Read these 25 New "New Writers" Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Screen Writing tips and hundreds of other topics.
Sometimes fun, sometimes torturous, writing a feature-length screenplay takes devotion. “Put your butt in the chair and keep it there,” best simply explains how one finishes a scene, five pages, an act, reaches FADE OUT, rewrites, and polishes a screenplay. The next time you start to procrastinate, repeat these ten words, “Put your butt in the chair and keep it there.”
With action, try to make most of your paragraphs three lines (sometimes four, rarely five). Employ the psychology of empty space to help your cause. Empty space in an advertisement, for example, raises the likelihood a consumer will read it. Empty space in a screenplay—as opposed to ten-line paragraphs and constant four-sentence dialog—makes a reader's task easier, and makes that reader more likely to turn the page (repeatedly, until FADE OUT).
Scenes in a screenplay start with a scene heading—which usually needs only one line. The typical scene heading begins with an abbreviation that notes whether a scene is interior (INT.—indoors) or exterior (EXT.—outdoors). Next, comes the location, followed by time information (DAY, NIGHT, MORNING, CONTINUOUS, SAME TIME, MOMENTS LATER, etc.).
Example: INT. BUBBA'S BAR –- NIGHT
“Write what you know” is a well-traveled writing cliché. It is great advice to give yourself when contemplating story ideas. Write about a life-changing childhood experience you had. Write about things you've done, or seen—people you've met. Through your unique perspective—as a runner, or a pizza deliverer, or a government clerk, for example—tell an everyday (yet fascinating) story.
Sometimes, a screenwriter needs to indicate information related to a piece of dialog—such as to whom the dialog is spoken, or emotions the character shows while speaking. Do this with a parenthetical statement on its own line between the character's name and the piece of dialog in question.
Examples: (to Smith), (profusely), or (meekly).
Writing a screenplay does not really start with FADE IN. It commences with getting to know your characters. Write out attributes as though your lead and supporting characters exist. And make up triumphs and tribulations they've each known prior—years prior—to the beginning of your story.
The incredible challenge of writing effective dialog can take untold hours of practice. Your characters' words should not sound forced or unnatural (and you should read your dialog aloud). Try to be utterly concise, (while taking into account the character's nature). One or two long speeches for principle characters might be allowable in one story.
The screenplay page needs a wider left margin than right, which leaves room for binding. Between the left and right margins, you need six inches for screenplay content. If you have screenwriting software, like Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000, use the default margin settings. Otherwise, try to measure the margins of any recent scripts from pro writers you can obtain and go with the average.
In movies, things happen and characters change. Otherwise, the audience will ask why a movie was made. (For most movies, someone asks that anyway.) Your leads and supporting characters should all have arcs—should all change or be changed in some obvious, fundamental way due to the “things happening” in the story.
Characters need not be seen to speak dialog. If a character leaves the frame, then speaks in the same scene while off screen, insert “(os)” to the right of the character's name. When a character has not previously been visible in the scene in question, use “(vo)” to indicate voiceover.
Upon a first draft's completion, repeat, “Writing is rewriting.” As a matter of fact, hop on one foot and chant it. (Actually, hopping and chanting are optional.) Writers don't hit a story (or even a paragraph) spot-on with the first draft. Remember, there is always a better way to say something—which is why you need to know when to stop writing, too.
Camera angles and shots are the director's domain—period. Writing them into your screenplay will detract from its rhythm and readability, and from your chances of moving from aspiring screenwriter to professional screenwriter. If you simply must include shots, research screenwriting books for additional information on terms and abbreviations.
The widely accepted screenplay font is Courier New, 12-point. It would be wise to stick with that font. Let the story you write stand on its own merits. Movie industry readers are said to average 400 screenplays per year. Don't give them excuses to put yours down and move on to the next screenplay in the pile.
One scene in a screenplay ends and another begins, until we reach FADE OUT. INT. (interior) and EXT. (exterior) make new scenes self-evident. Deciding the “perfect” transition from one scene to another is up to the director. When you do include transitions in your work, right justify them and end them with a colon.
The desired format in Hollywood seems to vary, depending upon the source. In general, the message to writers seems to be that spec scripts need to be very readable to stand a chance. Keep in mind that the director ultimately decides shots, angles, and transitions. These are tempting to add. Doing so gives Hollywood's overworked readers one more reason to move on to another script.
Writing's clichés—though inherently unoriginal—are well worth repeating. The fact is that writers—as creative folks—are often likely to become distracted, procrastinate, or plead writer's block. It's also easy to get too close to a story and lose one's way. Try guidance by cliché—while trying not to write clichés—for inspiration. Writing's clichés are memorable, and can save you time (to use being original with your own works).
In a screenplay, action is what we see—or nonverbal sounds we hear. Usually, the first element type in a scene after its heading is action. Don't fill your action with feelings you state for characters, nor by stating something is not happening. Focus on what is happening—on what the moviegoer will see after a production company turns your great idea into a movie.
You call yourself a writer, huh? Do you write everyday? Do you at least, write “every” day—as in almost everyday? Remember, “Writers write.” They don't go to the coffee shop and look cool with their journal and an espresso at a corner table. Writers don't spend time worrying over their appearance (asking themselves, “Do I look like a writer?”). Writers write, so get to it. Write!
Keep the cover simple. Use card stock—plain, and not loud. The screenplay's cover is not a place to market, if you want to look like a professional. Include the title (underlined), who wrote it (“by”, “written by”, “an original script by”, etc.), and your phone number (or your agent's). As with your script's content, use Courier New, 12-point. Be sure to add (or delete) any information specified by your recipient's Submission Guidelines.
A good story gets people interested, and then holds their attention. A good storyteller understands drama requires conflict. Drama is conflict! Everyone's favorite screenwriting “how to” (where favorite equals read, referenced, loved, and loathed), Syd Field's Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting says, “It is the writer's responsibility to generate enough conflict to keep the audience, or reader, interested.” Conflict is drama!