Writing Tip of the Week:  Writing Your First (Short) Script

Big-budget blockbusters have a lot of moving parts.    From huge ensemble casts, overpowering visual effects, big set pieces, and crazy action sequences, watching can often be an immersive and overwhelming experience. 

Now, imagine the process of writing it.

We all have a story on the same scale as an AvengersAvatar, or Pirates of the Caribbean movie.    And while jotting down notes and ideas is a good idea, when writing your first script, you want to think smaller.    Much smaller.

How much smaller? Let’s talk about it.

Back to Basics

Your first journey into screenwriting should be something less than a 140-page epic.    Think short film.    Three to five pages.    One setting.    Two characters.    Character A has a goal or plan, but character B opposes them.    Now there’s conflict in your story.    These two people are at odds in one location.  

But before you sit in front of your laptop and write, you’ll want to plan and outline your story from start to finish.    What are the story beats?    How does the conflict progress?    Who are these people?    Where are they located?  

Give yourself the creative freedom to play around with multiple ideas before deciding on one to take to the next step of becoming a short film script.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Screenwriter)

Once you’ve nailed down your story, setting, and character, you can begin the script’s drafting phase.

This allows you to practice writing descriptions, character intros, and dialogue on a basic scale in the screenplay format. You’ll notice how fast a page can fly by as you write due to the formatting.    When you rewrite, how can you trim things down to keep the script between three and five pages and still have a coherent story?

Show, Don’t Tell

Film, as you know, is a visual medium, and the audience is meant to be shown things that help inform the story.    The last thing you want to do is tell your audience something you could show them instead.

If your script has a married couple, how can you convey that through visuals?    If they are a parent and an adult child, how can you clarify their relationship before someone says “Mom” or “Son”?

Fun with Dialogue

Once you’ve written your dialogue for both characters, read it out loud.    Can you revise it to make it sound more natural?    Can you cut it down and make the pacing faster without losing the context of what’s being said?  

Remember, real people speak in fragments.    They often trail off or even change subjects halfway through an answer.    Unlike dialogue in a novel, script dialogue is intended to be performed by an actor, so it should be easy to speak. 

Final Thoughts

The best advice I can give you is: Have Fun.    Create.    Experiment.    Outline.    Write.    Rewrite.    Play around and enjoy the process.    As you get used to the basics, you can move on, writing another scene that adds to the story, adds to the conflict, and keeps things moving.

Happy Screenwriting, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise: Favorite Halloween Costume

It’s October again, which means Halloween will be top of mind for millions over the next several weeks.  One of the primary aspects of the holiday – other than candy – is dressing up in costume.  And that’s where our writing exercise focuses today.

An Autobiographical Sketch

Pick a costume from your past or your child’s past.  It’s even better if you have a photo of the costume available to use as a reference.  Write a paragraph detailing why this costume was chosen, what you liked about it, and what the reception was from those who saw you in it.  Be descriptive as possible.  Make the reader feel like they are experiencing this Halloween costume and all its emotional connections with you as they read.

This can be either in the past or present tense.  

Details Count

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to do some detail digging.  We know from the initial paragraph how you chose the costume, but did you go into detail using the five senses?

Write a paragraph about how the costume felt, sounded when you walked, smelled – if it was store-bought, it might have had a plasticky smell from the bag it came in – and if you wore face paint or makeup, what that tasted like.  

Drawing a picture with words is a great way to practice showing and not telling in your writing. 

A Matter of Perspective

Finally, write a paragraph from your first-person perspective about your experience wearing the costume to school, work, or a party.  How did you feel?  How did others react?  How did the environment change how you acted while in your costume?

If it was your kid’s costume or someone else’s, write from the third-person perspective about your initial reactions to seeing the costume and how the person acted within their environment.

But What If I…

If you don’t celebrate Halloween or dress up, no worries.  You can do the same exercises, but imagine yourself in a costume you find and write a fictional account of your experiences.  

Final Thoughts

Using details, showing and not telling, and using different POVs to tell a story, you can find new ways to engage your readers and give them fresh perspectives on familiar things.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!