Before writing a word of your first screenplay.

September 2nd, 2010 by Ron

The Script Blogger

Before writing a word of your first screenplay, how much of the story have you thought about?

The first question to consider is do you have a story or just a collection of possible events fermenting in your mind, seen as possible scenes.

Maybe an exciting opening with a dramatic action scene, or a great confrontation between two characters, or even a spectacular visual event that is the back drop to an individual’s story but do you have enough to last two hours.

Do you know what the “Concept” is?

The concept is the term used that can easily be described by a succinctly stated premise. Often the logline can encapsulate this. And frequently the shorter the logline is, the Higher the Concept.

For a screenplay to work it has to have a purpose for its existence, not just a hope that it may earn the writer a few shekels, because unless it delivers an interesting story that captures the attention of the reader; it might as well have stayed in the recesses of the writer’s mind.

I am sure it is similar for every first time writer or novice; getting words onto the page is the burning priority, without considering the significance of how those words convey the story.

Probably no thought has been given to the theme, the characters, the structure, the back story and the purpose of the story.

The theme, not to be mistaken with the genre, can be seen as the message that the story delivers. It is normally important that the protagonist is the means of establishing what the theme is.

For example in the “Wizard of Oz” each of the four characters we follow down the yellow brick road has to overcome their individual fears.

The same could said of the Town Sherriff in Jaws, or the effervescent Hitch.

Most stories are about characters, what their journey is, what the conflicts they face are, and what the destination of their story is. How do the main characters change when they arrive at the end of their story?

With Hitch he overcomes his inability to commit to a relationship, with Sheriff Brody he finds the courage to deal with his fears and Dorothy has a new appreciation of her home and the people in her life.

Understanding the significance of the structure of a screenplay before you begin writing a screenplay will help ensure the story has a pace and energy, that keeps a reader interested in the story, as it progresses from its beginning to its end.

It is a question of knowing when and when certain key moments should happen in the story timeline, so that the story maintains a momentum.

Back stories can help to establish where the story begins but a back story needs to be presented within the forward motion of the narrative without it becoming a boring screen presentation.

Most producers are driven by a simple question, “Will the story make me any money?”

What is the purpose of the story; is it to make people laugh, cry, be intrigued, to be mesmerized by the brilliant dialogue or just for them to be able to escape the realities of their lives for a couple of hours.

The writer has to be able to think visually, creating excitement, drama, humor and interesting characters.

Before writing a word it would pay a first time writer to invest time in reading “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier and a huge selection of screenplays in a similar genre of their proposed first project.

It is possible to download scripts from Simply Scripts and other sites that provide free access to produced screenplays.

Other books worth reading are:-

Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

The Hollywood Standard – Christopher Riley

Story – Robert McKee

The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri

Making a Good Script Great – Linda Seger

Join sites like TriggerStreet, Done Deal and Zoetrope to become part of the writer’s communities on those sites.

Before you start your screenplay, plan it. Write an outline, know the theme you want to present, create character profiles and the logline. The logline should summarize your main plot in twenty five words or less.

Think of the ending of your screenplay before you begin, that way you will have a destination for your story rather than it just ambling through a sequence of events without direction.

Don’t hope for inspiration as you write; write because you have been inspired.

Remember to include conflict within your main characters and around them, they have to grow as they progress though the story.

The difficult nuances are creating a distinguishable voice for your characters that can be recognized in your script, as well as writing in a way that your own voice is identifiable.

While all of this is surmounting to an almost impossible hill to climb the screenplay has to be correctly formatted and written in the present tense, delivered  through a narrative that creates images in the mind that match what the images will be on screen, if he screenplay get produced.

All achieved without telling the reader what is happening but by showing them what is happening, by the style of the narrative.

Do not be put off my all the things that you have to consider, every writer had to start at the bottom of the hill and learn how to navigate the steep rock faces and over hangs as they got closer to the top of the mountain.

Writing a screenplay is like climbing a mountain, so some preparation is not a bad idea, remember, “Preparation should precede presentation”.

But before most writers commit a story to paper, the concept, characters, conflict and presentation, live in an isolated world within the writer’s head.

A jumbled, fragmented, inconclusive and probably unclear mix of ideas with an uncertainty as to what medium it best fits; such as short story, novel, M.O.W, television drama, a television series or a feature film.

The writer has to make a decision at some point before committing their vision to paper how they envisage their presentation because which ever form it is in, it will affect the way the story is structured and written.

Initially only the creator of the concept can decide the format and until at least an outline or treatment has been written no one else can share the nuances of the vision that live within the writer’s brain.

This is part of being the writer.

Deciding where to place empathizes on events in the story and how to deliver the timing and pacing again are the ingredients only the writer can initially control.

On some decisions the writer cannot and should not pass the buck. The writer has to go with their own intuition, not anybody else’s. If the writer elects to write their story as a screenplay, a novel or a teleplay they can always change it later, but they must make a commitment.

If the story is presented as a screenplay and is strong enough and written well enough other people such as a producer and director will almost certainly contribute to the final presentation. They may even move the sequences of events but initially the writer must commit themselves, by themselves and realize being a writer is a lonely occupation.

Remember the story is the writer’s story and it requires the writer’s voice to relate it.

If you decide to write your story as a screenplay, invest in a copy of Final Draft or use one of the free software packages such as Celtx and don’t sit thinking about it, just do it.

18 responses to “Before writing a word of your first screenplay.”

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    Hello Ron,

    I struggle to structure the initial process of generating ideas and fleshing everything out; can you point me in the direction of any useful resources or workflows?


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