How to Write a Screenplay for Beginners


Introduction to Screenwriting & the Basics on Scriptwriting

There are diverse reasons behind the decision to write a screenplay. A story might have been rattling around for months, a novel might need adapting, or a vast bank of experiences might have distilled itself into an itch that yearns to be expressed. The idea is only part of the story. Committing it to paper is entirely another.

Screenwriting for Dummies

Keeping a notebook close by will safeguard against ideas being lost, and will encourage other ideas to flow. However, never discuss the idea for the script. This is not because of possible plagiarism, but imparting a creative idea is like releasing a pressure valve. All creative energies will be lost and the itch will fade. Let the idea remain inside. Nurture it and let the idea grow, but above all, keep it private.

Screenwriting Guide on the Screenplay Format

Unlike novels, films can only impart a story through action and dialogue. This is not to say that background research is not essential, it is, but most of it will be implied rather than illustrated as in prose fiction. The BBC holds archives of dramas and films, to give the beginner an idea of how a script should look. It also provides a free, downloadable software, which formats the words for the scriptwriter.

Writing the First Draft to the Final Draft

The first draft of a screenplay is often an organic experience in that the ideas can be rendered without rules or editing, but the writer must become familiar with the three-act structure in order to plot the story afterwards. The tools required for writing the first draft can be taken anywhere. A small notebook, pencils, a sharpener and eraser are all that’s required. Many writers use this method initially before transferring the prose onto a Word document for editing. The preferred method will soon become apparent once tried, but the time and the place to write warrants further consideration.

What Film Scripts Looks Like

Each page of a formatted screenplay will contain few words and lots of white page. It will propel the story mostly action and dialogue. Each page represents one minute of screen time for film. Most screenplays are between 90 to 120 pages long.

Editing, Improving and Tightening the Script

Once the screenwriter has transcribed their first draft onto a formatted script, and taken into account the three-act structure, the following changes might be considered for revision.

  • Do the first ten pages grab the reader?
  • Does the story correspond to the three-act structure of telling a story?
  • Is the script at an acceptable length of 90 to 120 pages?
  • Look out for typos.
  • Can tension be enhanced to any flat scenes?
  • Are there any stereotypes? If so, weed out or change or add an interesting slant.
  • Is there anything superfluous that can be cut from the story in order to tighten it?
  • Cut out prose. The script must show, not tell.
  • Seek feedback from an informed, impartial source.

After addressing these points, put the script away for three weeks or so, and then read again with a fresh viewpoint.

Screenplay Software to Format Screenplays

An idea will remain so unless the writer commits to the project. Keeping a notebook is essential if ideas present themselves. Reading other screenplays will give the beginner an idea of how a film script should look. Final Draft, is an ideal software for formatting screenplays. Plotting the story around the three-act structure and making revisions after the first draft will provide a good grounding for the writing of future screenplays.

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