Top Tips on How to Write a Screenplay
We’ve looked previously at how to format a screenplay, but what about writing one? Are there any rules about how to do this? Well, not exactly. But we do have some great tips that we think can help. So check out our guide below to find out more about writing scripts and screenplays.
1. Read Other Scripts
Maybe you want to write a script because you’re a big fan of cinema. But have you ever tried reading a film rather than watching one? This is a great way to see how most film scripts use a three-act structure, as well as offering insights on how to write and format dialogue.
Try reading lots of different types of script, too. For example, as well as reading the screenplay for your favourite feature film, you can read one for a short film and an episode of a TV show. This will give you a better sense of how screenplays can vary and what you might want to write.
2. Create a Screenplay Outline
Once you have an idea of the story you want to tell, you’ll be ready to outline your screenplay. Think of this as like a blueprint for the screenplay proper. The amount of detail in an outline may vary, but it should include a breakdown of each act and scene you plan to include. This will let you work out and finalise the story before you write it up in screenplay form.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
Having a narrator in a screenplay is fine, but it’s almost always better to use action to drive the story forward. So instead of relying on exposition:
- Use strong action verbs wherever possible. For example, instead of just saying that a character is ‘running’, you could use a more descriptive term like ‘galloping’ or ‘dashing’.
- Let your characters show who they are through dialogue and action. If you see your protagonist as ‘combative’, for instance, you need to include a scene to establish this.
- Avoid unnecessary exposition by presenting the same information as part of the action. If a character is talking at length about something that happened in the past, for example, you may want to insert a flashback to show the audience what happened instead.
The key here is that film and TV are primarily visual media, so ‘telling’ the audience something is often a missed opportunity. By foregrounding action, your screenplay will be more dynamic.
4. Focus on the Writing
It can be tempting to fill a script with stage or camera directions if you have a clear idea of how it should look. But unless you’re also directing the final result, this may not even be your job!
You should, of course, describe the action as best you can. But you can leave out mentions of ‘close ups’ or instructions about transitioning between scenes for now. These are usually added later in a shooting script, which comes after a studio has already bought a screenplay (or ‘spec script’).
Summary: How to Write a Screenplay
If you want to write a screenplay, there are a few things you might want to do:
- As well as watching films and television, read some scripts to get a sense of how they are presented and constructed. This can also help you decide what type of screenplay to write.
- Outline your story, breaking it down by act and scene. Go into as much depth as you can so that you can work out story issues before beginning to write the screenplay itself.
- Remember that film and TV are visual media. As such, it is usually best to avoid excessive dialogue and exposition. Instead, use action to drive your story forward.
- Don’t worry too much about stage or camera directions when writing the first draft of your script (unless you will be directing it yourself). Focus first on action and story.
And, finally, don’t forget that we’re here to help ensure your screenplay is error free throughout. Good luck with the writing!