Writing The First Draft
Feeling stressed because you can’t move forwards towards your draft? You’re not alone. When we first conceive of an idea for a screenplay or novel, we often falter.
This is because we are not used to being able to write whatever we want. This means we can get overwhelmed quickly. In addition, if no one is waiting on our draft, it can be hard to focus.
This is one of the reasons I pulled together The B2W Screenwriter’s Roadmap (though you can use it to write novels too – I do!). But Bangers got in touch asking for more details on how to get a draft on the page, so here you go. Ready? Let’s go …
STEP ONE: Your Idea
First up, we need to ensure we have an idea that creates a ‘foundation’ for our draft. B2W calls this the ‘concept’. You may have also seen it called the ‘premise’, ‘controlling idea’, or just ‘story’.
Concept is one of ‘The Holy Trinity’ of writing craft according to B2W. The other two are characters and structure (more of them in a moment).
In B2W’s free mini-course, The Foundations of Writing Craft, I help you ‘road test’ your concept in one of the three modules. Access the course HERE.
One of my favourite books is The Idea by Erik Bork. This book breaks down the concept into seven elements that make up a great idea for our draft. Erik wrote THIS B2W POST on those seven elements that may help.
Erik also has a free mini-course, which you can access HERE.
STEP TWO: Your Logline
Once you have figured out what makes up your idea, you can create an initial logline. I call these loglines ‘the baseline’. You can access another free resource, ‘The Logline Cheat Sheet’ HERE.
What is useful about these baselines is they can be a powerful ‘note to self’. When we start outlining (or writing our draft), we can use the baseline to evaluate our progress.
This means that if we start writing something that WASN’T part of our baseline, we can ask ourselves the following questions …
- Is my story EVOLVING?
- Or is it going OFF AT A TANGENT?
If 1) – no problem. We can go back to our concept and adjust it to accommodate the new thing we have come up with.
If 2) – again, no big issue: we re-adjust to stop ourselves going off-piste.
STEP THREE: Your Characters
Here, you can revisit your baseline. You will probably have identified a protagonist and maybe an antagonist too. You will hopefully know …
- What your protagonist wants/needs and why
- Why your antagonist wants to stop the protagonist from getting it and what s/he will do to get in the protagonist’s way
- Now, give them names (if you haven’t already)
From there, you probably want to identify somewhere between 2 and 5 important secondary (aka supporting) characters for your draft.
Give them each a name, plus whether they are ‘team protag’ or ‘team antag’ and WHY. More about this, HERE.
Remember, all characters – including secondaries – all need a ‘reason to live’! B2W calls this the ‘motivation’. CHECK OUT THIS POST a B2W infographic with some powerful motivations for characters of any kind.
STEP FOUR: Plotting Your Draft
So, now you have your concept and characters, plus you know what your story’s cast of characters want/need.
Now is time to think about the type of plot you want to write. There’s lots to things to consider, here.
Perhaps you’re interested in specific plotting archetypes? Maybe you want to write a classic Hero’s Journey type story? Or perhaps you want to use a different kind of plotting archetype, like ‘Voyage or Return’ or ‘Rebirth’? Click the link to find out more about these.
Or maybe you want to focus on stuff like various genre conventions? This means research is key. You need to know what has gone before, plus what your target audience expects. THIS B2W SERIES ON GENRE may help.
Or maybe you’re more interested in what plotting and structure looks like in terms of visual representations? CLICK HERE for some to help you focus.
Whatever you do here, it’s a good idea to use a plotting worksheet. I like to start at the ending and plot ‘backwards’ in order to find the beginning. More about plotting, plus you can download a free worksheet, HERE.
(BTW: if you enrol on the free B2W mini-course ‘The Foundations of Writing Craft’ from step 1, you can find even more detail on all these steps).
STEP FIVE: The Outline
Now, it’s just a question of pulling all this foundation work you just did into a document. I call it the ‘outline’ because it’s NOT a selling document … At this point it is an extended ‘note to self’ that acts as our safety net.
You can outline however you like. It doesn’t need to be fancy or ‘well written’. I frequently just bullet point mine.
I wrote THIS CASE STUDY with pictures of different ways writers can write outlines here (it’s for novelists, but works just as well for screenwriters).
Alternatively, check out THIS B2W ARTICLE that is more screenwriting-based. It also has a great sample beat sheet to take a look at if you prefer that idea to an outline!
Some people like to do steps 1-4 only and miss out step 5 … that’s cool too. (That said B2W always recommends writing an outline because it prevents us from painting ourselves into a corner. Remember, it doesn’t have to be detailed – it can just be bullet points or on a worksheet).
But end of the day: remember, this is YOUR draft. No one else’s! You can do what you like.
Good luck with your draft!
By the way …
I’ve added The B2W Screenwriter’s Roadmap to the B2W Resources page. It’s a step-by-step guide to getting your screenplay on the page, though you can also use it for writing your novels as well. Grab your free resource by clicking the link or on the pic on the left.
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You will also find all the info for the on-demand courses which you can take online whenever you like, at your own pace.