how to write a screenplay

Do you have a story to tell? Have you already written a short story or a novel and want to learn how to adapt it into a screenplay? Are you passionate about film and want to write your own movie?

If any of these apply to you, learning how to write a screenplay may be the perfect way for you to share your stories with the world!

I always dreamed of writing a movie, even before I ever got into the film world. But as a short story writer, I didn’t have any real knowledge of how to actually write a script.

It took me a ton of research, whether reading books on filmmaking and screenwriting or reading screenplays, talking to other filmmakers and writers, working on productions in multiple roles, and writing as many scripts as I could – many of which won awards – before I felt I knew what I was talking about and felt ready to write my own screenplays!

In this article, we will provide an overview of what it takes to write a successful movie script. We will cover topics such as plot development, character creation, and formatting.

So if you’re ready to start writing your masterpiece, keep reading!

Step 1: Watch Movies With Story Structure in Mind!

watch lots of movies

Anyone who wants to write better scripts should watch more movies!

It’s no secret that many aspiring writers watch movies as part of their research into storytelling. But did you know that watching feature films can help you understand story structure and write better movie scripts?

Movies are a great way to see how stories are structured. By watching your favorite movies, whether short or feature films, you can get a feel for the three-act structure and other classic storytelling conventions.

Movies can also help you understand pacing and rhythm. By paying attention to how scenes are cut together, you can learn a lot about how to keep a story moving forward in terms of pace and story beats.

Look for clues about the characters and their motivations, the setting, its importance to the plot, and how the conflict builds to a climax.

And finally, watching films can give you a better sense of what works and doesn’t in a film script. Seeing how different stories play out on screen allows you to develop your taste and style as a writer.

watch movies

By studying how successful movies are put together, you can see the inner workings of story structure and apply that knowledge to your script writing. So watch many movies, take notes, and learn from professional screenwriters. It’s the best way to improve your craft.

Of course, the same applies to writing a television script and absorbing as much TV content as possible in your chosen genre, such as sitcoms, procedurals, reality TV, etc.

There are, of course, many other ways to find movie ideas aside from watching movies. From thinking about what kinds of issues or stories matter the most to you to thinking about the stories of your life to spending more time people-watching and talking to others, there are many methods you can use to brainstorm fantastic movie ideas!

Step 2: Read Scripts for Context

read lots of scripts

Many people think that writing a screenplay is about having a great story to tell.

While a strong story is undoubtedly important, it’s not the only thing that goes into creating a successful script.

Just as a musician needs to know how to read sheet music, a professional writer needs to be familiar with the standard screenplay format that most movie scripts follow.

By reading existing new screenplays and adapted screenplays written by professional screenwriters, emerging writers can learn how to properly structure their own stories and ensure that they use the correct terminology in the appropriate industry standard.

In addition, reading screenplays by other writers can inspire plot twists, character development, and other story elements that can make a script shine.

So if you’re serious about writing for the big screen, add some scripts to your reading list as part of your writing process!

Step 3: Plan Out Your Characters

plan out your characters

When it comes to creating movie characters, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.

First, you’ll want to consider what type of movie you’re making. Is it a drama? A comedy? Horror? An action-packed thriller?

The genre of your movie screenplay will help dictate the type of characters you want to create.

For example, if you’re writing a romantic comedy, you’ll likely want to create charming and funny characters.

If you’re writing an action movie, on the other hand, you’ll probably want to create characters that are strong and brave.

happy characters

Once you’ve determined the type of movie you’re making, you’ll need to start thinking about your characters’ backstories. What’s their history? What motivates them? What are their goals? Think about their traits – how your main character speaks or carries themself, and any distinguishing physical features.

By fleshing out your characters’ histories, you’ll be able to make them more three-dimensional and relatable. This applies to main characters as well as other characters in supporting or antagonistic roles as well.

And finally, when creating movie characters, don’t forget the power of a good name. Unique character names can help to create an instant connection with your audience. So take your time and choose wisely!

If you want additional help creating characters or writing your screenplay, check out my list of the best online screenwriting courses!

Step 4: Plan Out Your Story Plot

plan out your story's plot

Before you begin writing your script, it’s essential to take some time to plan out the plot or actual story. This will help you keep track of the events and make sure they flow smoothly.

There are a few different ways to approach this, but one extremely helpful method is to break the story down into beats.

Each story beat should represent a pivotal moment in the script, such as a decision or an action. By identifying these beats, you’ll see how the story develops and what needs to happen in each scene.

rising falling action in a story

You can also use this approach to determine your screenplay’s central conflict, introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Once you clearly understand the plot, you’ll be ready to start writing your screenplay.

Step 5: Write Your Movie’s Logline

write your movie logline

A screenplay logline is a brief script summary, typically one sentence long.

It should include the protagonist, the conflict, and the stakes.

A good logline will make someone want to read the screenplay, while a lousy logline will make them lose interest before they’ve even started.

There are a few things to keep in mind when writing a logline: make it clear, make it concise, and make it intriguing.

First, the logline should be clear about what the story is about.

Second, it should be concise – no more than one sentence.

Third, and most importantly, it should be interesting.

A good way to do this is to focus on the central conflict and stakes. What does the main character want? What is standing in their way? And what are the consequences if they fail?

By answering these questions, you can write a logline that will pique people’s interest and make them want to read your screenplay.

Reading lots of them is a great way to get a feel for screenplay loglines! You can check out this article on examples of great film loglines to learn more!

How do i write a screenplay?

You can also use AI story generators to create a great logline. All you need is an idea of your inciting incident, your protagonist, their objective, and the antagonistic force of your script!

Check out my tutorial on how to use AI writing software to create a great logline in this article!

Step 6: Write Your Screenplay Outline

write your screenplay outline

Any spec script worth its salt will have a killer outline – a structure so strong and compelling that it can sell the project independently. So how do you go about writing one? First, remember that a script outline is not a rigid set of rules – it’s more like a road map, flexible enough to change as your screenplay develops. That said, certain elements should always be included:

  • A catchy logline: This is the one-sentence summation of your screenplay’s premise that we discussed above. Think of this as the “elevator pitch” for your movie.
  • A clear structure: The best script outlines have a three-act structure, clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Ensure each act contains vital plot points and turning points to keep your story moving forward.
  • Great characters: Good stories are driven by strong, clear motivations. Spend time developing your protagonist and antagonist before outlining your story so you know who they are and what they want.
  • Visualization: A great outline should be visual, almost like a storyboard for your script. Describe key scenes in detail so you’ll have a clear idea of what’s happening on the page (and on the screen).

With these elements in place, you’ll be well on your way to writing a killer outline. Remember – the key is to be flexible and don’t be afraid to change things up if they’re not working.

Step 7: Get Feedback on Your Ideas

get feedback on your ideas

While it’s certainly possible to write a movie script on your own, it’s not always the best idea. Feedback from friends, family, and even strangers can be essential for helping you to hone your stories and make them the best they can be.

Of course, it’s important to be selective about who you take feedback from – after all, you don’t want to end up with a watered-down version of your original idea.

But if you can find someone who shares your passion for storytelling and is willing to offer constructive criticism – especially a professional screenwriter, coverage service, or other industry insiders – their feedback can be invaluable.

If you’re looking to take your scriptwriting to the next level, don’t be afraid to seek feedback from others. I know it’s helped me many times on my road to screenplay success!

Step 8: Write Your Movie’s Treatment and/or Synopsis

write the treatment

Screenplay Treatment

A screenplay treatment contains a script summary and other important information about the characters, plot, and setting.

While treatments vary in length, they are typically between five and fifteen pages.

The purpose of a screenplay treatment is to give readers an overview of the story and an understanding of the style and tone of the script.

To write a screenplay treatment, you must have a solid understanding of the story you want to tell.

Before you begin writing, outline the plot, develop the characters, and determine the key scenes that move the story forward. Once you have all this information, you can begin writing your treatment.

Remember to keep it concise and focus on the story’s most essential elements. With some planning and effort, you can write a treatment that will give readers everything they need to know about your script.

Man Holding Clapper Board

Screenplay Synopsis

You may also need to write a screenplay synopsis if you want to sell your screenplay.

A screenplay synopsis is a brief summary of a screenplay, typically around 1-2 pages. It gives potential buyers or investors an overview of the story, characters, and plot. Writing a synopsis can be a helpful way to sell a screenplay, as it allows you to “pitch” your story concisely and efficiently.

In addition, a synopsis can help to gauge interest in your screenplay and generate feedback from readers. Whether you’re writing for Hollywood or the indie market, a strong synopsis is essential for selling your screenplay.

Step 9: Learn How to Format Your Screenplay Professionally

format your screenplay

Now that you know the basics of how to write a screenplay, it’s time to learn the conventions of script format.

While there are many different ways to format a script, specific standards should be followed to make your document as professional as possible.

Some of the most important things to keep in mind when formatting your movie script include the following:

  • Use standard page margins and font sizes: Screenplays are typically written in 12-point Courier font, with one-inch margins on all sides.
  • Include page numbers: Page numbers should be included in the upper right-hand corner of every page, starting with the second page. The title page and first page have no page number showing.
  • Create a title page: The title page should include the title of the screenplay, the author’s name, and the contact information.
  • Use proper scene headings: Scene headings should indicate changes in location or time. They should be written in all caps and left-justified.
  • Format dialogue correctly: Script dialogue should be centered on the page and written in regular (not all caps) font.

There are also many options for screenwriting software programs that will help you make sure that your screenplay format is on point.

By following these simple formatting tips, you can ensure that your spec script looks professional and is ready to be submitted to contests, production companies, or industry professionals.

Step 10: Write the First Draft

write the first draft

Now that you know how to write a script outline and format your movie script correctly, it’s time to begin writing the first draft of your screenplay.

The initial draft of a script is an essential step in filmmaking. It is the first time the story is put down on paper, and it is often the first time that the characters and setting are fully realized. Remember to focus on one scene at a time, and don’t worry about perfection.

As you write, keep in mind the advice from Step Five and seek out feedback from friends or family members who are willing to read your work.

It is also important to remember that this draft is not the final product. It is simply a starting point. Here are some tips for writing a great initial draft of your feature film or short film:

1. Start with your outline. This will help you structure your thoughts and ensure that all essential elements are included.

2. Don’t worry about perfection. The first script is meant to be rough around the edges. Just get your ideas down on paper and worry about polishing them later.

3. Write dialogue that sounds natural. This can be tricky, but ensuring that your dialogue sounds realistic is essential. Read it out loud to see how it sounds.

4. Learn how to write action lines for your screenplay. Action lines are descriptions of the physical actions that are happening in each screenplay scene.

5. Have fun! Writing your initial draft should be an enjoyable experience. So relax and let your creative juices flow.

6. Remember to use proper screenwriting software to ensure that your script format looks professional.

If you get stuck while writing your story, you can even try an AI (artificial intelligence) story generator to help you write your script or story. These work best if you’ve already come up with your characters and some plot points or story ideas.

Step 11: Think About Something Else for a While

take a break

Now that you have the initial draft of your script, it’s time to take a break and think about something else! Take a walk, work on a hobby, or spend time with family or friends. Your brain needs time to process all the information you’ve just written on paper.

So take a few days (or even weeks) to clear your head before you seek inspiration to start work on the second draft!

person walking on grass

Step 12: Re-Write Or Edit Your Script

edit your script

Re-writing is key if you’re hoping to get your script into shape. By taking a second pass at your work, you can tighten up the storyline, intensify the conflict, and add greater depth to your characters. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your rewrite:

  • Firstly, don’t be afraid to cut out entire scenes or characters that don’t serve the story. The goal is to streamline the plot, not keep every element you came up with in the first draft.
  • Secondly, take a close look at your dialogue. Is it sharp and witty, or does it sound like something people would say? Be sure to revise accordingly.
  • Next, ask yourself whether the ending is satisfying. If not, don’t be afraid to rework it until it feels right.
  • Lastly, check your screenplay format to ensure you have followed all the essential formatting conventions. Use screenwriting software to help with your script format!

By following these tips, you can edit your script into something truly amazing.

Step 13: Get Feedback on Your Script (Again!)

How to Write a Screenplay

Feedback is an essential part of the screenwriting process. Getting feedback from friends, family, and even strangers is vital to improve your work.

When you’re seeking out feedback, it’s essential to be open-minded. Avoid getting defensive if someone points out a flaw in your work. Instead, use their criticism as fuel to make your script even better and create your final draft.

And remember, not all feedback will be positive. But if you can use constructive criticism to improve your work, that’s good!

(Optional) Step 14: Submit Your Script to Screenplay Contests

submit to screenplay competitions

Now that you have a finished screenplay, it’s time to submit it to screenplay contests, agents, and producers. This can be daunting, but it’s important to remember that every great script starts as an idea in someone’s head.

So don’t be discouraged if you don’t get an immediate response. Keep writing and perfecting your craft; eventually, someone will recognize your talent!

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Writing a Screenplay

What are the 5 basic elements of a screenplay?

Many elements go into a good script, but five essential ingredients exist. First, you need a strong story with interesting characters and a compelling conflict. Next, you need to make sure your screenplay is appropriately formatted and easy to read. Third, your dialogue must be sharp and engaging. Fourth, your script should have a clear structure with a beginning, middle, and end. Finally, you must ensure your screenplay is visually appealing and sets the stage for an exciting film.

Can anybody write a screenplay?

If you’ve ever seen a movie and thought, “I could write something better than that,” you might wonder if you have what it takes to write a good screenplay. The answer is: maybe! While it’s certainly true that not everyone has the natural ability to write a great screenplay, with a little effort and some helpful tips, just about anyone can learn to write a decent one.

What is the difference between a spec script and a shooting script?

Spec scripts and shooting scripts may seem like the same thing, but there are some crucial differences between the two. A spec script is simply a written document that contains the dialogue and action for a film or stage play. A shooting script, on the other hand, is a bit more complex.

In addition to the dialogue and action, shooting scripts also include specific instructions for how the story should be told onscreen. This includes heading numbers, revision history, camera shots, actor directions, and sound effects. So while a spec script is just a written work, a shooting script is more like a blueprint for how that work should be adapted for the screen.

How do you write a screenplay with no experience?

The best thing is to just begin! Start by coming up with a strong story with interesting characters and a compelling conflict. Then, make sure your screenplay is formatted correctly and easy to read. Third, write sharp and engaging dialogue. Fourth, give your screenplay a clear structure with a beginning, middle, and end.

Finally, ensure your screenplay is visually appealing and sets the stage for an exciting film. You can write a great screenplay by following these simple tips, even if you’ve never done it before!

How do I start writing a script?

There’s no one answer to the question of how to start a script. However, there are a few things that all great scripts have in common. First and foremost, a script must have a strong story. Without a compelling story, no one will want to read your script, let alone produce it. Once you have a strong story, you must create believable and relatable characters.

Without characters that audiences can connect with, your script will fall flat. Finally, you need to make sure your dialogue is sharp and engaging. Dull dialogue will lose readers quickly, so it’s important to keep your dialogue snappy and interesting. Many other elements go into great scriptwriting, but if you can nail these three basics, you’ll be off to a good start.

How long is a script for a 2 hour movie?

A script for a 2-hour movie is typically around 120 pages long. This can vary depending on the number of scenes and the amount of dialogue. A more action-packed movie may have a shorter script, while a slower-paced movie may have a longer script. The length of a script is just one of many factors that contribute to the overall running time of a film.

how to write a screenplay

Can I sell an idea for a movie?

There are many ways to sell an idea for a movie. One option is to approach a movie studio or production company directly. However, it can be difficult to get the attention of a busy producer or executive. Another option is to enter a completed script into a contest. Dozens of these screenplay competitions are held annually, providing an opportunity to pitch your screenplay to a panel of industry professionals.

If your movie idea is selected as a winner, it will help to generate interest and increase the chances of getting your project greenlit. Finally, you can also work with a literary agent who specializes in selling movie ideas. This option may cost more money upfront, but it can be worth it if you can successfully sell your idea.

How do I protect my screenplay?

A screenplay is a valuable piece of intellectual property. Just like a book or a song, it is the result of creative effort and talent, and it can be worth a great deal of money. If you have written a screenplay, it is essential to take steps to protect your work. The first step is registering your screenplay with the Writers Guild of America. This will establish a public record of your ownership and give you some legal protection if someone tries to steal your work.

You should also consider copyrighting your screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office. This will provide additional protection and make it easier to enforce your rights if someone infringes on your work. By taking these steps, you can help to ensure that your screenplay remains safe and secure.

Do I need to copyright my screenplay?

A screenplay is a work of fiction, which means that it is protected by copyright law. This means that you own the rights to your screenplay and can prevent others from using it without your permission. However, it is important to note that you do not need to copyright your screenplay to sell it or have it produced. Copyright is only necessary if you want to enforce your rights in court.

Therefore, if you are planning on selling or shopping your screenplay around, it is not necessary to copyright it beforehand. However, if you are concerned about someone stealing your ideas, you may consider registering your screenplay with the Writer’s Guild of America. This will give you some legal protection if your script is plagiarized.

Who owns the rights to a script?

There are a few different factors to consider when it comes to script ownership. In most cases, the scriptwriter will retain the rights to their work. However, if the script is created as part of a work-for-hire agreement, then the employer may own the rights. Additionally, if the script is based on preexisting material, such as a novel or play, then the rights may be held by the original author. Finally, the rights will be shared if multiple authors co-write the script. As a result, script ownership can be a complex issue, and it is vital to understand all relevant factors before claiming ownership of a script.

Can you be an author and a screenwriter?

Yes! You can be an author and a screenwriter! In fact, many successful authors have also had careers in screenwriting. One of the most famous author-screenwriters is William Goldman, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Goldman is just one example of how you can have a successful career as an author and a screenwriter. The skills you need to succeed in both fields are similar – good storytelling, strong characters, and a knack for dialogue. So if you’re interested in pursuing a career in both writing genres, don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible. With hard work and talent, anything is possible.

Do screenplays have chapters?

While chapters are common in novels, short stories, and even some nonfiction books, they are much less common in screenplays. Most professional screenwriters ignore chapters altogether, dividing their stories into discrete scenes. There are a few reasons for this. First, chapters can be hard to transition between on screen, especially if the chapter break occurs in the middle of a scene. Second, chapters can often be too long or too short for the flow of a screenplay. And finally, chapters can distract the writer and the reader, breaking up the story in a way that feels artificial.

Can I use AI to help me write a screenplay?

With the advent of artificial intelligence, it’s now possible to get a little help from a computer when writing a screenplay. Several AI story generators are available online, and they can provide a great starting point for the ideas for a script. The benefit of using an AI story generator is that it can help to create a realistic and believable plot. However, it’s important to remember that a screenplay is more than just a collection of scenes. You’ll need to add your own creativity and flair to create a genuinely great script. But if you’re struggling to develop ideas, an AI story generator or an AI script generator could be just what you need to get the creative juices flowing.


Final Thoughts: How to Write a Screenplay

Scriptwriting is a unique form of writing; it takes time to learn the ropes.

By following these tips and watching movies, and reading scripts for context, you’ll be well on your way to writing a screenplay that sells.

Remember to plan out your characters and story plot, write a logline and an outline, format the script well, and edit it multiple times. And most importantly, get feedback from others who can help you make your screenplay the best it can be.

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