An Important Message to Aspiring Screenwriters

Everyone wants to write a great screenplay. Unfortunately, thousands of people write screenplays every year and most of those screenplays (and screenwriters) are never heard from again.

So how can you get your screenplay noticed?

Here’s the hard truth. Hollywood needs great scripts but more importantly, they really need great writers. That’s because Hollywood is drowning in mediocrity, not just from unknown writers trying to break into the business, but even from established professionals. However, given a choice between taking a chance on an unknown writer or choosing an established professional, Hollywood will turn to the established professional every time.

That’s because unknown writers represent a huge risk. On the other hand, established writers represent far less risk and far greater certainty.

If Hollywood only trusts established writers, how can anyone hope to break into the business?

The answer is simple. You have to show Hollywood that you’re not a risk and that means you can’t just write one script. You must write multiple scripts because each script will teach you what you don’t know and what you need to learn. 

Each time you write another script, you’ll learn what you need to improve. Once you fix your first mistakes, you’ll find yourself making new mistakes, so the process of improving continues with each script you write.

Essentially, writing scripts will teach you what you need to learn in a never-ending cycle. 

As a beginner just learning to write screenplays, you can’t expect to write and sell your first screenplay to Hollywood. That would be like learning to ride a bicycle today and expecting to win the Tour de France by tomorrow.

It could happen, but chances are it won’t. 

Here’s how most people pursue screenwriting. They come up with an idea and immediately start writing. Inevitably, they run out of ideas and give up. If they persist, they create a choppy, disjointed, poorly written script. 

But that’s okay.

Because the only way to learn any new skill is to practice it over and over again. Learning anything new takes time and patience along with lots of frustration. There’s no way around it.

But here’s the second way beginners fail. They come up with one idea, they rewrite that one script over and over again, and they keep trying to sell the same choppy, disjointed, poorly written script over and over again.

There are two problems with this approach. First, trying to write a full-length (120 pages) screenplay as a beginner is a formidable task. That’s like a beginner mountain climber trying to scale Mount Everest on their first day.

They could succeed, but chances are they won’t. 

The second problem is that your first idea will rarely be your best idea. You can’t just write and rewrite the same script over and over again. You need to write different stories because that teaches you how to write different characters in completely different settings. That’s the way to stretch your writing skills. Not endlessly rewriting the same story over and over again for the rest of eternity.

If you learn nothing else from reading this, at least remember this:

  • Writing a full-length screenplay is hard.
  • Writing and rewriting the same story won’t stretch and challenge your writing skills. 

If you try to write a full-length screenplay from the beginning, you’re probably going to fail. If you keep writing and rewriting the same story over and over again, you’ll eventually get frustrated and give up.

So what’s the solution? 

First, don’t start by writing full-length screenplays. That may be your ultimate goal, but when you’re just learning to stand on your own two feet, you don’t try to run a marathon.

Instead, start by writing short scripts. Really short scripts. Like 1 – 5 pages at a time. You’re not trying to write a script that you can sell. You’re just trying to learn the basics of screenplay formatting first.

When you’re comfortable with screenplay formatting, then you can focus on learning how to write dialogue, introduce characters, describe visually compelling settings, use foreshadowing to create suspense, and so on. 

Finally, you can start focusing on telling stories. When you get comfortable telling really short stories, try telling longer stories. Then tell even longer stories. Eventually, you’ll develop the skills needed to finally write a full-length screenplay with confidence.

See the difference? Most people try tackling a full-length screenplay long before they even know how to format a screenplay properly, let alone how to structure a story or write interesting dialogue. This sets them up for a path of frustration and disappointment for years (if not a lifetime). 

But when you start writing gradually, step-by-step, it may take time, but the end result will be greater skill and confidence in yourself as a writer.

The better you get as a screenwriter, the better your writing will get. Each time you write another script, you’ll see the flaws of your earlier scripts (and be thankful you didn’t waste time and money trying to enter a screenplay writing contest too soon). 

Your goal is not to write one great script. Your goal is to develop your writing and story telling skills so you can write great scripts now and in the future. In other words, you don’t want to sell one script. You want to sell yourself as a reliable, dependable writer who can deliver on time with above average results. 

When you can write great scripts on a consistent basis, your chances of breaking into Hollywood sets you apart from the masses hoping for a lucky break. 

Remember, there’s no guarantee in life, especially in show business. However, you can tilt the odds in your favor by becoming the best screenwriter possible. It will take time because it won’t happen overnight. 

But when you combine your writing skills with your unique passion and point of view, you’ll set yourself apart as a writer to watch. As comedian and actor Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Commit yourself to developing your writing and story telling skills in screenplay format. When people start noticing the quality of your scripts, your chances of breaking into Hollywood will be a million times better than when you first started.

The only question is where do you want to be one, five, or ten years from now? Still struggling, still rewriting the same story over and over again, and still wondering why your writing hasn’t gotten any better?

Or do you want to learn how you can improve as a writer? 

The choice is yours. 

Your Next Step

Keep learning as much as you can about writing and story telling. Start with my blog posts here which are absolutely free to read. Visit other screenwriting and story telling sites. Check out writing and screenwriting books from the library for free too. 

Just remember that no one book or class can give you all the answers. If you get one new idea from a book or class, it can be worth it. The key is to never stop learning. 

Read screenplays of your favorite movies that you can find for free on the Internet. Study how other screenwriters describe settings, introduce characters, and handle dialogue. Practice writing scenes from your favorite movies from memory, then compare your scenes to the scenes in the actual screenplay.

Most crucially, get feedback from others so you can see what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Join a writer’s group where you can learn and criticize other people’s scripts while they criticize yours. 

You need to know how other people respond to your writing whether good or bad. Not everyone will be helpful but everyone can give you a different perspective on your writing.

Stick with free learning options for as long as possible. If you’re not motivated to improve your writing skills for free, you probably won’t be much more motivated to learn by spending money either. 

When you’ve exhausted your free options, you’re ready to move up to the next step, which is to spend as little as possible buying books that you can’t check out for free from your local library. 

The 15-Minute Movie Method” focuses on story structure to help you plan your story before you start writing. 

Writing Scenes for Screenplays” focuses more on the details for writing scenes in a screenplay after you’ve already defined your overall story.

Story Starter” focuses more on helping you turn an idea into a story and get started writing. Once you know what your story is, it’s much easier to turn it into a screenplay.

If you own a copy of Final Draft 13, you might be interested in my online video course, “How to Write a Great Script with Final Draft 13” for both the Macintosh and Windows version of Final Draft.

There are plenty of other books about writing, screenwriting, and story telling, so never stop learning. Everyone is different so one book that’s perfect for one person may not be perfect for you. 

As you grow and change as a writer, a book you thought was useless earlier might suddenly offer vital information that you didn’t know you needed the first time you read it. 

Besides books, consider classes where you can interact with others. Like books, classes can vary in quality so keep costs to a minimum at first. 

No matter how much you learn from books or classes, the real secret to success is to keep writing everyday. The only way you can improve as a writer is by writing. 

Don’t try writing a full-length screenplay from the start. Instead, try writing short scenes. Consider writing short scripts that tell simple stories. If you have an idea for a full-length screenplay, start by writing the most exciting scenes for your story.

By writing lots of short scripts, you’ll get plenty of writing practice and learn your strengths and weaknesses. Instead of trying to write a monolithic, full-length screenplay from scratch, write lots of short scenes, keep the best ones, and paste them together to gradually make a longer screenplay. 

Just remember that success isn’t about money or fame. True success is defining a goal for yourself and working to achieve that goal. Each time you develop a new skill, gain additional knowledge, and move closer to your dream, you’re already a success.

Working towards a dream is what makes life fun, exciting, and yes, sometimes frustrating and depressing. 

You always have a choice. Do you want to continue pursuing your dream, or do you want to give up? 

The next step is up to you.