Ready to Write Your Screenplay? Not So Fast.
There’s hundreds of tips on how to write a screenplay, but if they were any good there wouldn’t be so many bad screenplays out there. Well, that’s not quite fair…but then again maybe it is to some extent. The harsh reality is that most screenplays in the market that get submitted to Hollywood are not good. That’s why you need to know some fundamental things — not just about the format and structure, but about what makes a good story.
Here’s some basic information to get you going and I’ll provide some great books and resources further down the page.
Resist the urge to just start writing blindly. I’m begging you.
Before you dive right in and start buying screenwriting software and before you write down the first action line or piece of dialogue. Take some time — no, take a lot of time to think about the concept of your story. A bad concept can cost you months and sometimes years of wasted time. Imagine spending the next 4 to 6 months writing a screenplay about a movie nobody is interested in seeing except you and your friends. There’s a saying “write what you love” or “write what you know” but keep it real with yourself and realize that if you’re intent is to see your movie on the big screen in front of a mass audience then you need to “write what everybody else loves” to a degree as well.
Try these exercises to get your brain juices flowing:
- Make a list of your ten favorite movies
- Make a list of a few favorite novels
- Write down what your favorite genres are
- Make a list of your five best characters from any novel or movie
If you look at those lists then you’ll probably realize a pattern and it should become obvious what you’re most interested in. If you’re still stuck, then check out these books on ideas.
Writing an Outline and Plot
Now that you have your concept down you can start thinking about how you want to organize all of your ideas. This is where knowledge of structure will come into play. This is not something you’ll learn overnight in terms of how to execution, but here’s how a typical screenplay might be structured.
- Opening image – the first image we see when the movie starts. Sometimes it is symbolic of the theme or plot. Sometimes it’s just a cool opening scene.
- Inciting Incident – usually happens around the 10 to 15 page mark. This is something that happens to your main hero that knocks his life out of whack in some way or changes the course of his life. In the movie War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise this is the part of the movie where the the aliens make their introduction and begin killing everyone for the first time.
- Big Event or First Act Break – this is the part of the movie where the hero has to choose to accept a mission or has to make a huge choice for his or her life. Usually happens around the 25-30 page mark.
- Midpoint – this is what it sounds like. Usually at the 55-60 page mark and this is when the tables turn for your hero. If he’s been kicking butt and taking names up until this point then this is where he suffers a huge setback. If he’s been losing up until this point this could be where he comes up with a plan that will ultimately set him on the path to happiness.
- Climax – By now the hero has gathered all of his resources and puts his plan into action. Things get heated at this point. Whatever flaws your hero has started out with, this is the point where he has overcome them. If your hero was always afraid of heights, this may be the scene where he is fighting the antagonist on the roof of a skyscraper and it’s do or die.
- Resolution – this is where the hero gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Or maybe not if you have a not so happy ending. You want to leave the reader or viewer with a certain feeling and this is the final scene where you will do that.
Here’s some resources below that will help you flesh out the outline or treatment as well as guide you through how to write the actual screenplay.
Helpful eBooks for Your Writing
Learn to Write Stronger Story Concepts, Themes & Loglines
There’s a saying that “Concept is King”. I tend to agree with this. Think about it. The concept of your story is the overall idea at its most basic core. It’s what makes us want to read your book, screenplay or see your movie after millions of dollars has been spent on developing it. You‘ve probably read a book or screenplay that was well written with lots of clever wordplay, but when’s the last time you have heard anyone excited about a mediocre concept? For me, concept is king, but execution is just as important. After all, what good is a cool idea if the author can’t tell the story in the best way it could possibly be told? Imagine if the movie “Karate Kid” was just a movie about a boy learning karate and receiving a black belt at the end to make his single mother proud. What if “The Godfather” was just about an old mob boss who ran his organization with an iron fist then just died at the end of the movie. How would that be any different from the thousands of mob flicks we’ve never even heard of with forgettable plots? These are concepts you most likely would forget an hour after watching them on the big screen.Learn More
How to Name Your Fictional Characters (Plus More Than 2,500 Names & Meanings To Get Your Creative Juices Flowing)
You know what’s just as bad as hitting a brick wall with the plot of your screenplay or novel? Hitting that same brick wall even harder when it comes time to give your protagonist or any other character that perfect name. Having the right name for your characters not only helps them to become memorable, but can help sell the story as well. Sebastian Dangerfield (“The Ginger Man”), Tony Starks (“Iron Man”), Atticus Finch (“To Kill A Mockingbird”), Luke Skywalker (“Star Wars”), James Bond (“Casino Royale”)…the list goes on. Imagine pitching your screenplay or novel with any of these character names.Learn More