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How to Write a Screenplay

By Jess, published on 01/11/2019 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Acting > Tips for Writing a Screenplay

“That’s one of the nice things about writing, or any art; if the thing’s real, it just lives.” -Woody Allen

Writing is a passion of many novelists, journalists, teachers, bloggers, and screenwriting. Every subdiscipline of writing is a unique world with distinct aspects that make it stand out as unique.

In today’s article, we will focus our attention on the world of screenwriting and how aspiring screenwriters can create a wonderful career for themselves writing the silver screen’s most beloved stories.

What is a Screenplay?

While many fans of the film industry may be familiar with specific aspects that make a movie shine such as costume design, production, direction, or acting, there is little attention paid towards those who write screenplays.

But what is a screenplay? 

It’s important to start off saying that writing an engaging screenplay is no easy task; much time and effort is required to create a masterpiece. Consequently, a screenplay is a script that is written for a movie, television series, video game, or theatre production. As a general rule, screenplays feature acting instructions, scene directions, and narration.

While in many situations a screenplay is 100% the original ideas of the writer, in certain cases a theatre play, a novella, a short story, or a television series may be the inspiration of a feature film screenplay. Hence the reason why the Academy Awards give out two separate Oscars for screenplays: Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

A general rule of screenplays is that every page is worth one minute of actual screen time.

Screenplays, especially ones for feature films, are predominantly composed of two components: action and dialogue. For instance, the action refers to anything that is seen or heard by the audience and the dialogue are the words spoken by the characters in a scene.

Just as there are many distinct film genres such as comedy, drama, action/adventure, fantasy, historical, and horror, there are distinct types of screenplay formats that can be observed.

Such as?

When deciding upon a career in screenwriting, there are three distinct genres such as film, television, and documentary; the screenwriter must abide by the unique format and structure of each one to truly achieve greatness.

To better understand the formatting and different types of screenplays, it is highly recommended to spend time watching some of the best screenplays/films of all time like Casablanca, The Godfather Part I and II, Annie Hall, Sunset Boulevard, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 

How to Write a Screenplay for TV

TV sets Writing a teleplay that can one day be observed on television is a wonderful feat! (Source: Unsplash)

While it is said that the 1950s were the “Golden Age of Television”, we are currently living in a revived period of television excellence. From Game of Thrones to Veep, television has become extremely diverse and a pleasure to watch.

Also worthy of mentioning is the sheer amount of streaming services available such as Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu. 

Consequently, since there is such a major demand for new television series, teleplay writers are working harder than ever before to come up with fresh and new ideas; there is more of a need than ever before for teleplay writers.

However, many people who are not quite familiar with the terms might ask: what is a teleplay? A teleplay is a script or format of writing that is specifically used for programs and series that have dialogue and action description. In the television industry, all types of scripts, whether short or long, are known as a teleplay.

Reputable sources such as The Writer’s Guild of America have kindly identified the primary differences between a screenplay and a teleplay. 

What are some of the basic steps that must be followed to write a brilliant teleplay? Without further ado, the following list demonstrates what needs to be done to write a television screenplay:

  • Structure the Scripts Idea: to be well organised from the beginning, an outline or a “teaser” should be written to describe actions and scenes. A “three-act structure” is highly recommended from the beginning.
  • Developing the Idea: the story needs to be effectively developed to take shape and become something important. For example, the number of pages should approximately reflect the length of the episode and the inclusion of two-four acts must be created to have a credible story.
  • Format the Information: after the ideas and the development of the story has taken place, it is now time to format all the information together to create a legible script. There are very precise and specific rules that must be followed to format a teleplay; consider using a teleplay software when beginning.

As an aspiring television writer, it is of the utmost importance to consider the wonderful works of famous writers such as Larry David, Vince Gilligan, and Tina Fey to improve in overall skills and delivery.

How to Write a Screenplay for Film

“Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t. But it should be.” -Hugh Laurie

Screenwriters are responsible for creating the core of a feature film; without a screenplay, there is no story. Some of the best films ever made owe a lot of their success to the screenplay.

Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman, and Billy Wilder have made careers out of their knack for storytelling. 

Essential elements that must be included in a screenplay that all aspiring screenwriters should know include the following:

  • Scene Heading, 
  • Subheader, 
  • Action, 
  • Character, 
  • Dialogue, 
  • Parenthetical, 
  • Extension, 
  • Transition, 
  • Shot. 

It is essential to state that there is much screenplay writing software currently available on the market to ensure that all fundamental aspects of a screenplay are included.

Writing a screenplay for a feature film is a serious task since it requires much effort and honed skills. Nevertheless, since it is a popular career for those who want to make it big in Hollywood, there are many resources available online for everyone who wants to know how to write a film screenplay.

For instance, the steps to write a film screenplay include creating a brief summary, developing the characters of the story, working on the overall plot, writing the first draft, and editing. We also strongly recommend taking it easy at times to not get overly stressed and view screenplay writing as a major chore.

Remember studio executives or screenplay readers only read about the ten first pages of a screenplay; therefore, it is of the utmost importance to correctly follow the format and grab the readers attention from the beginning. 

Consequently, by watching some of the films that boast the best screenplays of all time (Annie Hall, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, The Godfather Series) aspiring screenwriters become skilled beyond compare. Who knew movie marathons could be so productive?

Tips for Successful Screenplay Writing

getting inspiration Going for a walk, taking a hike, or travelling the seven seas is a brilliant way to fight writer’s block. (Source: Unsplash)

Without the helpful advice of more experienced individuals, it is almost impossible to successfully achieve greatness in any domain whether it’s nursing, teaching, firefighting, engineering, or writing.

The valuable gems we learn from tutors, teachers, and industry leaders stay with us for our entire career. 

What about screenplay writing? Are there any tips that effectively aid aspiring screenwriters? Most definitely!

The following are some of the most ingenious tips and tricks to become a world-class screenwriter on par with Paul Thomas Anderson and Ingmar Bergman:

  • Read Relevant Material: reading distinct articles, blog posts, books, and scripts help aspiring screenwriters stay in touch with what is popping in the film industry. Also, by taking the time to scan through the pages of relevant reading material, screenplay writers become familiar with the format and structure of a screenplay. There are many websites where well-known screenplays can be read for no additional cost. One of the most highly recommended is scriptreaderpro.com.
  • Watch Plenty of Movies: by watching various iconic films and classic television series, amateur screenwriters learn to observe the different aspects of a screenplay that are displayed on the screen. Also, by frequently watching movies with a screenwriter’s attention to detail rather than just for entertainment purposes, a unique style is developed and decisions are made as to what material should be included in the writer’s first, second, and third screenplay.
  • Attend Film Festivals and Conferences: by being a regular attendee at film festivals in the UK, rookie screenwriters attend workshops and seminars to learn from the best in the business. Also, by being present at film industry events, amateurs discuss their projects with others who are starting in the film industry and this leads to positive peer pressure.
  • Get Inspired: stay fresh and full of new ideas by spending valuable time going for hikes, taking long walks, and travelling the world. It may sound ridiculous but some screenwriters find their inspiration observing basic things such as a couple kissing or a coffee cup. Therefore, it’s better to spend some time out of your office to get inspiration, you won’t regret it!

By putting into practise the previously mentioned tips and tricks, a mediocre screenwriter acquires the necessary skills to write a masterpiece.

Resources for Screenwriters

finding a website There are many effective websites that help screenwriters master their craft. (Source: Unsplash)

Crafting a screenplay or teleplay from start to finish is an art. Therefore, screenwriters are artists in their purest form. Nonetheless, there are specific resources needed to make an aspiring screenwriter worthy of the best jobs in Hollywood.

Such as? 

We will discuss some of the best books, websites, and software systems that prepare screenwriting amateurs for Oscar gold.

Best Books

With so many aspiring screenwriters working today, there are many experienced screenplay writers who have written books to inspire younger generations to create beautiful stories.

Without a doubt, the following are the two best books about screenwriting:

  • Save the Cat: written by Blake Snyder, Save the Cat is probably the most well-known and highly recommended book about screenplay writing. With a screenplay template featured in the book, Save the Cat lets beginners jot down their ideas before creating a screenplay from A-Z.
  • The Hollywood Standard: considered a must-have by all screenwriters, The Hollywood Standard is a brilliant book that explains complex features such as formatting a phone call, denoting a montage, and having a dual dialogue scene.

Most Resourceful Websites

It is estimated that there are currently more than 1.5 billion websites on the worldwide web; therefore, it can seem quite confusing and overwhelming as to deciding which ones are best when trying to find valuable information about a specific subject.

Have no fear, Superprof is here! The following are the best websites for screenwriters:

  • Go Into the Story: named the “best screenwriting website”, Go Into the Story is written by Scott Myers and features some advice from the film industry’s most valuable players.
  • StudioBinder: the StudioBinder site is a brilliant resource for screenwriters who are beginning in the film industry. Aspiring screenwriters acquire the necessary tools to become skilled in their future job.

Useful Software Systems

In today’s digital age, it is extremely rare to hear about aspiring screenwriters crafting their stories on ancient typewriters. Useful software systems are the result of the hard work of developers who understand the needs of screenwriters.

Without further delay, the following are the best software systems for aspiring screenplay writers:

  • Final Draft 10: a list of software systems for screenwriting is not complete without mentioning Final Draft 10. Features such as SmartType, Story Map, Beat Board, and Alternate Dialogue are greatly appreciated by writers in the film industry.
  • WriterDuet: if you have a writing buddy or screenplay advisor, WriterDuet is the perfect software for you! It allows collaborators to work together efficiently from distinct parts of the globe.

After reading and scanning through the information in today’s article, individuals effectively learn how to write a screenplay without any reservations; a career of acclaim and accolades is calling you!

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