So you want to write a screenplay, but you’re new to the craft. First of all, congrats! It’s exciting that you’re taking this step. Second of all, there’s a lot to learn, but we’re going to make this as painless as possible. You don’t have to follow these steps in order, but each of them should give you a helpful nugget of information that you can take with you. Welcome to screenwriting for beginners.
Unlike novels or short stories, it’s very tricky to write a screenplay in something like Word or Google Docs. We don’t suggest trying it if you’re just starting out; you should be focused on your creativity, not the little finicky details of fonts, margins, and capitalization. While some software costs a lot of money, others have free options. Popular software includes Final Draft, Writer Duet, Scrivener, and Studio Binder. Explore the different options and see what software–and what price point–works for you. Some people swear by their specific software, but there’s truly no wrong answer here.
Read some writing tips
There are a ton of writing tips available on the internet, and that can get overwhelming. Here, we’ve compiled some basic writing tips, including how to write better dialogue, how to write compelling characters, how to write a compelling villain, and screenwriting tips you haven’t heard before. Not to toot our own horns, but we think they’re pretty useful!
Consider production details
If you’re just writing this script for fun, feel free to skip this over, but it can be a useful exercise anyways. Before you get started writing, start thinking carefully about production details. If you want this thing produced, it needs to be feasible to produce it. Think about details like location (the fewer locations you can film in, the cheaper) or the amount of actors you’ll need (again, the fewer, the cheaper.) If you can make this film simple to produce, it’s that much more likely that you or someone else will be able to make it.
Cultivate your idea
Spend some time really thinking about your movie. How are you conceptualizing it? Is it a feature or a short? Is it horror, comedy, drama, or something else entirely? Take your seed of an idea, plant it, and see what grows. Take the time to really mull over your project, coming up with ideas, even if they seem too wild to be possible. Just explore and have fun! You can cull things and simplify it later down the line.
I know, I know. Not everyone outlines, it’s just not a part of everyone’s process. But especially if you’re just starting out, why not make it a part of your process? We have an outlining workbook that will walk you through all the steps you need to outline your film. As a reformed pantser (as in, I wrote “by the seat of my pants,”) I really can’t recommend outlining enough. It will make sure you have cohesive narrative and character arcs throughout your whole film, and will make revising MUCH easier.
Get to writing!
You’ve got your software, your idea, your writing tips, and your outline (I hope). Now it’s time to get to work on the actual writing. Have fun, be creative, and don’t limit yourself too much in the first draft. This is a big, exciting step you’re taking and we’re excited for you!
Take care of yourself
You really can’t be a writer if your flesh-prison isn’t well cared for. Make sure you’re eating enough, drinking enough water, sleeping enough, and taking breaks here and there. As compelling as the image of the writer who lives off of coffee, cigarettes, and spite is, don’t let that be you. You probably have work or school on top of your writing practice; remember you can be committed without burning yourself out. Remember, writing is hard (there wouldn’t be so many books dedicated to how to do it “correctly” if that wasn’t the case) and you’re pretty extraordinary for taking it on. Treat yourself well! When I’m deep in a writing project, I like to schedule walks with friends and things of that nature to keep me from becoming an all-consumed writing machine.
That’s our best screenwriting advice for beginners. Experienced screenwriters, what would you add to this list? Give us a shout and let us know what you think. Happy writing!