19 Tips for writing screenplays
by Kitty Griffin
Now why on a blog that's dedicated to writing for kids am I posting about screenwriting? Simple. Without learning screenwriting I would not have been published. Learning how to build a screenplay was the most useful thing I did for myself as a writer. Understanding how to set up a scene helped me understand how to write picture books. Understanding how to set up acts helped me build a novel. I strongly urge anyone writing fiction to take the time and effort to learn how to write a screenplay. Not only is it fun, it is wicked fun. I truly found it to be some of the most enjoyable writing I've ever done.
Here are two books that you might find helpful.
1. From the moment you start you must know your main character.
2. You must know the premise of your story and tell it in 1-2 sentences.
3. You must have a good grasp of the action line for your story.
4. A screenplay has a structure. Acts I, II, and III. In between are the scenes that build momentum for each act as the story moves toward the resolution.
5. Anchor the viewer quickly, bring on the protagonist and let us know their goal by page 3.
6. Don’t let the viewer have to guess about setting/location/time.
7. By page ten THE INCIDENT will have occurred. The incident that spurs your protagonist on to whatever the adventure is.
8. Around page 15 we should have an idea as to who the antagonist is.
9. By the end of the first act you will have established the event/s that will set up Act II.
10. As Act II begins your protagonist will be up to their eyeballs in alligators and not only has the situation changed, so has the challenge.
11. By page 45 your protagonist will have been sorely tested. We will have seen her strengths and weaknesses revealed.
12. You’ve reached the midpoint, page 60. How is your character feeling? Confident or downtrodden? What will you do in your story to keep things moving forward?
13. Nearing the end of Act II your character hits bottom. All is lost. Your character has got to find the resources and resolve to keep going.
14. What will you do at the end of Act II to set up Act III?
15. Ahhh, page 90. The beginning of your final act, Act III. This is it. You’ve made things very difficult for your protagonist. Now you’ve got to show how you prepared them to take this final challenge.
16. Page 115 and you’ve reached the summit, here is the climax. This is where the protagonist defeats the antagonist. This is where all you put into building your character will shine through.
17. The resolution. All calms down. Your main character has changed. The problem solved. All the hints that you gave throughout have been harvested and everyone is satisfied.
18. As you write your dialogue remember that it serves several purposes.
a. It helps reveal your protagonist. Perhaps they have a stammer when they get nervous, or they repeat words. It can help show a sense of humor which makes a character more likable.
b. It helps to define the plot.
c. Good dialogue will work to build tension, as well as relieve tension.
19. Remember to take advantage of subtext. Let your action line interweave with a background story, this will broaden your protagonist and help the audience understand your character’s dilemma. If we know the main character was abandoned as a child we will feel more sympathy for her when her boyfriend betrays her and dumps her for another woman.