How I Wrote a Feature Script in 10 Days: A Screenwriter’s Wild Ride

how I wrote a feature script in 10 days

One question I get asked a lot is, “How long does it take you to write a screenplay?” The honest answer is, “It depends on the screenplay.”

My First Feature Script

Let me take you back to my first feature script. It took me a few months from start to first draft.

Why so long? Well, I was working a full-time job and could only write in my spare time. I had no outline, just a bunch of random ideas floating around. I didn’t even have an ending in mind, and my characters needed a ton of work. In short, I was winging it.

But I finished it, and that’s what really matters. Completing it gave me the confidence to write another feature script. With each one I wrote after that, my confidence and skill level only grew.

The Fastest Script I’ve Written

The next most common question I get is, “What’s the fastest you’ve written a script?”

Again, it depends on the script! On average, one page of a script translates to about one minute of screen time. So, a 10-page script will be around 10 minutes on screen. If we’re talking about a feature, which is typically between 90 and 120 pages, it can take much longer.

But my record thus far is 10 days—from inception to a completed, properly formatted, and edited first draft.

A Call from the Producer

Back when I was still getting my footing as a writer, I got a call from a producer who had heard good things about my work. He was looking for disaster movie scripts.

I was honest and told him I hadn’t written one, but I had written action, thriller, and horror scripts. He liked that answer and told me he needed a script in two weeks. There was no money upfront, only if the script got picked up and the film got made.

Despite the crazy deadline, I saw it as both an opportunity and a challenge. So, I said yes.

How I Wrote a Script in 10 Days

I was faced with a very tight deadline, so I had to streamline my writing process. Here are the steps I took!

1. Brainstorm

infographic on brainstorming movie ideas

With no time to waste, I started brainstorming immediately. I focused on the setting, characters, and how the disaster affected their world and relationships.

The producer had given me some guidelines: the setting had to be a small town, with one male and one female lead, and the disaster had to be a sandstorm. Everything else was up to me.

Pro Tip: Set a timer for 30 minutes and challenge yourself to come up with at least 50 ideas. This time pressure can often lead to unexpected breakthroughs. Try using a combination of freewriting and visual aids like mind maps or sketching to help draw out your ideas.

You can also try using creative writing AI software to help with brainstorming ideas!

2. Outline on the Fly

writer brainstorming ideas

While plotting out the basic three-act structure, I had to be flexible and efficient. I used a simple template with key plot points: inciting incident, first act turn, midpoint, second act turn, and climax. As you fill in these points, you’ll start to see your story take shape.

Normally, this might take a few days to a week, but I had to plot the story as I was writing it.

Pro Tip: Use color-coded index cards for each act. This visual aid can help you quickly identify gaps in your story structure. You could also use digital tools like Novelcrafter or Scrivener to organize your plot points. These tools allow you to move scenes around easily and keep track of everything.

3. Write a Killer Opening

I believe in a strong opening for a movie. It sets up the story and lets the audience know what kind of movie they’re about to see. I try to think about starting in medias res (in the middle of action) to immediately hook the audience.

Once I nailed it down, the other pieces started to fall into place.

Exercise: Write five different opening scenes for your story. This will help you explore various angles and choose the best one.

Additional Tip: Watch the openings of your favorite movies and analyze what makes them effective. Try to incorporate similar elements into your own opening scene.

4. Develop Your Characters

character development in a screenplay

Next, I figured out my leads and supporting cast, approaching their inter-relationships from the standpoint of maximum conflict.

My goal was to have the leads at odds until they were forced to work together to save themselves and the people they loved.

Pro Tip: Use archetypes as a starting point, then add unique twists to make your characters stand out. Or, download and use my free character development workbook (enter your email below!).

5. Conflict is King

how to write conflict in a story

Every scene must have conflict—it’s the engine that drives your story. I made sure each scene had a clear goal for the protagonist and an obstacle preventing them from achieving it. If there was no conflict in a scene, I scrapped or rewrote it. This kept the story moving at a brisk pace.

I’d watched my fair share of disaster movies, so I knew the beats well—not only for the plot but for the characters and their personal journeys.

Pro Tip: For each scene, ask yourself: “What does my protagonist want, and why can’t they have it?”

6. Raising the Stakes

To keep the tension high, I constantly raised the stakes for my characters.

This doesn’t always mean bigger explosions or more danger—it can be emotional stakes too. Think about what your characters have to lose and how to make that loss more painful or imminent.

Pro Tip: List out 10 ways to make things worse for your protagonist (you could use the AI chat feature of Novelcrafter here to help you brainstorm this!). Choose the best ones to incorporate into your script.

7. Trusting Instincts

My biggest lesson throughout this ordeal was to learn to trust my instincts.

I didn’t have time for extensive rewrites, so I had to trust myself that once I got going on a plotline, it would take me where I needed to go. And of course, I didn’t want to just make a cookie-cutter story full of clichés and stereotypes.

Pro Tip: Set a daily word count goal and don’t stop writing until you reach it, no matter what! This helps bypass your inner critic and just get your thoughts down on paper.

8. Creative Problem-Solving

I knew if this was going to work, I had to make the characters relatable and believable, include exciting action and cool set pieces, and throw in some twists and turns the audience wouldn’t see coming.

To avoid clichés and keep the story fresh, I constantly asked myself, “What would the audience expect to happen here, and how can I subvert that expectation?”

Pro Tip: Take a common trope from your genre and list 5 ways to flip it on its head.

9. Determination and Sacrifice

I worked night and day, making the biggest headway at night when I had total peace and quiet.

Despite the lack of sleep, I pushed myself like never before and finished the first draft in ten days. I was utterly exhausted but so proud of what I had accomplished.

Pro Tip: I love having a dedicated writing space. Make it comfortable and free from distractions. Having a specific place to write can help you get into the right mindset more quickly.

The Aftermath

The producer took the script to the distributor, and they liked it.

However, sadly the funding for the slate of films fell through, and the project was dead on arrival. The bright side was I retained full ownership of the script, and it even won me a few awards on the festival circuit.

How I Wrote a Screenplay in 10 Days Pin

Personal Growth and Lessons Learned

I learned that I could write well under a ridiculous amount of pressure and a crazy schedule. Deadlines might be a pain, but they push us. As creatives, it’s good to set deadlines for ourselves to test our limits and push our creative boundaries.

Have you ever had an impossible deadline? Did you manage to meet it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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