If you’ve ever finished watching a movie and thought, “I could probably write something better than that!”, you’re definitely not alone. While writing a screenplay can be extremely rewarding, it’s not easy to achieve.
Great movie ideas can be difficult to come up with, and writing a screenplay for such a movie can be even more challenging.
The key, however, is being dedicated and sticking with the process until you develop something you love.
If you want to learn how to write a screenplay, our basic guide is here to walk you through it.
How to Write a Screenplay
1. Get Familiar with the Format of a Screenplay
First of all, you need to know the unique format of a screenplay. Unlike a novel or a short story that relies on description or prose, the structure of a screenplay is based around dialogue.
When you’re writing a screen, it’s very important to understand that you’re writing visually. You’re conveying a series of images for a movie, so they should be intriguing and engaging.
The format of a screenplay is rather specific and requires a lot of tabbing and hitting Enter if you’re working in a word processing document. Alternatively, you can use software that does the formatting for you, such as Final Draft and Scrivener.
The elements of a screenplay format include:
- The slugline – appears in ALL CAPS at the beginning of a scene and briefly describes the location and time of day.
- INT/EXT – INT stands for an interior of a setting and EXT stands for the outside or exterior of a setting.
- CLOSE UP or TIGHT ON – This means a close-up shot on screen.
- FREEZE FRAME – When you want the picture to stop moving and become a still picture on the screen.
- b.g. – Stands for “background” to explain when something is happening in the background of the main action.
- O.S. or O.C. – Stands for off-screen or off-camera. The character’s voice will be speaking off the camera or from another part of the setting.
- V.O. – Stands for voice over.
- Tracking shot – This means a camera moves to follow a person or an object.
2. Create a Logline
A logline is a short summary of the story, typically one sentence long. It describes the protagonist, the antagonist, the goal, and the conflict.
The protagonist is the main character or the hero of your story, while the antagonist is the opposing force or the villain.
To put it simply, the logline answers the question “what’s the story about?” in a brief yet meaningful manner. It’s what you say to best pitch your story, often for marketing purposes.
3. Write a Treatment
A treatment is a longer summary of the story, usually around 2 to 5 pages long. It should include the title of your screenplay, the longline, a list of the main characters, and a short overview.
Treatments also serve as a marketing tool. A producer might read a treatment first before deciding to move forward with a script.
Accordingly, anyone who reads your treatment should get a very good idea of the plot, the characters, and your style.
The treatment isn’t just about earning empathy from the readers towards the characters, but it’s also a chance for you to look at your story as a whole.
4. Develop the Characters
The process of creating and developing characters is crucial to writing a good screenplay. Characters should contrast the central question and undergo an evident transformation to answer it.
You want to make your characters interesting and empathetic. They should be intriguing to various types of personalities so that many people would want to follow them on their journey and see how it plays out.
You can find a lot of character profile worksheets online to help you bring your characters to life.
5. Make a Script Outline
It’s now time to create a script outline, which is a guideline for you to effectively tell your story.
A feature-length script consists of 50 to 70 scenes. Each scene has a setting and something that happens to the characters or as a result of their actions. These scenes are vital to the story.
Full-length screenplays are usually 100 to 120 pages long, broken into 3 acts:
- Act 1 – includes the setting, the characters, the triggering incident. It’s about 30 pages long.
- Act 2 – the main bulk and build-up of the story, about 60 pages long.
- Act 3 – the climax of your story, about 20 to 30 pages long.
6. Craft the First Draft
This is your first attempt at the script. Here, you should write quickly without thinking too much about what you’re writing or how “sophisticated” you sound.
You should focus on getting out all your ideas rather than analyzing every word choice. Write freely, don’t stop to fix dialogue or update action description, and avoid editing.
After finishing your first draft, it’s a good idea to step back from writing and simply relax. Taking your mind off the screenplay will give your creative muscles a break so when you come back, you can read your work through a fresh look.
8. Rewrite and Polish
Finally, you can go back in and refine your screenplay. With a better picture of your story in mind, you can easily rewrite and polish the script.
Tighten the dialogue, fine-tune the action, and edit the script. You may end up doing this more than once, so don’t worry about repeats and just stick it through.
When you’re creating the final version of your screenplay, try to use more white spaces to make it easier to read and faster to complete.
There you go, a basic guide on how to write a screenplay. Following these steps should give you a solid foundation of writing a script, but don’t forget to follow your creative instincts as well.
Remember, there are no real rules here, so these steps can happen in any order, or even not at all. It’s ultimately up to you and your story.