10 tips for screenwriting

39a-Older-Dalton-Trumbo-photoScreenwriting can be tough. I should know – I haven’t completed a screenplay in 2 years, even a short one. Following conversations with a number of local screenwriters, I’ve complied a list of 10 tips for screenwriting.

1. Get your writing conditions right.

Know yourself and the conditions in which you are most productive: be that writing in a home office shrouded in complete silence; writing in a library where it is quiet but there are still people around to watch; writing in a noisy cafe where you barista is regularly interrupting you. Your preferred conditions might change with your mood – if that is the case know and recognise your moods and where you should head to write.

2. Know your audience.

Cinema is, more often than not, entertaining. When you sit down to write a screenplay you should know exactly who you want to engage and entertain for a good two hours. The writing process is so solitary that is easy to forget that you are writing for an audience.

3. Practice dialogue regularly.

Screenplays tend to be pretty dialogue heavy in the sound age of cinema and it is trickiest part of writing. Best to do writing exercises on dialogue, going for the natural and engaging flow, not falling into traps of clunky exposition or an overuse of quips (see Marvel Movies).

4. Read, read and read.

Writers should read. Soak up stories, turns of phases, character traits, and more. The more you read, the wider the breadth of the world and storytelling you have to draw on. This isn’t about ripping off or even inspiration – it is about having that acute understanding of storytelling and characters when you set about writing.

5. Observe, observe, and observe.

Writers should watch and listen. In most cases you are going to be writing about human beings, and there is no better source for character and behaviour than the people around you.Pay attention to them and you will find a wealth of material on the human character to draw for your screenplay.

6. Know where you are going.

It is important to know where your story is going before you begin – that is have a good idea of how your story is going to end and then start taking the steps to get to that ending. How you get there may change on redrafting but you will still know where each new step is taking you.

7. Get to know your characters.

Write out character profiles, know exactly who they are and where they have been. Screenplays often tip over because there seems to be little thought of motivation to what a character says or decides. Another great way to get to know your characters is put them in different scenarios, write short screenplays on other episodes of their lives. This will help them fill fully fleshed out in your proper screenplay.

8. Don’t be afraid to get feedback.

Too many writers will sit on something, refuse to show their writing to anyone and maybe one day make a film of it with never getting feedback. Make sure you show your screenplay to a lot of different people, especially people from your intended audience and especially other writers. Their feedback will be invaluable in turning your screenplay into something great. It will also prepare you for the harder feedback you will get in the professional.

9. Don’t hang on a screenplay for too long.

If a screenplay or a story isn’t working, let it go and move onto your next story. If it is just a scene or a character or a line that isn’t working, drop it and do something else. It is usually wrong because it is just wrong, and your next idea might be the very right one.

10. Be ready for your screenplay to change.

Films rarely turn out how you envisioned them when writing the screenplay. Often they come out better. Be ready to amend your screenplay as production chugs along and be ready to see parts of your screenplay on the cutting room floor. Flexibility in this process will make it smooth and help you to see the best version of your writing.

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