Step-By-Step Guide on How to Write a Screenplay
Screenwriting is one of the most significant components of filmmaking. There are many types of screenplays (TV, animation, documentary, experimental), but for this article, I will be referring mainly to feature-length screenplays used for standard Hollywood movies. For example, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Star Wars” are both feature-length screenplays for Hollywood movies.
What is a Screenplay?
A screenplay is basically the words and descriptions of the story, dialogue, characters, sound effects, and camera angles used in your movie. It can also include any production notes or technical information.
Why Write a Screenplay?
Writing a screenplay allows you to create and render your own original stories and ideas into a format that the prominent Hollywood directors, producers, and investors will be interested in.
Almost all of the biggest movies that we see today start with someone writing a screenplay first. If you have an idea for a movie, having it written out as a screenplay makes it easier for people to visualize, read, and buy than just telling them verbally.
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Also, if any director or producer were interested in your idea, they could simply pick up your screenplay and see exactly what they would be investing millions of dollars on before they ever give you any money. It’s just the way business works.
Why Write Your Own Screenplay?
A lot of people are interested in writing screenplays, but like with everything, it takes practice and time to master. If you want to be good at something, you need to put the hours of work into practice. And even if after putting 100s or 1,000s of hours into studying and writing screenplays someone is never to sell one, they still should consider the journey as a learning process which will make them better at their personal life.
What You Need To Know Before Writing a Screenplay
Well for starters knowing how to write clearly is crucial; there needs to be no confusion on what you’re trying to say.
The dialogue must flow smoothly between characters and not feel forced/contrived (like two friends I’ve never met before talking about a subject they’re both experts on). This also means that your characters should stay in character and not be out of place when it comes to the overall feel/tone of the story.
The best way to tell if something is working or not is simply by reading it out loud; human speech has a specific sound to it, so anything that doesn’t sound natural probably isn’t.
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Understanding film structure and format is also essential. More often than not, there are set standards for what must happen at a certain point in a screenplay in order for things to keep going forward towards the climax and resolution. I won’t get too much into this because many books have been written about screenplays that cover these topics specifically in great detail.
The Basic Elements of a Screenplay
The screenwriter, director, actors, editors, cinematographers, composers are all part of the filmmaking process, so it’s only fair to include them in the list. But for this article, I’m going to focus more on writing itself since that is the main purpose of the screenplay.
The four basic elements of a Screenplay are CHARACTER(S), SCENE DESCRIPTION/ACTION, DIALOGUE, and CONFLICT.
A character is just whoever your story revolves around or who you’re trying to get across with your film. Characters can be either inanimate objects or animals or even forces of nature (like in Avatar).
They don’t even have to be human as long as they can be identified as something/someone that has a clear goal that the audience will follow throughout the story. Also, if any characters do talk in your screenplay, it’s important to not only identify who is speaking but also what tone/mood their speech should express.
This basically means anything that happens on screen. If you’ve ever seen a movie and thought “Wow I really liked how they did this scene” or “That part which was pretty cool” then those were probably moments of good Scene Descriptions/Action taking place because you either knew what was going on or felt like you were right there next to whatever was occurring at that moment.
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The overall feel of a screenplay should resemble that of a novel when it comes to scene description/action because you’re trying to put the reader into your world. This means writing in detail about everything from the setting to what each character is doing and how they feel.
Dialogue is simply any words spoken by a character or characters. Remember, if people are going to be reading your screenplay, they need to know exactly who’s saying what in order for them to follow along with what’s going on in your story.
Also, dialogue in a screenplay needs to sound realistic, don’t have someone say something out of character just because “that’s the way I wrote it.” If you’ve ever watched an old black-and-white film, then you probably noticed how unrealistic their dialogue sounded, this is because the film hadn’t developed much past the early stages yet. We’re not at that point in screenplay format just yet, so it’s important to always stay on top of current styles and language used.
This basically means anything your characters are struggling with, whether internal or external. Most stories will have an overall primary conflict (i.e, man vs society) which the main character will be trying to solve but there may also be other conflicts along the way (man vs himself).
The most important thing about Conflict is how it should affect your characters, i.e, what they do, where they go, who they meet up with, etc. A great example of consistent conflict would be the Lord of The Rings trilogy. The journey towards Mordor was one long road of conflict for our main character and his friends, and it made you never want to leave their side because they were fighting together against the odds.
Step-By-Step Guide on How to Write a Screenplay
- Outline the story with bullet points. Include all major events that will take place in the beginning, middle, and end of your screenplay.
- Give each main character a full physical description making sure to include any unique features or characteristics that would identify them when being viewed on screen.
- Write out each character’s backstory, including important details about their family, friends, relationships, or even enemies.
- Your screenplay should not be written like a novel with paragraph after paragraph of descriptions/actions/dialogue (not saying that novels are bad). Try to keep your writing as clear and concise as possible. This requires you to pay close attention to how you identify each character and what they’re doing in the scene.
- Finally, just write your story, keep going back to your bullet points when you get stuck but try not to let all the information you have already gathered hold you back from just writing whatever comes out of your mind. If there’s a specific idea somebody has for a scene, it’s always a good idea to write it out as a potential story point just in case you do need it.
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It may take some time, but eventually, your screenplay will turn into a work of art. We hope this step-by-step guide has helped, and we wish you the best on your future projects. Be sure to check out our blog for more articles like this one.