The Right Way To Write A Screenplay

Over the years I’ve had many an idea for a screenplay (often while intoxicated though). And I start it eager to plow through what I think is an awesome scene here and there, profound or hilarious or sometimes a combo of the two dialogue wise, a cool character mix and a story that has that right level of everything. I’ll burn through the first 10 or so pages that night and think, damn, this will be the shit. And then it fades out. Suddenly the script of many dreams has reached a dead end, or it goes off on a tangent that makes no sense. You try to keep going with it, catching occassional inspiration and rewrite motivations – to the point where the story was nothing like your initial idea. Not too long later, the story becomes another half script casualty. You’ve lost the plot, the scene transition is non-existent, its missing the hook and you have no idea how it was supposed to end anyway.

Yeah, I’ll admit, I’ve written a fair few screenplays where I either had no idea what the ending would be, or completely lost my way there. I just had a great idea and ran with it, and then one day wondered where the hell I was running to. And I know other people that have done this too over the years. In fact, not too long ago I thought thats how they all did it.

Now I know that this is also why people have unfinished screenplays. So here’s my advice, what I’ve learned (told you this blog would take you through the learnings too after all….). If you plan on writing a screenplay based on an idea one day and start writing dialogue, scenes, etc…. you are in trouble. It will usually fade out. Not always, as I’ve definately finished a few this way…. but the odds are against you.

Nowadays I have much less free time on my hands, and so sitting down and writing up loads of scenes is something that I rarely am able to do. However, I still manage to get some ideas every now and then, and scribble them down like old times. Instead of writing out a script, it made sense to just outline the scenes for now. Make this easier to convert into a full length, figure out what the plot is in the first place, figure out how it will end, get an idea of the structure overall before digging deep into character specifics like dialogue quirks. Then, when I have some time, yet not feeling too creative, I can churn through scenes quite fast and develop the properly structured screenplay. An outline takes much less time and allows you to get the most from your creative flow as well – those moments where you just have inspiration and ideas a plenty.

because we still print them out?

Either way, this is what I’m experimenting on a current screenplay, and it is working well. Very efficient time-wise too. Hopefully it will be converted relatively fast, and due to the outline (which was done very quickly), easy to keep track of what and where regarding plot and characters. It’s interesting to be able to write this way and I feel more confident with building the story idea while the creative juices are flowing – then finalizing and tweaking as I lay it out as a full length. It all makes sense. It’s also odd that they don’t really tell you to do this when you learn about screenwriting. But they should.

And perhaps to some slight disappointment (as its not some first time discovery that will revolutionize screenwriting, just something I feel like I was late to learn on), its also referred to by various other people. Such as this one at http://www.writersstore.com/outlining-your-script-or-story/ – quote: “writing a long, complex piece, such as a novel or screenplay from an outline will make the entire process easier, less angst-ridden, and — except for those of you with masochistic tendencies — far more pleasurable and satisfying. And, as with the Great Ones, your finished story will be better.”

And there are various tools to help you manage your outline a bit better when you have that idea.

So yes, I’m sold on outlines, not just its convinced me that the next one I write will require less “rewrite time”. However I still have ideas that will make this faster and even more efficient when translating thoughts and ideas to screenplays. I’ll save that for a later post though. Time to write up the current outline for now….. after all, its not going to write itself up, yet.

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One Response to “The Right Way To Write A Screenplay”

  1. Robot Screenwriter Says:

    Actually it “will” start writing itself up if something like http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/business/media/solving-equation-of-a-hit-film-script-with-data.html gets popular.

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