When @JonnyEmmen got in touch with me with his pitch for this article, I will admit I was skeptical: “Just SIX tips to writing a successful screenplay? In approximately 800 words? This I gotta see!” I said! But I think Jonny’s done a great job, DISTILLING the process down! I especially agree with point number 1 on ensuring you can VISUALISE your story. It seems obvious (and it is!) but lots of spec screenwriters forget we’re working in a visual medium! LE DUH. Enjoy, everyone …
Many writers dream of writing a great screenplay, then simply selling it to a film maker or production company. Unfortunately, it takes more than writing skills and creativity to make this happen! Here are 6 steps you must take in order to write a successful screenplay.
1) Select a Story Idea You Can Visualise in Your Mind
The first thing to remember is that not every compelling story is a good fit for a screenplay. There are plenty of fascinating books that would make terrible screenplays!
The best way to make this determination is to go over the story in your mind. If you are able to easily visualise characters, action, and scenery, that is good sign. The easier it is to visualise a story, the better it will translate into a visual medium such as film.
A good story will also reveal itself quickly. You shouldn’t have to work too hard to think of what happens next. If the story unfolds seamlessly for you, it will progress well for viewers also.
TOP TIP: Remember, your writing will be used in a visual medium, and it must translate easily! If it’s too hard to visualise, move on. MORE: 9 Wake Up Calls For The New Screenwriter
2) Take Time to Learn The Technical Side of Writing a Screenplay
Writing a screenplay is a craft in addition to being an art. There are certain elements that must be included in a screenplay, so it must be formatted in a specific manner.
One way to learn this is to read scripts. This will help you to understand what a screenplay should look like. There are several websites that have scripts that hopeful writers can read. Potential screenwriters can also download and use writing apps that have been created solely for the purpose of helping users create properly written and formatted screenplays.
TOP TIP: Don’t risk rejection because you have made technical or formatting errors. Get the tools to do the job right. MORE: Screenplay Format: The B2W One Stop Shop
3) Create a Roadmap That You Can Follow During The Writing Process
As you write, you need a way to keep yourself on task and organised. This is how you know what you have finished, what you still need to do and what you need to come back and revisit. One option that you can use is writing an outline. This way, you can create a linear set of steps that you can follow until your screenplay is complete.
Some writers choose to keep separate documents that contain notes about story, character development, research, etc. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, you might consider using Pinterest boards and pins to plan and organise the various elements of your screenplay.
TOP TIP: Make sure you have a plan of action that works for you. This will help you throughout the duration of the writing process. MORE: All About Outlines, Beat Sheets & Treatments
4) Write as if Completing Your Screenplay is a Job – At Least a Second Job!
There are thousands of people who have unfinished screenplays. Sadly, chances are that most of those screenplays will remain unfinished because they aren’t getting the time and attention they deserve.
If you want to finish a screenplay, you have to treat writing it like it is a job. This means making a daily commitment to writing at least a certain amount of words or pages per day. If you can write more, that’s great. If you take too long to finish your screenplay, you are less likely to finish it.
TOP TIP: Don’t be the person who talks about the screenplay they will write someday. Be the person who actually gets it done. MORE: 6 Writing Tips If You Have A Day Job
5) Be Your Own Ruthless Editor
Writers need editors with red pens. Screenwriters need editors with sharp knives!
As mentioned above, visualisation is so important. If you are writing something that you cannot translate into some sort of on screen action, it is probably a good idea to cut that out. Likewise, axe scenes and characters that do not contribute to the plot. Focus on dialogue as well. The things your characters say should make sense, plus their patterns of speech should be realistic.
Finally, fact check your writing. Unless you are asking your audience to suspend disbelief, your writing should be accurate. You will lose your audience if you state things that are demonstrably untrue as fact.
TOP TIP: Get out the red pen and keep your writing focused and plot driven. MORE: 5 Tips For Editing Your Work
6) Get People Interested in Your Screenplay!
You’ll need to do more than just submit your screenplay for consideration. You have to sell yourself and your passion as much as you sell your story. To do this, you need to create materials and network like a pro, where you describe yourself, your background, and the idea behind your screenplay.
TOP TIP: Nobody is going to work harder than you at creating buzz about your screenplay! MORE: Making Connections, Self Promotion, Building Relationships
BIO: Jonathan Emmen is an inspired young writer from Copenhagen. Currently, he studies screenwriting and video production. Jonathan spends his free time searching for new and interesting information for work in film industry and shares his findings in his articles. Connect with him as @JonnyEmmen on Twitter, or follow him on Kinja.
Hi and Thanks for an interesting read. 🙂
I just wanted to share that at many screenwriting workshops I’ve learned that most actors loathe when screenwriters add things like (SHRUGS) in the dialogue. Actors will pick the best physicality for the role themselves if they are any good. Only use that type of direction if it is absolutely pertinent to the character – moving his/her story forward. I’ve also been told to leave camera angles out entirely unless it is absolutely applicable to the scene or unless you are planning to direct your own film, for the same reason. In a nutshell – tell the story. INT./EXT. call outs, descriptions, action, dialogue and the rest will come together later.
And, yes, you MUST learn screenplay formatting. If it is not formatted to industry standard here, it likely won’t get past the “circular file” in the mail room.
Good luck everyone and don’t give up!
Helpful in its conciseness and clarity, this is a good jumping off “workbook” not only for screenplays but short stories too. Enjoy this for all it’s reminders of how to go through the process.
I’m bookmarking this for later, but had to say NOT DILUTING! Jonny has brilliantly DISTILLED the process down, not diluted it. Diluting is adding more and reducing potency. Distilling is removing excess and concentrating potency.
I am that pedantic.
Holy fuckballs, have edited! 😛
I have written a screenplay called “Gifted Brothers” I will be entering contest very soon. It will be a classic. Someone will definitely notice that this is a new idea & produce this screenplay. Eva Hester- San Angelo, Tx.