We’ve all told ourselves or a group of friends at once in our lives, “I could write something better than that!” And, while that may be true, few people ever act on that proposition in a way that proves they can craft a compelling 110-page story for the big -or, in today’s world, streaming – screen.
If you are curious about how to get started, let’s talk about ways to familiarize yourself with screenplays and scriptwriting.
Much like a novelist should read books, an aspiring screenwriter should take the time to read many screenplays from different genres and decades. Screenplays for movies you’ve seen and ones for movies you haven’t seen.
By doing this, you’ll notice how screenplay formatting has evolved over the years. Camera angles were typed into screenplays for decades, but now they are added sparingly, if at all. You’ll see how different writers in various decades incorporate flashbacks or dream sequences and how they introduce a character or setting.
A screenplay is an amazing piece of art, acting as a blueprint for a larger entity – a film – but also delivering a compelling and complete story in a limited number of pages and page space. There’s no room to elaborate or explain; get in, deliver the info, and get out.
And despite these limitations, screenwriters can keep you turning the page as fast as any novel can.
There are many, many websites available that offer up .pdf versions of screenplays. One of them is www.thescriptlab.com which constantly adds scripts to its library.
Once you’ve read several scripts, find a few for current movies – preferably the SHOOTING SCRIPT – and watch the film as you follow along with the screenplay. How did the creative team, the director, and the actors bring the words on the page to life? If you haven’t seen the film before, is what you envisioned when you first read the script what ended up in the film?
Learn the Structure
How is a screen story told? How is it different than a novel? Many books are available that break down screenplay structure, along with websites that present methodologies that can help you take your story and craft it into a screenplay. From Robert McKee’s Story to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Eric Edson’s The Story Solution, find what works best for you and try it out.
Learn the Formatting
The basics of screenplay formatting have remained fairly constant over the past few decades. However, minor changes have been made that can mean the difference between your script looking amateur and like a pro’s.
I recommend reading the Best Screenplay nominated scripts from a previous couple of years to see what these writers did regarding formatting. It’s also important to seek out produced screenplays that give examples of how to format text messaging or social media-related items in a script if you plan to use them in your story.
Do I Need Special Software?
You can find free screenwriting software online if you’re dabbling in the screenwriting playground. If you want to take it seriously, software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter is available and is considered the industry standard. Both can be a bit pricey, so if you want to try writing a script for fun, find a free program first.
I love screenwriting. I love reading scripts. I love the process of developing and writing a screenplay. It’s a fun, creative experience. Learning from the masters, exploring how stories are crafted, and comparing the script to the finished film are great ways to get excited and energized about the process.
Happy Screenwriting, and I’ll see you next time!