Thomas Edison reportedly went through 10,000 failed designs for the light bulb. When asked about so many failures, Edison reportedly replied, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times. I just found 10,000 different ways not to design a light bulb.”
That same sense of optimism can work when writing a screenplay. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Write as much as you can and get it down, then worry about making it look nice. Remember, it’s always easier to edit something than create something from scratch.
The movie “Bolt” originally included a giant radioactive rabbit. “Pretty Woman” was initially meant to be a serious drama where the prostitute (played by Julia Roberts) and the businessman (played by Richard Gere) eventually break up and never get back together at the end. “Rocky” initially focused on the corruption of boxing and Rocky’s eventual disgust with the sport. The original script for “Up” had the old man floating off into space on a suicide mission to get back with his dead wife. “WALL-E” was supposed to end with a battle of evil robots where the aliens controlling the robots eventually discover that they were originally humans from Earth.
Sound far-fetched? It’s true, which makes you glad that the screenwriters eventually revised their initial ideas into the wonderful movies they eventually made. That brings up the point of this article. Fail as fast as you can.
That means you don’t wait for “inspiration” to strike before writing your script. You don’t try to get your script down perfectly in the first draft. Instead, you just write something down now, take a look at what you’ve created, and then worry about fixing any flaws later.
Before you even start writing, however, take a moment to plot your story out. One of the biggest mistakes that screenwriters make is that they start writing long before they even know how their story is going to end or where it’s even going. The end result is predictably a mess, which is okay, but once you write a scene, it’s harder to change that scene later. The scene that\’s easiest to change is the one you haven’t written yet.
What you need to do is plot your story in brief paragraphs, which is known as a treatment. Studio executives don’t read scripts because that takes too long. Instead, they read treatments, which are condensed versions of what the story is all about. If the treatment sounds interesting, then they’ll ask to see a script. But if the treatment sounds dull, then no amount of dazzling screenwriting ability will make the story any better.
Here’s one way to make sure you create a compelling story. First, start with a one or two sentence logline. Look in the TV Guide and you’ll see that a logline basically condenses your entire story in a few words. A logline for “Star Wars” might be “A farm boy must rescue a princess and defeat the evil empire.” A logline for “Rocky” might be “An aging boxer is given a once in a lifetime chance to battle for the heavyweight championship of the world.”
After reading a logline, you can immediately tell what kind of movie the script is going to be. The “Star Wars” logline is obviously action oriented while the “Rocky” logline immediately conveys images of boxing. A logline simply tells you what the movie is about without necessarily giving you all the details.
Create your logline first that tells your story in a broad perspective. If your logline doesn’t sound interesting, guess what? Your script probably won’t be interesting either.
After you’ve created your logline, put together your treatment. Start simply and use a sentence or two to describe each action. This will help you outline your story and help identify any holes in your story before you start writing.
Keep fleshing out your treatment, adding more details as you go along. Think of plopping a lump of clay on a table and slapping on more layers until it gradually starts coming to shape. Keep at it long enough and you’ll come up with a workable story, which you can then use to write the actual screenplay.
The more you know before you write, the easier the writing will be. Don’t worry. You’ll probably change things along the way, but by planning ahead, you can maximize your chances of crafting a coherent story and minimize your chances of getting lost in your story and winding up with a complete mess.
So the key is to be willing to fail as quickly as possible. Write everything down and keep shaping it. The more material you have to work with, the more choices you can make to tell your story, and that can only help you create a better screenplay as a result.