Here’s the number one mistake novices make in writing a screenplay. They don’t study the craft of screenwriting and storytelling.
What too many novices do is learn the basics of writing a screenplay through a book and with the help of screenwriting software, they bang out a screenplay. Although they get the basics of screenplay formatting (mostly) right, they forget one crucial thing.
Any time you learn something for the first time, you’re not going to be very good at it.
Pick up a golf club for the first time and chances are good you won’t win a major golf tournament tomorrow. Pick up a baseball bat for the first time and you probably won’t play in the World Series by the end of the year. Learn to drive for the first time and you won’t win a Grand Prix race.
The reason is that when you first learn any skill, you won’t be very good at it. You may have some basic talent and skill, but you won’t excel at your new skill right away. It’s never enough to know the basics of formatting a screenplay. You must also understand how to tell a story within a screenplay format, and that requires lots of practice writing scripts.
Just as you won’t be able to win an NBA championship without practicing the skills of basketball, so you won’t get your first screenplay produced until you take the time to develop your screenplay storytelling skills.
Since writing a full-length screenplay is like trying to run a marathon, start by writing short scripts instead that tell a simple story. This is like training to run a marathon by running a few miles each day instead of 26 miles all at once.
By writing short scripts that tell a story, you can sharpen your skills in storytelling within a screenplay format. Practice creating an engaging beginning. Practice creating a satisfying conclusion. Practice defining a goal for a character and throwing plenty of obstacles in that character’s way until he or she succeeds.
By practicing with lots (and lots) of short scripts, you can build your stamina to eventually tackle a full-length screenplay. Until you can tell a short story well in a screenplay format, you will never be able to tell a complete movie well in a screenplay format.
Learning to write a screenplay by practicing writing lots of short scripts is the key to writing a full-length screenplay eventually. But too many people try to jump straight into writing a full-length screenplay long before they learn to write a short story in screenplay format first. The inevitable result is either writing lots of poor screenplays that don’t work or giving up eventually.
Don’t do that. Develop your screenwriting and storytelling skills with short scripts first. they may never get produced, but they’ll give you the crucial skills to write a full-length screenplay eventually.
Nobody sees how many times professional tennis players hit balls over and over again while practicing their skills. Likewise, nobody will ever see all the numerous short scripts you need to write to develop your skills, but in the end, you’ll see how all this practice will eventually improve your storytelling skills to the point where you can eventually become a professional screenwriter.