How to Get Started as a Screen writer
So you want to become a screen writer. You have a lot of ideas but don’t know how to put them down on paper or write them into a script format.
Here are a few ideas I will throw at you. You need to find a good screen writing program or app, and you need to have a story you want to tell and it must be engaging for you. You need to enjoy the process of putting your ideas down on paper and telling a story.
All scripts are formatted to an industry standard, and you will need a screenwriting app that has this, although most are formatted for this purpose. Here is the latest screenwriting app which I can suggest for you as its inexpensive, user-friendly and it is not confusing for you to start with.
It’s only $4.99 a month on a subscription basis. The screenwriting app is SPSCloud. It’s new in the marketplace and it’s great for professional screenwriters and up-and-coming screen writers also.
You don’t need to go to school or college or take a script writing software courses if you are not so inclined. There are certain criteria which you must follow when writing a script but you can research that on the Internet. I have always found that writing scripts gives you a freedom to tell your story without any constraints from teachers or lecturers.
Some, but not all, tend to suggest that you follow specific rules and of course there are rules when writing a script but because it’s a creative process you are at liberty to change the rules. Then they become your rules for that script.
The first suggestion I have is that you write a synopsis which is an outline of the story you want to tell from the beginning to the end. This will be your go to document when writing your script. But of course, you don’t need to do this synopsis, however I would suggest it as a new writer that you should write your story out in as much detail as possible including characters, locations and even some dialogue if you feel inspired by certain characters movements or attitudes.
I would suggest that you flush out your characters. Give them all a First name and Surname, age, occupation, certain look they have, etc. Put this in the synopsis, but of course in the script you will only be writing their first name for dialogue. Unless they are a doctor or professor, etc. SPSCloud does have a character breakdown so you can add this in the app. It will help you to give the characters an identity for yourself and for a Director, Producer or actor reading your script. This will also improve your writing as you will be able to visualise the person in the script who you are writing about.
This also helps with dialogue because certain people with certain character traits speak differently. Don’t forget your script will hopefully be turned into a film and as you will notice when watching films, that’s good films and good scripts, the characters all have different mannerisms and speech patterns which generally comes from the script and then follows on with the actor’s interpretation of the character.
All screenplays have three acts, whether they are short or long films. The first act is setting up the story. The second act is the resulting conflict in the story and the third act is the resolution. All three acts can vary in page length, however for a balanced screenplay the page lengths for all acts should be similar in length. When talking about feature scripts there are exceptions to this rule. Action scripts generally have conflict right from the beginning and continues throughout the film, but they do have sub plots. Some of them! Horror generally has a long third act and it usually starts in scene two with conflict. Drama generally has all three acts of a similar page length.
The scene heading is the location and should always have time of day. Like Martha’s house – bedroom – Night, or Martha’s house – balcony – Sunrise. You need to be specific about the location and not just write Martha’s house. The reason for this is that all films use a term called “blocked’ scenes. When shooting starts all the scenes that are going to be shot in “Martha’s house – bedroom” are blocked together for the whole film. So you could have scene 1, 30,55,56,100,128 blocked in one group to be shot at the same time.
It might take a day or two to shoot all the scenes with different characters, different costumes and different emotions and moods. This is done to save on costs and time so that the cast and crew are not having to come back to that one location more than once. That is why you need to be specific about the location/ heading. And it also helps pre-production to plan out all the shots that are needed in “Martha’s house – Bedroom”. So when you’re writing a script you need to be aware to a certain extent how a film is made.
The action takes place on the first line after the heading. If you’re using SPSCloud then when you click enter after finishing time of day you will automatically be taken to the action line. Action can be as simple as you want, or as complicated as need be. When writing action under the heading I generally write as much information as possible, including how many characters are in the scene, what action is taking place and also any props that may be in the scene. SPSCloud also has scene breakdown, where you can tag all the elements (props, wardrobe, car, bicycle, etc) in a scene for shooting that scene later on. I believe it is very important to write as much as you can about the scene and that gives everyone including the actors, director and producer an insight into what you see in all levels of the script.
The other action sequences take part when a character makes a movement like sitting down on a chair or takes a drink of water. This is very important for the script and the characters movement around the scene. It would be a very boring script if all the characters were standing in one place in the scene just talking.
After finishing the action hit the enter key and you will be taken to dialogue. This is where it gets interesting and I think my favourite part of writing screenplays. So now you have your characters listed, or should have already, and you need to give them personality. It is critical for writing a good script. Each character should have different mannerisms and different ways of communicating their thoughts. And it’s very important when you’re writing dialogue to be engaged with each character. By that I mean imagining they are in the room and you’re watching them having a conversation.
I believe that a lot of visualisation from a creative perspective is needed to write great dialogue. Anyhow this is the way I do it and I’m sure you will be able to find your way as there are no definite rules about writing dialogue. If you have given your characters a breakdown already then this part of the process should become easier. It’s pretty much like anything. The more you do the better you will become.
Remember this is a visual medium and you can create outstanding moments without dialogue, just action. Write your script for your audience.
Fade in, Fade out, Fade to black.This is self-explanatory. Fade in is always the start of a scene after Fade out has been used to close a scene. Then there is Fade to black and this is another way of closing a scene and this is used after the last scene has been completed. You don’t have to use Fade in or Fade out on any regular basis, but these can be used as a transition between scenes.
I have tried most of the screenwriting apps available including, Final Draft, Celtx, Writer Duet, Studiobinder and Fountain. After using these apps I came to the conclusion that I wanted a great screenwriting app that would allow me to just write with no distraction. So, I developed the screen writing app SPSCloud.
Author David M. Raynor
Multi international award-winning Writer, Director, producer.
The founder and CEO of SPSCloud screenwriting apps.