To Write that Screenplay

Here are Notes on Screenwriting for basic rules of format and story development.

Consult one of the classics like David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible, Rich Richman has a good book on formatting. Also Syd Field’s Screenplay gives essential information on the development of plot points and tension. For story and character development find books by Linda Seger. For step by step guide as you write use Vicki King’s How to Write A Movie in 21 Days.

Proof read and spell check before you send out material. Readers look for any reason to say “No”.

Every scene must designate whether the scene is Day or Night thus. EXT. DENTAL OFFICE – DAY. This is a must. Also if the scene moves in and out of a car, house, place, there is a new scene with each movement; EXT-CAR-DAY, INT-CAR-NIGHT.

When a character is introduced,the character name is first presented in CAPS. Use lower case the rest of the time. These kind of details are illustrated in the Trottier, Fichman and Syd Field books.

OPENING: The opening lets the audience and reader know right away the tone and genre of the piece. For instance if it is a comedy, we must laugh in the first 3 minutes. If a thriller, we better get frightened right off; action adventure—give us action. We need a short description of place, time and characters worked into the prose so we know what is going on. Voice over is generally not recommended but many pieces do this well such as American Beauty. Be careful using V.O. and make sure it is beneficial to the scene. Every story begins with an incident that makes this day different from any other day.

Set up is profoundly short. Drop immediately into the heart of the play. The piece will die an early death if the opening, or any spot, lags or sags. Think one page per minute in screen time. Omit wasted action and instruction such as “he walks out the door” , “She turns…”, “a smile that says…”, “Yes, but…” Go through the whole piece and cross out all throw away lines. Omit emotional instruction, interpretation is the actor’s job. The screenwriter writes the story.

The term “we see” is an older form of writing for screenplays and takes the reader out of the action and also suggests camera shots which are the decision of the Director and not the writer.

Each page must have conflict. The rule of action is that there must be conflict literally on every page where a character wants something and another character or situation keeps him from getting his want. Conflicts can be small or grand but must be expressed in every (5-8 line) scene. Same as writing novels, a scene is no longer than a page and a half. Look at Chekov. You will see this in all successful stories and films.

After creating the first draft, study format, plot and character development, then take a shot at the piece again. Take your time. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.