case there is always reaching out to alumni of your school, and they are always interested in giving back to students.
In the words of Insecure, creator, Issa Rae, “It really is about networking across. Like who’s next to you, who’s struggling, who’s in the trenches with you.” At this point it’s about contacting your college mates, friends and neighbors to help you in any way possible and luckier on you if they have the same aspirations as you. Writers are encouraged to also network at film festivals. Film festivals like Sundance and Austin are very popular and however difficult it may be to meet with the VIPs, standing in line for movies and listening to panels is a great way to network.
10. Write Everyday
This may seem like a no brainer but more writers have this problem than most people realize. As I said earlier writer’s block is a real thing, but if you can square away ten minutes a day to write something down. It doesn’t have to be dialogue, it could be a few sentences of your outline, but finding ten minutes to write something each day will bring you one step closer to being a great screenwriter.
11. Read Screenplays and Watch Movies
As writers we need to see other filmmaker’s work, the good and the bad. When you read a good screenplay, you can tell how a good story is crafted and all of the elements are apparent. The same can be said watching a good movie. A good movie leaves you hooked the entire time, a terrible movie makes you want to stick yourself with a fork and you wonder what is happening.
12. Be Patient
Nothing happens overnight and writing is a difficult process in itself. Don’t kick yourself if you don’t get the first job you apply for or the first studio turns your script down. To be a writer you need to have stamina and each no you receive will only build up your strength.