WRITING THE SCREENPLAY
Its time to take all the ideas you’ve jotted down on those napkins, notepads whatever, and get them into a screenplay!
“It goes like this!”
Formatting is pretty universal I’m not going to get into details about exact formatting, but a good simple breakdown can be found at: scripped.com – screenplay_basics
Both have hot keys that make screenwriting simple and everything is formatted for you. Both also have a budgeting and scheduling suite to go along with them as well.
A plethora of screenplay examples of can be found at Script-O-Rama I recommend reading a few in your genre choice before you begin writing.
If you want more details about formatting I recommend the “Screenwriters Bible”,
or the always-good time series “Screenwriting for Dummies”,
you can get both used on Amazon for a few bucks or check out these web sites:
It is important to remember the difference between real life conversations and structured dialogue. Characters are made up of what they do and what they say. Dialogue should always be “functional” meaning that it pushes the story forward, makes a statement, incites comedy, or all of the above.
Make sure not to make your dialogue “on the nose” people don’t always say what they mean, and they don’t always mean what they say. This is called subtext. Writing between the lines if you will – when characters are talking about one thing yet are saying something completely different. The balcony scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is a great example of subtext. Annie Hall – Balcony Scene
Keep it snappy. Try and limit lines of dialogue to 1 to 3 lines.
INT. BAR – NIGHT
Mark and Dane finish putting caution tape on the bathroom door.
Perfect. Then we’ll just let Cici clean it when she gets here.
Sounds like a plan.
It’s not, but it sounds like one.
Do you feel like there’s someone behind us?
Like standing right behind us?
Yeah, we should turn around.
A gravelly voice interrupts.
Get me a whiskey sour!
They turn to see a man that looks vaguely like Santa Clause, SANTA, sitting at the bar. His scowl could murder a Russian bear.
If it’s not snappy make sure that long speeches or monologues are at the very least an embodiment of all the above, memorable and quotable. They must have momentum and make a meaningful impact on the story.
INT. DETECTIVE OFFICE – NIGHT
THUNDER ROLLS outside.
DAVID sits in an old leather spinning chair drinking scotch. The office is dark and drab. Another chair sits opposite David at the old oak desk. Black and white pictures adorn the walls.
The office door reads, “EARL JONES DETECTIVE AGENCY”.
The old man left everything to me. I mean it wasn’t much, but it was better than my digs. But nobody would kill for this dump, the cops knew that. Scotch though, the old man would have killed for his scotch.
Startled, David swings his chair around.
*Hint: Cast your characters in your mind with people you know or your ideal actors, it can really help in the fluidity of dialogue and pushing scenes forward.
“Stupid is as stupid does!
When it comes to writing action there are several different styles. Everything from simple and direct to beautiful and almost poetic. Pick what style works best for you, but always keep it entertaining. Make sure to always keep your action lines in the present tense and keep it snappy, action lines should be no more then three lines, four at most.
EXT. BAR – NIGHT
A rooftop bar with opposite balconies that’s totally kick ass.
MARK and DANE walk towards the front door. Mark is a tall skinny fucker with a smile for everyone and Dane is a bit shorter but with a face every woman could love. You know, if they were drunk enough to get over the whole shortness thing. Which most don’t.
“It’s gotta end sometime!”
It’s your ending just make it good. The end of your screenplay should leave a lasting impression on your audience. It’s up to you what that impression should be. Do you want all you’re loose ends tied up in a nice little bow, or do you want to leave the finality up to your audience’s discretion? Whatever you decide just make sure it is satisfactory and appropriate to the screenplay as a whole. If you have several ideas and you cant decide, write all the separate endings then sleep on it or have them critiqued:
“Everyone has an opinion!”
Now that you have a first draft it’s time to get some feedback. Let a few trusted friends whose advice you respect give it a read. Ask them to take notes as they read. Anything that strikes their minds could be useful – or not. That’s up to you. Write up a specific list of question that you may have about the script for them to answer when they are finished. Such as:
- Did you find any part of the plot Confusing?
- Were the characters well rounded?
- Were you satisfied with the ending?
Every script will of course require its own specific set question depending of the type of film you are writing.
Remember praise is not critique. There is no feedback in pure praise. You will learn a lot more from the negative things people have to tell you then the positive things. Stay away from yes men. Your adoring mother who love’s everything you do is probably not the best critic you could get. The people who say it’s wonderful because: A: They love you, or B: They don’t know better, or C: They think they might hurt your feelings; are just not good options. Let your readers know you need to hear the worst. This will at the very least force you to think about Let your readers know you need to hear the worst. This will at the very least force you to think about the issues your script may have. You think you have written the next quintessential American film, but stay open-minded and don’t neglect any opinion without seriously considering the point your reader is conveying. Take it all with a grain of salt, then make you own, now more informed decisions on what should be changed or not.
“It’ll never be perfect! Make it good!”
Rewrite! Rewrite! Rewrite! This should not be a scary process but an exciting one. You have finished the script. You have a ton of words on around 100 pages. You think it’s perfect!… maybe it is? But you’ve had it critiqued and it’s probably not, so, now it’s time to go back through the whole thing and make it better. Don’t be afraid to “kill your babies” No not actual babies! The lines and the scenes that you for some reason or another you have gotten attached and are coddling, but there’s something about them that just doesn’t feel right… trust me once you hit delete and rewrite, the pain will subside… and your script will be better for it.
Restructure scenes if you must; move scenes around if it makes the story flow better, add new scenes or try different locations, tighten dialogue… remember it’s all just a process. Think of it like molding clay. You’ve made your masterpiece into the shape you desire; now you must smooth out the edges and put the finishing touches on it.
On the flip side, don’t obsess for years over a script. Know that whatever you create will never truly be finished in your mind if you constantly think about changing it and the what ifs etc… at some point you have to let go and remember you can always change a line or two on set, its ok.
A great simple walk through on screenwriting can also be found via puppet @ BitterScriptReader
Register your Script with the WGA This is very important and you will need it with your deliverables later.