Over the past 10 years, I've worked with approximately 25,000 screenwriters and filmmakers in various capacities. Professionally, I've written screenplays, television shows, many commercials for TV and radio, and countless scripts for a variety of purposes. Still, I don't pretend to have the perfect answer how to start writing a screenplay. I'm not sure such an answer exists. You have to find the path that works for you. I do have some suggestions that should make writing your first screenplay a little easier. -- Joe Mefford -- President, ScreenStyle.com
1. Love your story. You are going to be thinking, breathing, and living with your characters for a long time. When you are writing your script, nobody else but you will know these characters and their story. If you are writing a love story, you'd better cry when they break up. You'd better laugh out loud at your comedy and leave on the lights if you are writing a horror film.
2. Watch Movies. Watch a lot of movies. Approximately 100,000 screenplays are written a year. Hollywood produces roughly 500 feature films a year. So even the worst film of the year beat impressive odds to make it to the big screen. You can learn something from almost every movie out there.
3. Read Screenplays. Before you start writing your screenplay, read several screenplays. Read at least 5 or 6; it would be better to read even more. You can download screenplays off the internet from sites like www.iscriptdb.com, you can buy them from www.simplyscripts.com, or you can find them at a library. It doesn't matter how you read them, just be sure to read them.
4. Learn the form. After you've read 5 or 6 screenplays, you've figured out that screenplays follow a particular format. This format must be followed. You can learn the format from a book like The Screenwriter's Bible. We have a free article called How to Format a Screenplay. And Final Draft will even format your script for you while you write.
5. Read the trades. There are magazines, blogs, websites, and plenty of books on screenwriting. Not only are these important for you to learn the craft but you'll also gain
6. Read a screenplay while you watch the movie. With one eye on the script, watch a movie with the other eye. Notice how a well-written screenplay follows the adage, "Show, Don't Tell." Even though you're reading words on paper, a well-written script shows you the movie in your mind.
7. Try to write the screenplay for a favorite movie. Before you read the screenplay for a favorite movie, watch a few scenes. Then try to write that screenplay. Obviously you'll just copy the dialogue verbatim. But try to write the Scene Headings and Action Lines for that movie. Then compare your efforts to the actual screenplay.
8. Learn screenplay structure. There are countless books, seminars, and articles on screenplay structure. My definition of screenplay structure is that "your screenplay must make sense." My favorite beginning book on screenplay structure is Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hauge. We also produce a great 5-hour DVD on story structure called The Hero's 2 Journeys.
9. Limit your learning. I know writers who own every book, subscribe to every magazine, and use every possible software program. They go to every conference and attend every seminar. They do everything related to screenwriting but write a screenplay. Of course, you can never learn too much. But spend as much time actually writing as you do learning about writing. Trust me; you'll become a better writer by first writing poorly.
10. Share your work. Don't be afraid to join a writing group where you share your work with others. Some of the best screenplays have come out of writers' groups. If you're serious, then join a serious writing group where members push each other to turn out their best work. If you can't join one in your community, you can sometimes find writers' groups online.
11. Learn the business. This is an aspect of screenwriting that too many writers overlook. The irony is that the solitary nature of screenwriting is counterbalanced by the fact that your script is going to be the blueprint for a film that may hire hundreds of people. You had better understand how you fit in the whole filmmaking process. The best scripts don't always get made.
12. Have fun. If you type an average of 45 words-per-minute, you can type an entire script in just 5 or 6 hours. Thinking about your characters, developing your plot, and coming up with ideas for scenes obviously takes a lot more time. Have fun with it.
13. Don't limit yourself to just feature films. Writing a good script is a skill valued by a lot of people and companies. You can take these skills to advertising agencies, production companies, and even video game manufacturers.
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