5 Things to Remember Before You Write Your First Screenplay
November 22, 2011
Q: What should you keep in mind before writing your first screenplay?
Question from EYESthatHEAR on Facebook
1. Screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure, there are some prodigies who can whip out a perfectly formed first draft, but most professional writers will spend months or even years on a script before they plug every plot hole, smooth every character arc and crystallize every line. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
2. You are writing a character’s story, not your story. Even if you are writing a story based on your life or the life of someone you know, you will need to give your character their own existence. They shouldn’t do, feel, think or say things simply because you do, feel, think or say those things. Your character needs their own motivations, reactions, faults and desires.
Even stories about famous people are rewritten for dramatic effect. Most people’s lives don’t naturally fit into a three-act structure, so even if you’re basing the story on a personal story, you will have to embellish or even create some details to make a story work.
3. Structure supports your story. Songwriters need to understand music theory to make songs work. Car designers need to understand engine mechanics so they make sure there’s room for one in their latest concept vehicle. Architects need to understand structural principals so that their buildings don’t fall down. Surgeons need to understand how cells interact with each other so they don’t kill their patients.
The same concept goes for screenwriting. In order to make a story work, you have to understand what the parts of a story are, how they work together, where they should fall and why they’re important. Otherwise, you may have a whole bunch of scenes, but not necessarily a working screenplay.
4. Writing a screenplay, selling a screenplay and producing a screenplay are very different things, so know what your end goal is. If you just want to write for the joy of writing, then have at it. If you want to sell your screenplay, finishing the script is only about 50% of the work—because next you’ll have to make and nurture the connections that will lead to a sale. If you want to produce your screenplay, you should make sure that what you’re writing is within your production capabilities—i.e. unless you have access to lots and lots of capital, maybe figure out another way to do that explosion on the moon sequence.
5. You’re in good company. Writing a screenplay is difficult work, but the good news is that lots of people have done it before you. There are plenty of blogs and websites (like this one) that can give you good, solid advice. There are produced writers (like this one) who can mentor you along the way. And there are hundreds of thousands of movies to watch to keep you inspired and writing!