What follows are my thoughts about screenwriting. I have only finished two screenplays, and started two or three others, so this really is just a beginners view and aimed at people who maybe have a story in their head, but have no idea what to do with it. It is based purely on my experiences so far, and should in no way be read as anything other than one man’s opinion!
So, you have a story in your head? This is a good start. It just takes one little germ of an idea I think. I come up with ideas all the time, sometimes they snowball, sometimes they drift out of my head as quickly as they arrived. A lot of mine come to me when I am laying in bed at night, trying to go to sleep but instead tapping ideas into my phone so I don’t forget them overnight.
As soon as the seed of an idea is planted, you should be bursting with creative excitement as it buzzes around your brain and you start to formulate a story. At this stage I like to get something down into a sort of structure. I find the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet helps with this. It is from his popular guide book called Save The Cat, which breaks any given movie down into 15 ‘beats’. Below is a link to the beat sheet, and to a description of what each beat means.
For a full explanation of the beat sheet and Save The Cat in general you should check out the website.
Now you have managed to fill up the beat sheet, you should have a good idea of the movie you have in front of you. This is where my interest starts to gather. I am lazy by nature so I do need a good kick, but once I start writing it does get addictive! If you are still finding it hard to motivate yourself, maybe move onto a different idea and come back to this one later. Just make sure you keep records of all your ideas in case you want to use it later.
Once I have my beat sheet, I try to flesh each section out a bit. I don’t start writing the script yet, but just add more detail to the story. I will also do any research about the environment etc that my movie is set in, as well as any character back story. There is a lot of prep work to go into your story before you can even consider starting your script. Again, I can be lazy in this regard and the scripts I have completed have probably suffered from this. But it’s all a learning process.
After your research, prep work and everything else is completed THEN, you probably need to expand your initial 15 beats to around 40 beats or scenes. This will make the writing of your script so much easier. A fantastic way to plot out your idea is to buy a cork board, some index card and some push pins. I did this, as suggested by Blake Snyder in the Save The Cat book, and it is a great way to see your movie take shape before your eyes. I divided the board up into three sections; ACT ONE, ACT TWO and ACT THREE. There should be around 10-12 scenes in each Act, or 36-40 in total. Write a brief description of each scene on individual index cards and pin them, in order on the board. VIOLA! Your film, in brief, in front of you.
Once I have completed this exercise, I feel confident enough to start writing. Again, I need to be in a focused, creative, driven state of mind to start, but if I am excited enough about my idea then that takes care of itself. You will need a dedicated screenwriting program to write your script on. I use Final Draft, but Celtx I have heard is also a good alternative. I would recommend, if you have no prior knowledge of screenwriting to track down a book about it. The screenwriting world is a strange place, that has prehistoric ‘laws’ which are set in stone and not to be messed with. You need to abide with these, and whilst your screenwriting program will do most of this, it is helpful to know WHY it is what it is.
I struggle to find the time to write and, I admit, motivate myself at times. When this happens, I remind myself of this salient point, made by I don’t know…One page of script equals one minute of screen time. A movie is usually 90-120 minutes, therefore about 90-120 pages long. So, if you write ONE page a day you will in theory finish your first draft screenplay in three months. Trust me, you cannot write just one page. Once you write one, you will write a further five or ten. Suddenly, three months is down to two months and your motivation increases.
And then you type FADE OUT. This is where I breath a huge sigh of relief, think I’m amazing and celebrate with a drink or two. I tell everyone I know that I have finished a script, and then bask in their adulation. This is a good time to put your script in a draw and forget about it for a few weeks. Take stock and enjoy life. Because it gets hard now. And I still haven’t got my head around the next part myself.
The next draft and destroying what you have worked so hard on. I hate the thought of having to rewrite my script. Again, it comes down partly to laziness, but also stubbornness. I think that what I have just written is exactly what I thought up so therefore why would I want to change it. So I don’t. And then people who aren’t my friends or family read it and obviously point out the bad grammar, spelling mistakes and structural flaws of the script. Then I feel deflated and think I won’t bother anymore. You see, it is easy to lose sight of things when you are in the middle of writing the script. It is only afterwards that you look at it again and see what has gone wrong. When I say wrong though, I mean, what Hollywood thinks is wrong. There are thousands of interesting movies out there that don’t adhere to the ‘laws’ you will learn about. But if you want to write one, I think you will probably have to make it as well!
I know this is only brief, but I hope it helps anyone who has an idea in their head but doesn’t know anything about screenwriting. I am always available to contact if anyone wants any help. I think I know the basics, but I’m not necessarily good at adhering to them myself, so I am by no means your last resort for advice!