To Write A Screenplay of Your Own


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Have you ever watched some fantastic movies? Have you ever been fascinated by the extraordinary stories of a movie and amazed by its spectacular scenarios? Have you ever dreamed of writing a screenplay of your own into some big shots in Hollywood, and even wining the Academy Award of the Best Screenplay? Don't be afraid to have a big dream. The trip to eminence have to start with an initial single step.

This is a place where you can seek for help with assistance on some basic approaches to access the world of screenplay writing. Starting from the fundamental skills and keep working hard with perservance. You can be that hero behind the lens!

The process of learing to write a screenplay can be a daunting task. There are a large number of protocols to follow, not to mention trying to create a compelling narrative that is likely to get turned into a motion picture. [1] While this article will not be able to instruct you on every step involved in writing a film script, it will set you on the path and equip you with some reliable advice. With a little hard work and a lot of luck, your next stop will be a red carpet in Hollywood.[2]


1. What is a screenplay1.1 Definition of a screenplay1.2 Types of scrrenplays2. Before writing a screenplay2.1 Pre-writing lessons==2.1.1 Some aspects of screenwriting that are special==2.1.2 What Makes Good Story?==2.1.3 Anatomy of a Screenplay – Guide to Writing Scripts==2.1.4 Consult Tips for screenplay writing on section 4.2.2 Training camp before starting your screenplays writing journey==2.2.1 Read Screenplays==2.2.2 Take classes==2.2.3 Make sure spending time on learning Formatting3. Time to write a screenplay3.1 Getting started-Basic questions to start your screenplay3.2 Screenplay Structure3.3 Developing your script3.4 Format your screenplay with software3.5 Revise, Revise, Revise3.6 Register Your Work3.7 Write a Treatment4. Tips for screenplay writing5. Conclusion6. Things You'll Need7. External Reading8. References

1. What is a screenplay

1.1 Definition of a screenplay

A screenplay is the script for a movie or television programs, including descriptions of scenes and some camera directions. [3]

To be more specific, A screenplay is a written text that provides the basis for a film production. Screenplays usually include not only the dialogue spoken by the characters but also a shot-by-shot outline of the film's action. Screenplays may be adapted from novels or stage plays or developed from original ideas suggested by the screenwriters or their collaborators. They generally pass through multiple revisions, and screenwriters are called on to incorporate suggestions from directors, producers, and others involved in the filmmaking process. Early drafts often include only brief suggestions for planned shots, but by the date of production a screenplay may evolve into a detailed shooting script, in which action and gestures are explicitly stated. [4]

1.2 Types of screenplays

Since you’re learning how to write a screenplay, a good starting point is to learn the various types of scripts.

  • Spec Script– Also known as a Submission Script, this is a screenplay that’s written with the hope that it will be purchased or optioned eventually. If you’re writing a screenplay for the first time, you’ll definitely be doing a Spec Script.
  • Commissioned Screenplay– When a writer is hired to write a specific work for the screen, this is known as a Commissioned Screenplay.
  • Shooting Script – Also known as a Production Draft, this is a script that’s been purchased and put through a series of rewrites. In this script, all the shots and scenes are numbered, and they’re broken down into the components needed to film them. This allows the order of filming to be arranged in a way that makes the most efficient use of cast, crew, sets, etc. [5]

2. Before writing a screenplay

2.1 Pre-writing lessons

Before you embark on your journey towards writing a screenplay, it is very necessary to have some basic knowledge of screenplay writing. That is why here is some
pre-writing lessons for you to go through before starting writing.

2.1.1 Some aspects of screenwriting that are special:

  • It's visual. Movies, above all, are series of images. Try an experiment: watch a movie on DVD with the sound off. I bet you can follow the whole story. More than theater plays, which tend to use dialogue to move their stories along, movies tell their stories in a visual form.

  • It follows defined conventions. Novels come in many lengths. But a screenplay for a feature film is about 100-120 pages long. In terms of structure, screenplays also follow a clearer set of rules than novels or short stories.

  • Of course, as an artist, you are free to break the rules, in the sense that no one will come to your house and arrest you for doing so. But no one's likely to produce your screenplay either.

  • It's collaborative. Before they're produced, screenplays are generally rewritten many times, by many different people. In fact, the screenwriter whose name appears on the final credits may not be the one who wrote the original screenplay. You can read interesting commentary about this on Alexandra Sokoloff's screenwriting blog.
  • It's geographically concentrated. You can write novels from Alaska or Tokyo or from your cell in a federal prison and get them published. Your chances of becoming a successful screenwriter, on the other hand, are a lot better if you live in L.A. [6]

2.1.2 What Makes Good Story?

  • Let's hazard a guess. The movies you loved most featured characters that swept you up, who captivated your emotions, got you involved. The audience viewing a movie not only wants to be interested in and care about the people they see on the screen, they want to be PASSIONATE about them, whether they like them or not. Great heroes and heroines inspire us; great villains make us want to jump into the screen!
  • There is always something at stake in a good movie. Not just something someone wants, something that must be acquired, no matter what the risk, as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Or something highly desired by as many main characters as possible, like the small black statue in The Maltese Falcon. Some times it can be an intangible thing, like the freedom of a people in Lawrence of Arabia or Gandhi. All these things drive the character's quest, even gives the hero superhuman strength. It can be something personal (romance) or for the good of all (saving the world from aliens) but it must be powerful and grow more desperate as the story unfolds.
  • There are always obstacles, which provide that catchword that actors love so much -- CONFLICT.This is the heart of drama. Someone wants something and people and things keep getting in the way of them achieving the goal. At times, the obstacles can be common to both the hero and villain, and the ultimate goal a laudable one for both parties, as in Jingle All The Way. In that film, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad battle to achieve the same goal--the acquisition of the last popular action figure for sale that Christmas season. Both of them have promised their son, and they must not fail. Conflict and obstacles can be physical or emotional. But they have to be in your story or you don't really have a story. In most good stories, the protagonist will also have an inner obstacle, some mental or even spiritual problem, that will be resolved by the time s/he reaches the outward, physical goal of the story. Some people call this inner demon a "ghost," while others call in a "wound."
  • You need a hook. That's a songwriting term that describes that thing that catches the public's attention. A popular Hollywood term is a "high concept."A better idea might be a simple "What if?" In Galaxy Quest, for example, the concept is "What if the washed-up actors from the crew of a cancelled but still popular sci-fi TV show are pressed into a real war in space by aliens who think the TV show broadcasts they received were documentaries?" A good enough "what if?" will set your script apart from the pack. It is why people will leave the comfort of their homes and plunk down their hard-earned bucks at the local cineplex.
  • Hollywood buys genres.Agents, managers, and producers are drawn to and specialize in specific genres so approaching them with something they can recognize is a good idea. Successful stories have a fresh face but are identifiable. You know what makes your idea unique, but can you describe it quickly to others? Is it a fast-paced thriller, romantic comedy, action adventure?
  • Scripts have to look a certain way. I can't stress this point enough. You must present your work like an insider. The sheer volume of submissions makes it so that if ANYTHING about your script looks strange it's headed for the circular file. If you don't know the game they won't play. The scriptwriter has to adhere to conventions covering everything from how many pages to what font (Courier 12 pitch in the U.S.), and that's just the beginning. I recommend you follow those rules, unless you're independently wealthy and plan to finance, produce, and direct your movie. Even then, however, the people you'll need to work with will be accustomed to standard formats. [7]

2.1.3 Anatomy of a Screenplay – Guide to Writing Scripts

1. Genre - Choose a genre for your movie. People in the movie business want something they can recognize when you submit it. So choose a genre and write within it. Write a script for a romantic comedy, a teen sex comedy, a fast-paced action movie, a horror film or a science fiction story. Fit your script idea into an existing genre.
I’m not suggesting you submit something that’s been done before a hundred times. I’m not suggesting you submit a script that follows every standard formula for your genre. Producers want something new, but something that is distinguishable for them. They want a new twist on something they recognize and understand. What is going to set your movie or television screenplay apart is its “concept”.

2. Concept – Come up with the concept of your screenplay. Hollywood people often refer to this as high concept. The concept is the central idea of your story. It presents a “What If…?” scenario. Aliens producers sold their movie to the studio on the idea that it was “Jaws in space”, so the high concept of Alien would be “what if travelers in space were trapped on their tiny spacecraft with a monster?” — a fair enough concept. Predator might be “what if a team of Special Forces operatives faced a well-armed alien in the jungle?” and Tropic Thunder would be “what if a group of eccentric and vacuous Hollywood actors filming a war epic found themselves in the middle of a real war situation?”.
This is your hook. It’s what is going to grab the attention of the producers of the movie and convince them to read through your script. If your high concept is “slice of life”, it’s not going to get anyone’s attention.

3. Conflict – Drama comes from characters facing obstacles. In an action movie, the hero facing seemingly impossible obstacles, but overcomes each and every one in style. In a comedy, the obstacles are often social, romantic or just plain silly, but the clowns eventually resolve the conflict. In a drama, characters face generally more realistic challenges, and may or may not overcome the obstacles. In fact, the protagonist’s life may be destroyed in the process or his/her career, marriage or sanity consumed in the struggle.
Whatever the case, your main characters need a goal, along with obstacles to overcoming this goal. This creates conflict in the story, which in turn creates drama, tension and dynamism. Actors don’t want to play characters which are static. They want a character to undergo a change or come to a realization during the movie, and the screenplay should supply this conflicts which cause a character to either grow as a person or fall apart in the story conflicts.
Keep in mind that these conflicts might involve anything, from a social injustice, crushing poverty or a self-destructive addiction. The character might struggle against himself or herself, such as battling arrogance or pride, or overcoming one’s own prejudices. Or the character may have a bad boss, a bad neighbor or simply win the girl’s affection. Whatever the case, you need to add conflict into your screenplay.

4. Character Names – Come up with original and striking character names for your main characters. While dull names or bad names are not fatal, they certainly don’t help. Don’t write a script with a protagonist named John Smith. Unless you have a compelling reason that’s essential to the plot that will be revealed fairly quickly, John Smith isn’t likely to get the attention of the script-reader.
Audiences, actors and movie executives alike want characters who are memorable and easily identifiable. You might prefer to have shadings and subtleties to your character, which is fine, but you want your characters to be immediately identifiable and striking in some way when they enter the scene. A good name will help. If you want a cool character, give him a cool name. If you want a street-wise detective, give him a name that’s suggests he’s seen it all. If you want a comic protagonist, give him a funny-sounding name.
Hollywood is full of characters with colorful yet apt names. Audiences had to figure that someone named Darth Vader was one serious villain. Everyone knew immediately that Napoleon Dynamite was off-center. And westerns are full of great names, from Liberty Valence to Rooster Cogburn to John Herod; the genre is just full of colorful names for heroes and villains. I can’t imagine a movie named “The Man Who Shot John Smith”.
Also, it’s better to have names even for minor characters with speaking roles. Instead of having Mobster #1 and Mobster #2, you might as well name them something colorful like Sammy The Finger and Tony “the Toupee” Coppochi.
Note that when you introduce a character into the screenplay for the first time, you need to place the character’s name in ALL-CAPS.

5. Writing Dialogue – Writing good dialogue is important when writing a screenplay. Characters should sound conversational, which is to say they should sound natural. Unless a character has a specific idiosyncrasy where he or she doesn’t speak in everyday conversational words, you should have them speak naturally. The effect of doing otherwise is jarring and alienates the audience from the characters. It’s just not natural, so people think something is wrong with the character.
At the same time, try to write striking, memorable dialogue. Don’t overdo it, but certain characters might have one or two unique speaking characteristics.

6. Writing Action – Action is written in the present (real time), so you should write actions in the active voice. Active voice would be “A gun fires”, as opposed to the passive voice “A gun is fired”.
When writing descriptions of action, keep the reader in mind. Write in short paragraphs no more than five lines long. Otherwise, the reader is likely to scan your paragraph and overlook important notes. Also, long paragraphs full of action sequences can be off-putting to some producers.

7. Setting the Scene – Remember to describe where each scene takes place. Set up the scene, so your actors and director can visualize what is going on. This doesn’t have to be a long, detailed description, but your readers will be hopelessly lost if you don’t describe the setting in your script.

8. Cut Scenes that Don’t Work – Don’t be shy about editing your own manuscript. If a scene is weak or it doesn’t have a purpose, get rid of it. Ask yourself if a scene furthers the story or not. If it doesn’t, then the scene doesn’t need to be in the screenplay, no matter how good the dialogue is. Find somewhere else to add the dialogue into the script, in a more natural and cohesive way.
Also, make sure your scenes make their points. If the dialogue or character actions aren’t clear, then you might need to tinker with them in a rewrite. Try to place yourself in the mind of a reader who doesn’t have the intimate, total knowledge of the story that you do. Then ask yourself if your writing has succeeded in communicating the point you are trying to make in the scene.

9. Avoid Repetition – When looking back over your script, avoid repetitive scenes. In this way, you’ll probably need to rewrite whole scenes, or just get rid or combine scenes that don’t work. In the end, you’re trying to entertain an audience, and if too many scenes look or sound the same — or go over the same thoughts and ideas — the audience will be bored.

10. Rewrite Your Screenplay – Once you are finished writing your screenplay, rewrite it. I know what a big accomplishment it is to finish a script, but that isn’t the end of the process. Rewriting is an essential part of the screenplay writing process. Learning to edit your ideas is also essential.
Have friends and other writers look at your screenplay and ask for honest feedback. If you respect the opinions of these people, actually take the advice to heart. Don’t become so personally attached to your writing that you refuse to change a word. Writing can be improved with a good rewrite, and a second draft will tighten up both the story and dialogue and give you a better chance to succeed when submitting a screenplay. [8]

2.1.4 Consult Tips for screenplay writing on section 4.

  • As you may still come across loads of questions when you are writing a screenplay, do make sure seek help from section 4-Tips for screenplay writing often. It contains the most frequently asked questions by screenplay wrting starter and gives a lot of useful advice for a screenplay writing.

2.2 Training camp before starting your screenplays writing journey.

Before writing a screenplay, here are a few procedures you should go through seriously, exactly like some traing camps we have to take as we are preparing for a challenging advanture.

2.2.1 Read Screenplays

If you want to be a musician, it only makes sense that you listen to music. If you want to be a painter, immerse yourself in art. Screenwriting is no different. [9]
To get an idea of how the written word translates to the big screen, it is a good idea to read the work of other screenwriters.
you should read as many screenplays as you can. When you read a screenplay, you begin to see what successful scripts look like and how to go about writing your own screenplay. Dissect why certain dialogue is good and why certain scenes work. Once you have studied the work of other screenwriters, you will be ready to write your own script. Consider reading a book or two about screenwriting before you start, too, if nothing else to familiarize yourself with the screenwriting process. [10]

There's no need to spend a fortune; you can access a lot of free scripts on the web:
  1. The Daily Script
  2. Drew's Script-o-Rama
  3. Weekly Script
  4. ScreenWriterCenter

While you're reading, look for the following:
  1. Note the formatting. Get used to how the script looks on the page.
    • About half of the content of a screenplay should be dialogue and the other half should be visuals.
    • Camera directions are kept to a minimum. Let the filmmakers decide whether or not to use a crane shot; it's the screenwriter's job to give them the story.
    • Action is important. It's acceptable to have a stage play in which two guys sit on a bench and talk about life, but that's never going to work in a film.
  2. Read a screenplayand then watch the movie to see how it translates to the screen. It's a good idea to do this with more current films, since screenwriting styles have changed in the past twenty years or so.
    • Watch the pacing. Generally, one screenplay page is one minute of screen time.
    • Observe the action and compare it to what's on the page. Notice what details made it into the script and try to determine why the screenwriter felt those details were important enough to write down.
  3. Read a variety of screenplays, including award-winners, films that tanked at the box office, critical successes and failures, and your personal favorites.
    • See if you can find differences that help to explain why the poor-performers didn't translate well to the screen.
  4. Make sure to read in a variety of genres. Even if you want to write horror films, you can still learn great technique from dramas or comedies. [11]

2.2.2 Take Classes

If you have never written a screenplay before, it would be worth your time (and money) to take a course in the subject. Any university with a film department should offer such a class, and it will allow you to become familiar with the fundamentals. Some classes may also require you to write a script as one of the requirements, which can be an excellent motivational tool for those less-than-focused screenwriters out there. [12]

2.2.3 Making sure spending time on learning formatting

When you learn how to write a screenplay, a lot of the learning has to do with the layout and notations of the script. That’s because a Hollywood screenplay will be used by a studio full of people, including executives, producers, directors, actors and other writers. Many screenplays require rewrites or revisions, and the people using the script need to know which parts of the screenplay are being referred. This allows for the collaborative effort to take place, and is therefore essential to know when you learn how to write a screenplay.
Luckily for those writing movie scripts these days, there are software tools to help you when you begin to write a screenplay. Invest in some screenwriting software, which is relatively inexpensive in relation to the time and effort it will save you. None of the steps of learning to write a movie screenplay are hard in and of themselves; but it is essential you learn what they are.
So learn to write your screenplay in the standard Hollywood format. To even think about having your screenplay read, it needs to be in the proper format. The script also needs to use the standard notation and script length. If any of these factors are not right, the person you send it to will reject the screenplay out of hand. So you’ll need to learn these specifications before anything. [13]

  • Learn Proper Formatting– Besides creativity, one of the most important elements of learning how to write a screenplay is knowing the proper formatting. It’s not as simple as opening up Microsoft Works and typing away. There are a number of industry standards for screenplays, and many agents or studios will ignore it if proper formatting isn’t followed. You can find specific instruction on the Internet or in books such as “Screenwriting for Dummies,” “Screenplay,” and “How Not to Write a Screenplay.” Below, I’ve included a few of the most common requirements (there are many more).
  • Formatting Requirements – A traditional screenplay is written on 3-hole punched paper measuring 8 1/2″ by 11″. Courier 12 font is normally used, and the top and bottom margins range from .5″ to 1″. The left margin measures between 1.2″ and 1.6″ (allowing for brads to be inserted), and the right margin is between .5″ and 1″. Dialogue margins are indented 2.5″ from the left, and 2.0″ to 2.5″ on the right. Dialogue is usually 30 to 35 spaces at the maximum. In the header of the upper right hand corner, a sequential number will appear on each page (except for the first page). [14]
  • (More about formatting upcoming below.)

Do Pay Attention to Format !

Final Draft Screenwriting Software
Final Draft Screenwriting Software

If your screenplay is not written in the proper format, the big shots in Hollywood will not even look at it. That is why it is important to invest in screenplay formatting software.
  • Formatting by hand will obviously take longer, but you can get formatting info onlinefor free, and you can't get more cost-effective than that!
  • Formatting software is expensive, but may be worth it. There's nothing worse than spending ages formatting a script, only to realize that all the time you spent hand-formatting was completely wasted.
  • There's a variety of software programs out there, including:
  1. Celtx(freeware)
  2. Final Draft
  3. Movie Magic Screenplay
  4. Rough Draft
Mac users can get Storyist or Montage, while PC users can purchase //Final Draft// or Movie Magic Screenwriter. Free screenwriting software is also available online, but I would suggest investing in one of the products mentioned above. It will pay for itself in the long run. [15]

3. Time to write a screenplay

After you have acquired a good knowledge of what a screenplay is and how it should be like, and have decided to write a movie script of your own, here are some questions to ask yourself.

3.1 Getting started-Basic questions to start your screenplay

  • What kind of script will you write?
    Think about your favorite movies. Do you love a particular genre: romantic comedies, action films, horror? Your best bet is to write a movie script in the genre you like to watch. It's probably the one that you know the best, and your passion will come through in the writing.

  • Who will your hero(ine) be?
    Maybe you already have a clear idea for a movie and know exactly who it will be about. Otherwise, you can get ideas for characters in a lot of places -- people you know, people you read about in the newspapers or who catch your eye in the supermarket or the bank. Whatever your situation, it can be helpful to fill out a character profile to get to know your character better.
    The details you write in the character profile won't all have a place in your film script. But knowing as much as possible about your character will help you think of him or her as a real person. Then, as you're writing the script, you will be able to ask yourself at every moment, "What would he or she do now? What would he or she say? How would he or she respond to that?" This will allow you to make the right decisions for your screenplay. Some writers even report that their characters seem to take over and do the writing for them.

  • What is your conflict?
    Movies are about conflicts, problems. If there's no conflict, if everyone's happy and there's peace and love on Earth, then there's no story. Nothing's happening. An audience has no reason to sit through two hours of nothing happening. They'd rather go back to their own miserable, but varied, lives.
    How do you create a conflict? Think of something your hero desperately wants and put roadblocks in his path. Or give your hero a problem he has to solve urgently, and put roadblocks in the way of solving it. The movie will be about your hero's struggle to get past these roadblocks and reach his goal or solve his problem.
    This means that the roadblocks have to be big enough to keep him busy. If your hero solves his problem in 5 minutes, you don't have much movie left (all this is assuming you're writing a feature-length film). On the other hand, your hero has to have an extremely good reason to go to all this trouble. If he just gives up and walks away (or if the audience thinks he should), then you don't have much of a movie there either.
    Need ideas for conflicts? Download our fun Story Machine.

  • What's your inciting incident?
    Something happens in a movie that forces the hero act. Something yanks him off of his sofa, pries the beer out of his hand, and gives him no choice except to go after his goal right now. This event called the inciting incident, and it normally occurs between ten and fifteen pages into your screenplay.
    Let's say your hero is happily watching a rerun of "Friends," when a spaceship crashes through his roof. Or he gets a phone call informing him his daughter has been kidnaped. Or the phone call is from his boss telling him he's fired. Or his beautiful new neighbor taps on his living room window, and he realizes that he's in love.
    Any of these events is definitely going to get your hero off the couch. He can't just ignore the spaceship or the ransom call and go on watching his show to see if Ross and Rachel finally get it together. He has to react.

  • What's the status quo?
    Movies often open with the status quo, business as usual, the hero's daily life before the inciting incident bursts into it like a wrecking ball. Then the spaceship lands in his living room, and there's no way it's going to be business as usual after that. But what is business as usual for your hero? What kind of life does your inciting incident interrupt? Your character profile can help you figure this out.

  • What is your story climax?
    The story climax is the high point of your movie. It's the final showdown. It's when the hero finds his daughter's kidnappers in their hideout. Now it's either him or them. Either he gets his daughter back, or the kidnapers will kill both him and his daughter. Or it's when the hero of a romantic comedy rushes to the church to stop the heroine from marrying the wrong man (how many times have you seen this scene in movies? And as far as I can tell this never happens in real life. Not once have I been invited to a wedding where the bride ended up with someone different from the guy on the invitations).
    If your movie is a series of battles between the hero and the roadblocks in his path, the climax is the decisive battle that wins or loses the war.
    The climax takes place near the end of the movie. Everything that happens before it is building to that point. Afterward, the dust settles into place, and we see how things have ended up. The hero brings his kidnaped daughter home as the kidnaper is carted off to jail. The hero and heroine ride off together into the sunset. [16]

3.2 Screenplay Structure

Here, you'll find a guide to screenplay structure, including advice on how to write a screenplay with the right number of pages, acts, scenes, and so on.

The basics of screenplay structure
  • Screenplays for feature-length movies tend to follow some fairly standard rules. That doesn't mean that you can't be creative. Any set of rules that applies to such wildly different films Shrek, Twilight, Million Dollar Baby, and Little Miss Sunshine probably has room for your creative vision as well.
  • As I said earlier, if you decide not to break the rules, no one's going to come and drag you off from jail. But no one's likely to produce your film either.

Let's talk numbers
  • Full-length screenplays are generally 100-120 pages, using formatting that I will discuss in a moment. The inciting incident(aka the event that gets your hero off his couch) normally takes place about ten or fifteen pages in.
  • The bulk of the screenplay shows the hero struggling against difficulties in order to reach a final goal. This struggle builds to the story climax, which takes place near the screenplay's end.
  • Different screenwriters and screenwriting teachers analyze the rest of the structure in different ways. Most agree that screenplays typically have three acts, or parts, basically a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Act 1 is about 30 pages and introduces the story. This is when we get to know the hero and when the inciting incident gets him out of his sofa and into battle mode. Act 2, about 60 pages, is the main part of the story. This is where your poor hero gets knocked around and the stakes get raised. His problems just get worse and worse, and the need to solve them seems more and more urgent. Act 3 is often a bit shorter than Act 1, maybe 20-30 pages. This is where you have the story climax, the final, last-ditch battle that determines the end of the movie. Then the dust clears and the hero rides off into the sunset (or gets trampled to death by his horse).
  • You can find a detailed analysis of the 3-act screenplay structure on Alexandra Sokoloff's wonderful writing blog.
  • In addition to three acts, Alexandra Sokoloff also proposes that screenplays can generally be broken down to eight fifteen-minute segments. Writer/Director Nathan Marshall, on the other hand, breaks the three acts into five key moments, including a point at about page 17, or 17-minutes into the screenplay, when the main conflict is laid out.

The structure of scenes
  • A feature-length screenplay is made of about 50-70 scenes. These scenes are the bricks in the wall, the beads in the necklace, the vertebrae in the spine, or whatever metaphor you want to insert here. Each scene has a setting (where it happens), a time, and something that is shown or happens. Each scene in your screenplay should have a purpose. It should either move your character closer or farther from his goal or should deepen the audience's understanding of the character or the situation.
  • In his book How to Write a Selling Screenplay, Christopher Keane suggests thinking of every scene as a tiny screenplay with its own beginning, middle, and end (it's often best to have an open ending, though, that leaves the audience wondering what will happen next). Christopher Keane refers to some advice on writing scenes from screenwriter William Goldman: decide what the central point of your scene is, then back up just a little and start your scene there.

Analyze screenplays
  • The best way to learn about screenplay structure is to read lot of screenplays and study how they're put together. You can find lots of screenplays on websites such as [17]

3.3 Developing your script

Once you know what you're screenplay's going to be about and what's going to happen, how do you turn all that into an actual script?

In a 1990 New York Times interview, film maker David Lynch talks about regular visits to Bob's Big Boy, where he would drink chocolate shakes and coffee with lots of sugar, and then on his sugar high, he would write his movie ideas on paper napkins. In the same interview, David Lynch recommended the use of index cards as a screenwriting tool, a technique he learned when he studied with the Czech film maker Frank Daniel. "If you want to make a feature film, you get ideas for 70 scenes. Put them on 3-by-5 cards," Lynch explained. "As soon as you have 70, you have a feature film."

In the book How to Write a Selling Screenplay, Christopher Keane recommends going through two steps, The Mini Treatment and The Scene Breakdown, at least twice during the screenplay-writing process. The Mini Treatment involves quickly writing out the movie's story in 3-5 pages, divided into three acts. The Mini Treatment does not go into detail -- it is just a "this happens, and then this happens" summary. Then Christopher Keane gets out the old 3-by-5 index cards to break the story into scenes. Like David Lynch, he uses one card for each scene, and he jots down the main points of the scene in just a few sentences.

Before you start to suspect that I have just invested my life savings in the 3-by-5 index card industry, I will mention that there are a number of writing softwares which reproduce the notecard thing in a virtual form, with added bells and whistles besides. Scrivener and Writer's Blocks are two such softwares which currently both offer free trials so you can have a look and see if they're for you. [18]

3.4 Format your screenplay with software

The fastest way to format a screenplay is to let a software do it for you. Fortunately for starving artists, there are many free tools out there to choose from.

Word Templates
If you're a Microsoft Word user, you can download screenwriting templates for Word from the Microsoft Office website. These are templates, so they don't do anything except help you format your screenplay. They won't organize your project, help you collaborate with other screenwriters, or make your coffee. On the other hand, they will format that screenplay and they'll do it in Word, which you probably already know how to use.
Page 2 Stage
Page 2 Stage describe their software as "the screenwriter's word processor." You can download it from their website. You need to enter a login and password to unlock it, but these are provided openly on the website. The software is free, and the Page 2 Stage website make it abundantly clear that they really, really, really do not intend to provide user support for something they're not making money on. Fair enough.
If you like bells and whistles, this one has bells and whistles galore. On the plus side, whatever you want your free screenwriting software to do, Celtx probably does it. In addition to formatting your screenplay, it has tools for organizing related documents, storyboarding, saving notes on virtual index cards, and so on. You can work offline and backup your script online so that if your computer crashes, your script will survive. For a small upgrade fee, you also get access to interesting collaboration tools. On the other hand, the down side of a more muscular software is that it can sometimes take longer to get oriented and learn how to use everything. You can watch a video tour of Celtx's features here.

More free screenwriting software options
Click here to go to read about Zhura, Plotbot, Scripped, and ScriptBuddy free screenwriting software.

It is important to use standard formatting for your screenplay to show that you're a professional. There are a number of free tools available that can help you do it. Click here to read about different types of free screenwriting software. [19]

3.5 Revise, Revise, Revise

  • Once you've finished your script, your instinct might be to send it out ASAP. However, don't allow your excitement at having finally reached the end cloud your judgment. Let the script rest for a little while and come back to it later for revisions. Your work has just begun—now the real work begins.
  1. Check out your page length.
    • Obviously, you want the script to be correctly formatted before you do this.
    • Ideally, you want your first script to be between 100 and 120 formatted pages. Once you've made it big, you might be able to get away with breaking the rules on length, but until then, people will be more likely to take a chance on you if your script is a reasonable length.
  2. Read through your screenplay and cut out the excess.
    • Often, first-time screenwriters write dialogue that includes a lot of unnecessary lines. True, people often chatter back and forth before they get to the point in real life, but this isn't real life.
    • In a screenplay, you want to start your scene after the boring "How're you?" and jump right into the good stuff.
  3. If you still need to cut more, look for lengthy descriptionsand pare them down to a line or two of really stellar description.
    • While you may be able to visualize your femme fatale so well that you know her bust size and dental history, that's not necessary in a script.
    • Offer a line or two that helps the reader visualize what kind of person she is, then let her dialogue and actions fill out the picture.
  4. Consider joining a writer's groupto get some feedback on your script.

3.6 Register Your Work

Once you’ve completed your screenplay, be sure to register your work. This may not keep someone from stealing it, but it will give you a chance to sue them successfully. While a copyright begins the moment your create a piece of art, that won’t do you much good in court.
The first option is to register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America. It’s quick and easy, although the registration will expire more quickly than you might imagine.
The second option is to copyright your screenplay with the Library of Congress. This is a more involved (and slightly more expensive) process, but the copyright on your work will be valid for decades to come. [21]

3.7 Write a Treatment

In many cases, producers will ask for a treatment of your script. This is an abbreviated version of your script that allows them to determine if they want to read the actual product. A treatment includes the title, logline, and synopsis.
  • Title– Try to come up with a title that makes the audience want to know more. Simple is better.
  • Logline– A one or two sentence pitch that describes the basic premise of your script. This is what producers will usually read first, so make it as compelling as possible.
  • Synopsis – This should run between three and seven pages long and outline the script’s most important plot points. The film’s three primary acts will be discussed, and an overview of all the major characters will be given.
As I mentioned in the very first sentence, it’s a daunting task to write a Hollywood script. With so many rules–and the odds working against you–it’s a miracle that anyone ever sells a script in Hollywood. But they do, and thousands of serious spec scripts get written each year with the hopes of becoming the next Juno, Hurt Locker, or Little Miss Sunshine. So hone your skills, put on a fresh pot of coffee, and refuse to stop until you’ve made your own indelible mark on the industry. [22]

4. Tips for screenplay writing

The following are screenwriting tips to keep in mind both during and after the writing process.

Think Original

Try to come up with a script idea that hasn’t already been done 50 times. A fresh screenplay can often enhance your chances of someone in the industry wanting to read it.

Set a Schedule

No matter what, set a goal to write for a certain amount of time each day. The screenwriting process can be an exhausting one, so it’s important to keep yourself motivated and never give up.

The Importance of Dialogue

Great dialogue (and actors) can turn an average screenplay into a work of art. Pay special attention to your film’s dialogue, even if the focus is more on action or horror. If you’re unsure of how it will translate to the screen, you can always hire professional actors to read your script aloud (known as a “reading”). This will quickly give you an idea of what needs work.


Nobody writes a script worthy of an Oscar on their first try. That’s why editing is so important. Read and re-read your script, looking for any dialogue or action that doesn’t drive the film forward in a meaningful way. When you find such an example, cut it from the script with extreme prejudice.

Heroes Need Villains

Whether your character is fighting Asian mummies or cancer, it’s important to make the enemy seem as capable as possible. What’s a hero without a great villain?

Shot Selection

While a screenwriter will need to include shots in their script, don’t go overboard. You’ll need to mention a shot occasionally in order to direct the eye of the audience, but leave the rest of that up to the director.

Active Voice

The actions as described in your script should always take place in the present tense, not the past. Use the active voice.


Before you even think about submitting your script, make sure it’s free from all grammatical errors and misspellings. It’s also a good idea to get someone else to proofread your screenplay.[23]

Try putting your plot into a rough draft

You will have a guideline for your script. Try to create a beat sheet for your story - that's a list of all the story events, one sentence each. When you see your story mapped out like this it is much easier to see the bits that don't work.


a free, Wordpad-like text processor, with automatic screenplay formating. Download it at

Get friends or family to read your scripts

They are great at catching the mistakes made. But be wary when they tell you what needs changing. At this early stage it's far more important to think about bigger story questions than obsess over fine dialogue details.

Always think about telling stories that have the power to move people

Action movies have their place, but even then if the audience cares about the lead characters your movie has a far greater chance of taking off.

Make sure your completed screenplay is between 100 and 120 pages of standard format

This makes it far more likely to be read if you submit it cold to a studio.

Watching some shows

These days some really great writing is found on television in shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, Prison Break, LOST and other top end shows. Watching these shows can teach you a lot about tight plotting and taut dialogue. [24]

Budget Your Time

When writing a screenplay, it’s important to set a schedule and write on a daily basis. Otherwise, your interest may wane, and you’ll find yourself falling behind on your project. If your life is really busy, at least try to budget an hour a day for writing. The important thing is to just keep plugging away.
One idea which works for many writers is to concentrate on getting your entire screenplay down on paper. Even if you hate the results, you can then begin the process of going back and revising. Completing even a horrible screenplay will give the writer a boost in confidence and the determination needed to see the project through to the end.

Keep Writing

Even if your first screenplay doesn’t get made into a major motion picture, that’s no reason to stop trying. Remember, practice makes perfect. Once you’ve completed a screenplay, recharge your batteries and then get started on another one. Pretty soon, you’ll be writing every day without even thinking about it.

Make Contacts

There are lots of forums and writers groups on the Internet. Participate in some of them. Writing can often be a frustrating process, and it can be helpful to talk to people who understand what you’re going through. Besides the support element, there’s also the chance of making contacts which can help you later on.

Learn To Take Criticism

Not everything you write will be a masterpiece. In fact, some of it may downright stink. While friends and family may tell you everything you write is great, other screenwriters and especially producers will be far more honest (sometimes even bordering on brutal).
Don’t get defensive or upset if someone criticizes your screenplay. Listen to what they have to say with an open mind and see if you can make any changes based on their constructive criticism. If you get feedback from a producer, you may especially want to pay attention, as these industry insiders often have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Consult The Experts

There are a number of great screenwriting books out there. If you’re just getting started and need advice on the proper format and content for screenplays, here are a few you might want to take a look at:
When you feel a bit more comfortable with the screenwriting process, check out one of these screenwriting books:

Consider questions below seriously if you really want to take screenwriting as a job and be a long-term professional screenplay writer

  • Screenwriting is tough. Many people who watch movies think that they could easily write something better, but they don't realize how tough it is.
  • If you want to write a script, that's great. Go for it. Just realize that it can take days or weeks to even work out your story before you start writing the script itself.
  • Once you write it, do not get discouraged if your final draft does not come out the way you planned. The trick of creating a really great screenplay is to stay at it. Most writers do not realize that screenplays should be re-written many times before you send it out to Hollywood.
  • If it is your dream, go for it. But realize that it is a challenge. Make sure you're ready to settle in. [26]

5. Conclusion

Screenwriting is a difficult process, but all of the hard work will be worth it when you see your film on the screen. If you take the time to learn the craft and develop the best script you possibly can, you'll stay ahead of your numerous competitors. Who knows? In a few years, you could be accepting an Oscar for Best Screenplay!

6. Things You'll Need

  • Imagination
  • Work Ethic
  • Screenplay Software
  • Storyboarding Software
  • Computer
  • Previously Produced Scripts
  • Time
  • Screenwriting Books
  • Support. Find like minded people in forums, or writers groups.
  • Contacts in the industry when it comes to selling the script
  • Humility
  • A hide like a rhinocerous. [27]

7. External Readings

Screenwriting info
BBC-How to write a screenplay
"how to write a screenplay about factual events"
Resources for Screenwriters
2 Day Film School
Top Film Schools
How to Enter a Writing Contest
How to Write an Obituary
How to Make a Low Budget Movie
How to Become an Actor
Screenwriting blogs and websites.
How to Write a Play 1 - Character and Plot.
How to Write a Play 2 - Actions and words.

8. References

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