Writing your first script is a labor of love like no other—emphasis on the labor. Yes, you love film, or you wouldn’t be doing it. But even so, getting it down on paper is a real challenge when you’re new to this game. Here are our best tips for writing your first script.
Choose a story you really love
This should be your first goal. This story, its characters, and everything about it is going to fill up your life for awhile—until the thing is written, at least. And if everything goes like you want it to and the film gets made, people see it and like it, you’ll be stuck with that story and those people forever. Make sure you’re good with that.
Keep time the easy way
Have you ever noticed that screenplays are always written in Courier 12pt font? That is deliberate. One 8 1/2″ x 11″ page formatted like a script in Courier 12pt font is about equal to one minute of screen time. So, most screenplays are between 90 and 120 of those pages; don’t deviate from this. If you follow these conventions, you’ll know where you are in terms of time and have a good sense of whether you need to flesh things out or start editing.
By that, we mean LOTS of movies. At least 100,000 spec scripts are written every year by registered writers, and who knows how many more are written by new or amateur writers. Somewhere between 350 to 500 movies come out of Hollywood each year, and let’s face it, some of them are dogs. Even the worst movie you see every year beat out a ton of competition. Learn from that.
This isn’t the same as reading books or anything else. Screenplay writing is its own art. You can find some online at www.simplyscripts.com, and sometimes other places for random scripts. It also helps to have actual screenwriting software, because that helps you learn the technical details; Final Draft, Page 2 Stage, Movie Magic, Fade In, Adobe Story, or Celtx.
Get the technical details down
Speaking of technical details, follow the right format. It’s okay to write a treatment, a sort of summary of your story, first without any formatting. But once you’re turning it into a screenplay, you need that technical detail that will help a producer reading it “see” that story. This is true even if you’re planning to produce your video yourself—after all, you’re going to need actors and a crew, right? And they’re going to need a proper screenplay to work with.
Please, even if you see yourself as the next Peter Jackson or Stanley Kubrick, do not go there with your first script. Choose a basic genre story that will take a formula narrative well. Set your story in the present, and keep it linear. Tell the story in a normal way, without a ton of devices or symbolism; just work to get it on the page first. Remember, it’s far better to do something simple very well than it is to utterly muck up something unreasonably complicated.
Do a practice run
As an exercise, try writing the screenplay for a movie you love and are familiar with. Watch it again, this time thinking like a screenplay writer. See how many of the action lines, scene headings, and subheaders occur to you. If it’s a well-known movie you can compare your draft to the real McCoy.
Edit and edit and edit
Seriously, no one does this well on the first pass. No one. We’re not saying you’re not great writers, but we are saying that if you’re writing in an industry where there are 49,999 other screenplays competing to get read by the same cynical producer this year, you can’t afford to skip editing and making each effort your very best.
Enjoy your work
You started this because you like it, right? So, have an awesome time. You don’t have to slave away forever. In that way a screenplay is a lot better than trying to knock out the great American novel; you can get this done. Just have fun and remember why you chose this story, these characters, and the film genre in the first place and you’ll do great.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed our tips for writing your first script. Remember, once you’ve chosen the right story, gotten down the basic techniques, exposed yourself to enough screenplays and films, and practiced a bit, you can get this done. The best part is, that once you’ve done it, you can move on to your next screenplay, this time as a more experienced writer.