Tidbits for the Beginning Screenwriter

Even though screenplay writing is similar to other forms of fiction, it is very different than writing a novel.  The storyteller has unlimited words to weave together a captivating story, while the screenwriter only has somewhere between 99-110 pages to create a story for visual medium.  In other words, a screenwriter must SHOW the audience a story, not TELL them.  In addition to the word limitation, there is a time restraint.  You only have approximately 2 hours to tell your story.

There are other realities that make this medium very different from writing a novel.  Film is highly collaborative.  In other words, this is not just about “your” story.  “If” your screenplay is ever picked up for production, it will be in the hands of a director, a cast of actors, a film editor and a production crew.  Based on your screenplay, these artists will take your story and interpret it accordingly.  They may or may not even consult you.  In fact, rarely do screenwriter’s get consulted on their screenplays, and sometimes a production company will bring in another writer to make necessary adjustments (re-writes) to the script for production.  You might even be asked to re-write the entire thing!

A screenwriter must produce a manuscript (script) in a particular format with specific notations.  There is little, if any variation for the formatting of a script.  Today’s software technology makes this process a little easier.  Script formatting software is a little pricey, but commonly used by writing professionals. Software such as:  Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter 6, Dramatica Pro for Screenwriter’s, and Celtx is the number one free software program available online. www.celtx.com.  I think it’s safe to say that most industry professionals use Final Draft.

While screenwriting is a wonderful genre for creativity, I also believe that it is one of the most structurally demanding genres to write in.  A screenplay is structurally driven.  So, if you are embarking on writing a screenplay, and/or entertaining the notion of doing so, I would suggest reading a few books first, and really getting an understanding of the elements of craft.

Suggested Reading:

  • Save The Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno
  • Story by Robert McKee
  • The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

Additional Screenwriting Resources:

  • Script Magazine (Put out by Final Draft) www.scriptmag.com
  •  Creative Screenwriting Magazine www.creativescreenwriting.com
  • The Hollywood Reporter (More about the “business” of entertainment) www.hollywoodreporter.com
  • Contracts For The Film & Television Industry By Mark Litwak
  • Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Producers, Directors, and Screenwriter’s Agents, 2001-2003:  Who They Are!  What They Want! And How To Win Them Over By Skip Press
  • How to Enter Screenplay Contest…And Win!  2nd Edition By Erik Joseph
  • Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Producers Winter/Spring 2012 By Trade in (2010) – $199.00
  • The Ultimate Writer’s Guide to Hollywood By Skip Press
  •  Script:  A Writer’s Guide To The Hollywood Jungle By Susan M. Marx
  •  Secrets of the Screen Trade From Concept to Sale By Allen B. Ury