Writer's Guide

Writer’s Guide: how to write a screenplay

Writing a screenplay isn’t an easy task. It takes quite some time and dedication to develop a good one, whereas completing your first draft is just the beginning. You want to sell it? You’ll have to refine the story, often with several drafts, get an agent, submit it to studios and producers and hope someone buys it. But before we get there, we should take a look at the basic steps.

1. Craft a logline

It’s a brief summary of your story, mostly only one sentence. It describes the protagonists and their goal and the antagonists and their conflict. Who the protagonist is? The hero/main character of the story. And the antagonist? That’s the villain/bad guy/opposing force. The goal of the logline is to bring the premise of your story and its emotional undertones. What’s the story about? The style? The feeling?

2. Write a treatment

It’s a 2-5 page summary that includes the title of your screenplay, the logline, a list of main characters and a short synopsis. This last one should highlight the main beats and turning points of your story. Anyone reading it must be left behind with a good idea of the story, the characters and the style. You want anyone reading it to feel empathy for the characters, to want to follow their journey. Also, a treatment is the perfect opportunity to help you understand what’s working and what needs more work before diving into the details of a scene.

3. Character development

You thought about the story you want to tell, so what’s it about? What’s the theme? Once you know that, you can create characters who’ll balance the central question and will be the answer to it. After a transformation, of course. The most important thing to remember, is that you make your characters empathetic and interesting. The bad guy should have a reason he’s bad, even if it’s unjustified.

Person Holding White Ceramci Be Happy Painted Mug

4. Write plot and outline

Break your story down into the narrative-arc components and map out every scene. It’s a good idea to use flash cards, one for each scene. You can use a card to make a checklist of the story beats and write notes about the characters or plot. Oh, and the more detailed you make your outline, the less time you’ll waste down the road. As for your plot, keep in mind that tension drives a story. Building and releasing tension is key for audience engagement and the continuation of the story. What forces the hero to change, for example, is when hope is faced with fear. And that creates tension.

5. First draft

You’ll use your outline as a map as you write your script scene by scene. This includes the dialogue and descriptive action. Make sure the script contains interesting characters and the proper structure elements. It’s what makes it a unique format of writing. In screenwriting, it’s important that every word of descriptive action is written in present tense and describes something the audience can see, or hear. Don’t stop and go back to fix dialogue along the way until you’ve written it all. Same goes for updating action descriptions. Once you’re done, you can go back through it, tear it apart and rebuild it. Don’t be too self-critical during the first draft. Just write, that’s most important.

6. Take a break

Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s important to relax a bit and take your mind off of it. Once you return to it, you’ll read it with a fresh set of eyes. And that’s what makes better screenplays.

Crop woman with coffee writing in notebook on bed

7. Rewrite

You’ve completed your first draft, which is a huge accomplishment. You now have a much better vision of your story as a whole. Go back and refine the action, tighten the dialogue and edit the script. It’s most likely that you’ll do this more than once. Oh, and as you create your final version, I suggest using more white spaces on your pages. It’s easier to read. It’s very discouraging to anyone reading it if it contains pages filled with dense action descriptions and long monologues. I know that writing a screenplay is quite a difficult task. It takes sacrifice and dedication to the craft. But, it’s a rewarding process in the end. Why? Because you’ll create your own characters and watch them come to life as they make choices to navigate the obstacle course you’ve made for them. Take time to study the craft.

Love, Deem ❤

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18 thoughts on “Writer’s Guide: how to write a screenplay

    1. Writing a screenplay is a lot of fun. I honestly wouldn’t even compare it to a book. It has its own distinct sound and the rules to writing are honestly, really loose. Then again, I’m bias.

      Liked by 1 person

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