All right – so you have this awesome idea for your next story and you’ve decided that writing it in a short story or a novel isn’t quite right. You want to make it into a movie. Where do you start?
I really think that one of the best places to start when trying to write your first screenplay is understanding the 3 act structure that most movies are written in. This structure is pretty simple and straightforward.
There’s a beginning, there’s a middle and there’s an end, and we split that up into 3 acts. What most people don’t realise is that the way that it’s split up is not quite even.
Act one is 25% of your screenplay, act 3 the end of your movie is 25% of your screenplay, and then that middle chunk, act 2, is actually 50% of your screenplay, with that act 2 being split up into two parts.
Acts 2a and 2b each composing half of your screenplay, so 25%. One of the most important things that a writer can do is outline before they dive into trying to tell their story. There are a couple of common ways to outline for a screenplay that aren’t necessarily so common in the novel writing world.
Screenwriting Basics & Basic Screenplay Outline
Video Transcript (Cont’d) …
One of the most popular is using note cards. Go pick up index cards from the store – I probably have a million line around here. I use to them in one of my videos about web development because I always have them lying around …
Each note card is a scene. You write down the same title and what happens during it, and you put it on a table or on a board and it’s like a big kind of storyboard for you, for your writing. So you have X number of scenes in act 1, X number of scenes in act 3, and then X number of scenes in act 2a and 2b.
In that way you know that your screenplay is weighted the proper amount. You have the right amount of scenes and you’re beginning your middle and your end to make sure that everything will be smooth. You follow that structure that most people are looking for when they’re looking into movies.
All right so the next thing that we should probably learn when it comes to screenplays is outlining how lining is an important part about any writing process, just as much as editing can save you a ton of headaches when you’re trying to write your story.
This is a really common way to outline when it comes to screenplays that works for some and doesn’t work for others. It’s not exactly my favorite way to outline but it is something that a lot of people use.
Basically, what it is, you get a bunch of note cards and you write down the scenes on the note card. Each note card represents one scene in your movie, so every time a camera cuts like you’re looking at somebody interior bar scene and two people are talking, once we leave that bar that’s a new scene so that would be a new card.
And what you want to do is, you want to write on each card where they are, what’s gonna happen and like what characters are there and you lay those out. You lay them on a table or you put them up on a cork board – you have your roadmap right there.
It’s really easy to tell like if you have 30 cards in Act one section and ten cards and Act three sections something’s wrong there because more so than novels, screenplays are very heavily reliant on structure.
The industry enjoys understanding that act 1 and act 3 are this length, and act 2 is this length and it all kind of flows together. That’s something that you kind of have to wrap your head around and accept that when you’re first trying to do this it’s a lot better to kind of work within the confines of what Hollywood wants.
Then you can break rules later as you get more experienced. All right, so another big thing to think about when it comes to screenwriting … is formatting and formatting is a huge deal in Hollywood. Studios have different ways they enjoy like for their particular screenplays to be formatted.
As a writer who doesn’t have a deal with a studio, you need to use industry standard formatting and the easiest by far way to do this if you ever want somebody to read it and not laugh you out of the room, is to use a screenwriting software that is trusted and worth the money you pay for it.
The two that I’ve used in the past are Final Draft, which is my personal favorite, not because I know that it’s better than every other screenwriting software out there, but because know that it’s the one that I know the best. It’s kind of the industry standard, like Microsoft, where it is the standard for word processing
Then Celtx, which is actually a free online tool that you can use. If you have access to the Internet, you can use it and it’s free and pretty a pretty good formatting tool and screenwriting tool, if you don’t want to drop a hundred bucks on Final Draft.
There are others out there if you have Scrivener, Scrivener has a movie or screenplay feature on it. I don’t know how good it is but it is also an option out there. If you’re one of those creative people that likes to write in different fonts when you’re writing, don’t do it with a screenplay because like I said, the industry is rigid.
There is no exception to the rule that all screenplays are written in courier font and 12-point, so if you want to break from that go ahead, but like I said that nobody’s going to take you seriously if you do.
Alright so we have our 20-second overview of structure. We have our 20-second overview of formatting. You’ve played around with a screenwriting software and you’ve set your text to carrier 12-point. Now you want to dive in and write this screenplay and write your next blockbuster Hollywood movie.
Right. Well, what I would suggest your next step is, once you get all of those things under your belt, is to take a minute and pick up a couple of screenplays. The best way to familiarize yourself with any kind of new concept or new formatting is to pick up a screenplay and see how it’s done.
The best way to do this is, there are free online resources. The Blacklist puts out a list of screenplays for free download every year and then also the IMDB. Oh acronyms are hard. It’s the international movie script database, which puts out free screenplays.
You can go to their website and look at them there and I suggest you to just read a couple. All right. You’ve looked over a couple of screenplays online and you’re ready to dive in for your very first screenwriting experience.
What should you do to make it so that you don’t look like the biggest noob in entire history of the world? At its most basic a screenplay as three things.
- One – it’s slugs which tell the director or whoever is reading your screenplay where and what time-ish your scene is happening
- Two – action
- Three – dialogue
Those are the three things that you need to understand how to write in a screenplay. Let’s come at the very beginning. They tell you whether you’re inside or outside, so interior or exterior. They have the name of the area which they are – Erin’s bedroom – and then they say whether it’s daytime or night-time – day or night.
It’s that simple but before every scene that you write, if you’re switching locations or if it’s switching times, or if you’re switching from indoors to outdoors you need to add a slug in there to let the people know.
Dialogue is one of the hardest things to master, whether you’re writing screenplays or novels but it’s something that screenplays rely on heavily. It’s a visual format and we have to use words to get parts of our story across. Into shared motivation of our characters, dialogue is written in a screenplay.
It’s formatted towards the center. Character name is in the middle and always capitalized. Dialogue is one of the hardest things to master and it is very important to a screenplay. It needs to be compact and full of information and full of irony and full of drama and it’s one of those things where. if you can nail, it you can really have a career in this industry.
Aaron Sorkin is a master of dialogue. If you ever want to read somebody who just has it down, take a look at one of his screenplays. Last but not least, there’s the action part of the screenplay. This is what is actually happening on the screen in between when characters are talking.
This may be the hardest thing for people to come into a screenplay writing, especially if you’re coming from like a novel background. The concept, when it comes to writing action, is that it needs to be as short as it possibly can be and it needs to only contain elements that are going to be seen upon the screen.
Things that you don’t want to say when you’re writing action in a screenplay are that Aaron looks upset, or Aaron is happy. These are things that you can’t really show with a camera. You need to talk about actions of the characters that show that they’re happy – Aaron is laughing and holding his belly and slapping his leg. Aaron is in a corner, head in between his legds, to show that he’s sad.
It’s something that is hard to pick up on at first but you have to make sure that it’s something that you do. You don’t want to be writing a novel in between lines of dialogue. The point of a screenplay is for it to be short and concise and have lots of white space sao it flows – you’re just supposed to be able to rip through the pages.
It’s not supposed to be a dense read. You’re not trying to be the next Charles Dickens. This is something that you’re getting to the point and you’re getting there really quickly, visually, to make sure that this movie is going to be packed full of awesomeness.
This concept of having a lot of white space on the page and making sure your dialogue is centered and making sure that your action scenes are written relatively shortly is something that all helps with the next concept, which is page count.
The theory is in screenwriting that one page equals one minute of screen time, so if you have a 120 page screenplay you have a two hour movie in your hand. That is the theory and that’s why the formatting is the way it is.
It’s a another good concept to remember when you’re writing. If you’re starting to write and you’re only halfway through your movie and you’re at page 100, then you’re looking at a three and a half four hour long movie, which isn’t something that ever gets made.
We have to remember to be short and concise and only give the reader and the director the information that they need to create what they need to create on the screen. I think that it takes a very specific kind of writer to enjoy screenwriting.
I can maybe feel some people out – they’re thinking about how ‘well, when I write I like to go into great detail about everything and I like to describe the inner workings of my characters brain and all of these things and I don’t feel like I’m gonna be able to get that across in my screenplay’.
The short answer is you probably won’t. That’s not your job as the writer. See, in screenwriting the story is the king. It’s about the plot and that’s almost all you’re here for. You’re here to tell the story from point A to point B to Point C and resolve it.
The inner workings of your characters brains are going to be put on display by your dialogue to some degree and also the way that the actors take that character and run with it. Every little kind of detail and facet of the world that you’re creating isn’t your job to show when you’re writing a screenplay.
It’s the director’s job to film, because nobody’s gonna read the words on the page to hear about how the moss grew on the trees where your love scene happens or something like that. It’s the director’s job to show what is important to the viewer.
As a medium, screenwriting is a lot more of a collaborative effort than what a novel is. A novel you write, it’s your baby and you have an editor who tells you and gives you suggestions but it’s you and you get to create that world in its entirety.
As a screenwriter, you get to write a story and then that story gets plopped into a world that has a million different moving parts and a million different people thinking about it on a day-in and day-out basis.
I think that’s a beautiful thing and it can be scary to let your baby out into the world and not know exactly where it’s gonna go, but if the next story that you have is an idea that would be good on the screen, think about writing it as a screenplay.
Alright guys, so that’s all I have for today. If you enjoyed this screenwriting video, please hit that thumbs up – that’d be super awesome. If you want to keep following along in my journey as a writer or as a developer or any of these things, hit that subscribe button down below.
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Is it something that you want more information on? And if there’s any kind of video that she’d like me to film about screenwriting in the future leave it down below as wel.l I’d be super happy to do that. Alright guys, I appreciate you for joining me today. As always, take care, keep writing and I will see you guys again soon. Bye.