When you’re writing a screenplay, there’s always a best time to edit your story and that’s before you start writing a thing.
Here’s what novices do. They buy the latest screenwriting software and start writing. Inevitably, they waste time creating a story that’s ultimately not that interesting. As a result, their screenplay, no matter how well formatted, isn’t very interesting.
The problem isn’t the screenplay, but the story. Writing the actual screenplay is like applying a coat of paint to a house. You don’t start painting your house until it’s built the way you want. Likewise, you don’t start writing your screenplay until you’ve designed your story first for maximum impact.
Look in the TV Guide of movies to read their loglines, which are short sentences that briefly describe the story. For a movie like “Back to the Future,” a TV Guide logline might read something like this:
A teenager goes back in time and has to help his parents get back together again so he can be born.
A logline describes your hero, your hero’s goal, and your hero’s obstacles. More importantly, a logline poses a question to the reader and intrigues them to wonder what happens. If you can’t create a compelling logline, you probably aren’t going to create a compelling story by writing 120 pages of a screenplay either.
For your own screenplay, write out a logline and make it as exciting and enticing as possible because if you can create an interesting logline, you’ll get through the door of a production company or agent who will want to see your actual screenplay. If you can’t write a compelling logline, nobody will bother asking to see your screenplay at all.
So the best time to edit your screenplay is before you write anything because once you start writing, you’ll dig yourself into a rut that will make it harder to dump everything you’ve written and start from scratch all over again. If you edit your story before you’ve written anything, it’s far easier to rearrange and change your story. The best time to write your story is before you try capturing it in the screenplay format.