If you just stumbled upon screenwriting, or think you have a great idea and don’t know where to start, and before your fingers hit the keyboard, here’s a few tips to ease your way in… these are things that you, at the very least, should consider doing. This list is my opinion in case you have a problem with any of them…
1. Get screenwriting software, pronto. Some are free, most have a cost. Colleges and pros still use Final Draft, although there are better ones out there, like Celtx, with online workspaces and more modern collaboration tools at your disposal for a cost. Please don’t use MS Word. It’s pretty fugly for formatting and why would you fight with margin spacing if you don’t have to? If you’re starting out, buy what you can afford and upgrade if you’re going to stick with screenwriting for the long haul (like more than a few years…), and if something free is working for you, soldier on!
2. Read modern screenwriting books – like Crafty Screenwriting, or Save the Cat, or The Way of the Screenwriter. (I’ll add here, read books, period. All kinds of books, but mostly good ones. It’ll make you a better writer.)
3. Read modern screenplays (if you can find them online…). The Oscar lists comes out every year from Go Into The Story, and The Blacklist. They’re not only a good indication of the types of things that get made, but they will provide you a wealth of information about how to construct your screenplay (which will mostly be taken care of when you get software…but still…)
4. Watch movies that you love and ones you wouldn’t pay money to see. Old ones, new ones, foreign ones. Try to figure out what the differences are between them. Deconstruct the story, once you know the elements (see #2 above).
5. Follow screenwriting podcasts and blogs to keep up to date on what is going on in the world of the pros. They were once in our shoes. I follow John August (US) and Alex Epstein (Canada), among others. These two guys have been online for years now, and have covered everything you will need to know, and then some. Go Into The Story is also an excellent resource.
6. Get out to workshops and conferences and meet other writers and people doing the same thing you want to do. Talk to them. Meet directors and attend movie gatherings. Get involved. Writing is a solitary business, most of the time. Meeting other people it’s the only way you are going to say sane.
7. Outline your stuff and pitch it to someone. Get their feedback. This is where the real work is done. Refine the story at this stage. Pitch it again to see if the engagement factor for your story has improved.
8. Write shitty stuff. Seriously. Who cares? No one’s perfect. Unless you show it to someone, it never happened…right?
9. Rewrite better stuff. Search each line for the nugget that’s going to make it POP. Movies are about movement, and dynamic characters that can only be in this situation, at this place, at this time. Hear the characters in your head. They had a life before they showed up in your story, and they should continue on with their lives (or maybe they get dead) once you’re done with them.
10. Don’t let anyone tell you that (insert your vice here) is not part of the writing process. It most certainly is. Just don’t let it be your excuse. Resistance is a dangerous muse.
a) It’s always okay to be the person in the room that knows the least. We all learn from each other.
b) The first draft is *rarely* your last draft. Learn early that writing is rewriting and the scene you slaved away on may eventually have to go.
That’s all for now!