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Helpful Tips for Getting Into Screenwriting

30.11.2020

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Perhaps no one could have said the famous line from The Godfather “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” like the late Marlon Brando, but those famous words would never have hit the screen were it not for excellent screenwriting. Getting into screenwriting can be both exciting and rewarding, but one thing’s for sure – it’s a big endeavour that can end up in frustration without a few helpful tips:

  • Know Your Limits

Persistence is key with all careers in script writing, and it’s unlikely that you’ll see immediate success without putting in plenty of late hours first. Writing is something you just get better at with time and experience, so don’t give up and stay persistent.

  • Set Small, Achievable Goals

Few (but some) great pieces of literature and screenplays were written all at once, so it’s best to chop up the entire project into manageable pieces, sometimes called management by objectives in the business world. By having small, achievable goals, you’ll be able to set realistic milestones and gauge your progress without feeling the weight or burden of an entire script on your shoulders.

  • Know Your Audience (and Your Characters)

A good screenwriter understands how to really create and develop characters throughout the story. Whether it’s a traditional hero story (Star Wars) or a redemption arc, the characters need to be thought out well in advance, even for things that may not make it to the final cut.

Consider, for example, what your characters eat, how they dress, what sort of music they’re into, even if it doesn’t seem to matter. By grounding your characters in a relatable fashion, they’ll feel more real to your audience as well.

One good example is Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Although set in a fantasy sci-fi setting, the character is relatable through his connection to classic rock jams from the 60s and 70s. Even in a galaxy far, far away, this character’s humour and sense of style feel down to earth, even if planet Earth is light years away.

  • Develop Your Voice and Style

Every great screenwriter has developed through years of experience their own distinctive voice. You may not feel like you have one at first, but consider taking a piece of screenwriting you’ve been working on and suddenly changing the setting, such as time or place.

George Lucas’ Star Wars was influenced by many genres, including 50s Japanese samurai films, so if one were to modify the story drastically, that element would feel familiar with its fantastic lightsaber battles alone.

In Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the Overlook Hotel is itself a key component that cannot be separated from the writing. The fact that it’s located in the Colorado Rockies sometime in the 1970s matters little, since all of the attention is given to the main characters and what actually happens in the hotel. This adaptation from the Stephen King novel has its own distinctive voice, even if the decade were to be changed and the hotel’s location to be different.

When the story’s morals and character development hold constant after having the setting changed, you’re left with the primary elements that make up your voice as a screenwriter.

  • Show Me The Money

Although screenwriting can be a profitable career path, there’s no guarantee that the big bucks will come right away. Naturally, your earnings should be supplemented until you can turn it into a full-time career so you can keep the lights on and the water running, so get started because you really want to, rather than chasing dollars right from the beginning.

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