A screenplay is a manuscript that details every visual, audio, conceptual, technical aspect, and storyline of a film. In short, it is a movie, written on a paper. It is the literary version of a movie, as seen from the writer's mind. Writing a screenplay and getting better at it is an evolutionary process. The basic requirements are a highly imaginative mind and a willingness to learn to write, adapt, and work hard.
Tips on Writing One
A screenplay could be written for a full-length feature film, a short film, or a soap opera. The basic writing style, for all of them, is the same in principle. The tips shared here, are written with the assumption that you are writing a movie screenplay. So, let us get into the crux of the matter. Let us see what all it takes to make a great script and how to go about it.
Listen, Read, Watch, Absorb
To write any soulful piece of writing that captures a reader or a movie viewer, one must feel it, experience it inside. Great screenwriters and novelists are like sponges who absorb everything that they see, hear, and experience.
The process of being a good writer starts with living life and minutely perceiving all its manifestations. Read as much as you can, watch as many classic movies as you can, listen to world music, and enjoy all the forms of artistic expression.
All this will help you in enriching the world within you, which will eventually come in handy, when you start writing. Start with writing short stories, short plays, and poems. To learn to write better, one must keep on writing. Read what you wrote and keep improving. Remember that the greats were also as clueless once, as you are now.
Read Great Screenplays and Learn How it's Done
Another thing that will help you is reading the screenplays of some of the greatest movies ever made. You must become a student of the movies and the entire business. See how the masters do it. The scripts of many great movies are available online.
Find them and read them. Look at the arc of the story, the dialogs, and the detailing. Watch the movies, in detail. When you watch them first, watch them for the fun of it. Let the second viewing be a study of all the finer detailing that the movie has.
Everything, in every frame, should be studied. Observe the quality of dialogs, the philosophy, camera angles, composition of scene frames, visual impact, smooth dissolving of scenes, story buildup and make your own script analysis. Making notes is also a good idea. They will help you later.
You must spend a considerable amount of time in this 'Movie Study', as this will guide you, once you start brainstorming for your own screenplay ideas. Brainstorming your own idea for a story, which will be the progenitor of your script, is the first step. Once you get an idea, start putting it on paper, until you finalize upon one idea.
Begin with the Story
Just like a journey of a thousand mile starts with the first step, a script or screenplay begins with the typing of the first words. It all begins with the story. I can't tell you what kind of story to write, but I can underline the characteristics that make a good story.
Every good story has a 'conflict' in it. The conflict may be within people, within a person's mind, or even a social conflict. A story connects a point A to a point B and how good it is, depends on how difficult, how intriguing, and interesting the path from point A to point B is.
It could be a comedy. The more the twists and turns, the better it is. If you are a movie buff, (which you must be, if you are writing a screenplay), you will understand what I am talking about. The audience must be kept guessing about what happens next.
Considering all this, write your story and rewrite it until you find it satisfying, by filling in as many details, as you can. Visualize your story and characters in as much detail, as you can. This will take many weeks and even months.
Understand all the Technical Aspects of Writing One
Now that your story is ready, it's time to write and put the movie running in your mind on paper. Before that, understand all the technical aspects of writing a screenplay. This is very important. If you have read movie scripts before, you'll have an idea.
The screenplay is a series of successive scenes, each written with explicit detailing. This includes the time of the scene, the place, the graphic detail, background sounds, and ultimately, the dialog. There are certain rules of writing a professional screenplay like, one page of the script has the content of one minute of the scene.
That way, most Hollywood movies being 120 to 150 minutes long, your manuscript should be 120-150 pages long. There are script writing software applications available now, that can take care of all the technical details, while letting you focus on the quality of your script. Install one on your computer and learn how to use it.
Visualize the Story in Your Mind and Think in Terms of 'Scenes'
Keep the story in front of you and divide it into logical parts, scene wise. You can write a one liner outline for each part of the story and from that outline, start writing your scenes. This way, you get an idea about the flow of the whole script.
Begin Writing, Scene by Scene
Start visualizing your story, scene by scene and write one at a time. Explore all scenarios and settings, while writing your scene. Give full rein to your imagination and see the things happening in your mind's eye. Let the dialogs be crisp, appropriate, and as catchy as possible. Place yourself in that scene and think like the character and say what he wants to say, in the best possible way.
First Draft, Second Draft, Third Draft
This is a long and arduous process of connecting every scene with the next and creating a coherent whole. The scenes need to be ordered and you need to ensure that the story is building up nicely. Once the first draft is done, you can start reading everything back again from the first scene. Polish and think about how you could write this better. This process is complex and may take months and your final draft may even be the eight or ninth draft.
Read it out to a Confidante or an Honest Critic
Once you think that it's ready, give it to a close confidante for reading or a person who knows about script writing and movies. Take his opinion and note his suggestions. These opinions are very important, as a third person can point out errors or improvements, which our biased self may not see. Again, make improvements if you want. Once you think that it's ready, after being evaluated by your inner circle of critics, including yourself, it's time to sell your script.
The Hardest Part: Selling your Script
Selling your script is the toughest part of all. Good creative writers are usually not great salesmen. However, you must learn to sell your script too. Get a literary agent or go and meet movie producers with your scripts. With a combination of true quality and a lot of luck, your script may land into the hands of a good producer and director, who will then buy the rights of your script. Here is where you get paid for your month long or sometimes, yearlong efforts. There is a one-in-a-million chance that your script will be selected, but if it gets selected, it's all worth it. It is a tough profession to choose, but when it pays off, it pays off really well.
The joy of seeing what you saw in your mind's eye, in your own imaginative world, taking shape on-screen, in the form of a movie, is completely worth all the efforts you put in.