Getting Started

Before you start writing, take a moment to think through your story first. Only after you have defined the framework of your story and know what your story is about should you start the actual process of writing your script.

The biggest mistake most novice screenwriters do when writing a script is to start writing. While this may seem logical, it’s much like rushing to build a house without looking any plans. In your initial rush of enthusiasm, you may be able to create a 20-50 page screenplay that grabs the audience and creates a sympathetic character. Unfortunately, the story too often runs out of steam, the hero achieves his goal by page 50, and you’re left with a half completed script with little hope of finishing it simply because you ran out of ideas.

Here’s the better way of writing a screenplay. First, start with a title. It doesn’t have to be your final title, but you should have a rough idea what you want your movie to be about.  Your title acts like a compass to help steer you in the right direction. A movie called “Love Story” probably won’t involve airplanes blowing up and soldiers being gunned down. Likewise a movie named “Apocalypse Now” probably won’t be about fuzzy talking bunny rabbits with a happy ending.

Once you have a title, focus on a tag. A tag is typically a short phrase that hints at what the movie is about. Visit the Internet Movie Database and you can see taglines for different movies.

“The Dark Knight” tagline, “Why So Serious?”

“Memento” tagline, “Some Memories are Best Left Forgotten.”

“WALL-E” tagline, “An Adventure Beyond the Ordinar-E”

“The Wrestler” tagline, “Love. Pain. Glory.”

Armed with a title and a tag, you now have a rough idea what your movie is about. Go one step further and create a logline. This is usually a sentence or two that explains what the general conflict of the movie is about. Look in your TV Guide or the IMDB and you’ll see loglines that briefly describe what the movie is about.\r\n\r\nA title gives you a general direction. A tag gives you a general theme for what your movie is about. A logline gives you a general plot. With these three items in place, you can see whether your movie idea is too short (This is a movie about a man who prevents a robbery.) or too long. (This is a movie about five generations of English kings and how they affected everything from the defeat of the Spanish Armada to the formation of the European Union.)

The craft of screenwriting is simply telling a story within the confines of a movie format. By identifying the main theme, plot, and idea of your screenplay, you can spot potential weaknesses before you start writing, and that’s the easiest time to fix problems, not after you’ve already written 50 pages and can’t figure a way how to fix it any more.

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