I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my screenwriting skills stronger. However, when I look up screenwriting tips, it’s always the same thing over and over again. I sat down with two award-winning screenwriters and picked their brains to find out their top screenwriting tips that you may not have heard before.
Screenwriting tip number one
Don’t write dialogue from the perspective of what the audience needs to know. Write it from the perspective of what the characters want. You can always go back and add exposition later, but it’s super obvious when a scene is just meant to exposit information. Your characters should be driving the story, and there’s nothing that takes them out of the driver’s seat faster than when you make them means to an end.
Screenwriting tip number two
Before you start writing a screenplay, start with a single strong visual image that you are either starting with or building up to. This helps people who are not naturally visual get in touch with the tone of the piece before you even get started. I won’t share the specific image that inspired Biters and Bleeders–it’s a major spoiler–but if you watch the movie, you’re sure to be able to guess what it is.
Screenwriting tip number three
Treat every scene as an individual movie. That is to say, if you watch it out of context, there should be something compelling about it, even if you don’t totally understand what’s going on. Think of it almost like a tiktok. People have short attention spans, and if each scene doesn’t grip your audience, they might turn off the movie. Each scene should have palpable tension and should explore that tension, leaving audiences unable to turn away.
Screenwriting tip number four
We always see that you SHOULD avoid cliches, but never HOW to avoid cliches. Here’s a really specific tip: if a character uses a cliche, replace it with something that reveals that character’s lived experience. Take this as an opportunity to dig into what you want the audience to know about that character.
One exception to the rule: a character using a lot of cliches is a good shorthand for communicating that that person is pretentious and vapid. It’s going to bug the audience, so make sure it’s on purpose if you’re doing it.
Screenwriting tip number five
If you do any other type of writing or art, consider exploring the screenplay in that medium before you even begin. This reveals things about your story that might otherwise remain undiscovered.
For example, if you’re a musician and you write a song for a scene that you thought was going to be really sad, it’s possible that you’ll discover the music is more upbeat than you first expected. Or say you’re a visual artist; painting a picture of your favorite scene will help you really understand the visuals and the tone you’re working towards.
Screenwriting, more than many other art forms, is bound by convention; you have to be thinking about budget, about run time, about the three-act structure. In some ways, these restrictions are positives that can force you to think creatively, but it’s also important to explore your story without those barriers in place.
Screenwriting tip number six
Any scene you want to write is a scene worth writing, even if it’s not going to make it into the final screenplay. Go ahead and write that scene that isn’t practical but that you can’t stop thinking about; you’ll learn something about your narrative and your characters along the way.
What did I leave off the list? Get in touch with your favorite screenwriting tips!