The sheer number of scripts Hollywood executives see each year makes the competition pretty stiff. Of the tens of thousands of scripts registered with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), only a few hundred get picked up by Hollywood. Thankfully, there are many ways to get started in scriptwriting and to hone the craft to a refined edge. Writing a script for a movie can be a worthwhile goal, but the task is often daunting. A good script only comes together after a painstaking process that can take a very long time. Often, the final product is the result of innumerable drafts and revisions, but that is only the beginning.
No one writes a script for fun, and the aim is to sell it to a studio or producer. Unless you want to produce and finance the project, you need to get people on board with your idea. You may have agents, studios, and producers in the mix when you consider selling it.
Get Educated, Get Inspired
Before you start spilling ideas onto an empty page, know that many people have already done what you are trying to do and have written entire books about it. There are several books about how to get started in scriptwriting, coming up with ideas, how to get inspired, how to structure a script, etc. Consider reading up on the craft before just diving in. Here are some books to help you start:
- The Nutshell Technique by Jill Chamberlain
- Story by Robert McKee
- Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
- From Script to Screen by Linda Seger
- The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
- The TV Writer’s Workbook by Ellen Sandler
- The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra
- Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
- Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hauge
- Your Screenplay Sucks! By Willaim M. Akers
Studying scriptwriting does not have to be entirely academic, either. Go through a list of your favorite movies, TV shows, and novels to see how they are structured. You can get a feel for how a script came to life by simply watching something you enjoy and analyzing it a little deeper.
Generating Ideas and Loglines to Get Started in Scriptwriting
The next step is to start coming up with ideas. Not all of these ideas will evolve into a script or may only be expanded on slightly, but it is essential to have a running list of ideas to which you can always add. Current events, history, your own life, the life of a celebrity, lines from a song, or the public domain are all excellent places to start. Try to write down ideas as they come to you before you worry about expanding any particular one.
Once you have some ideas down, it is time to create loglines. A logline is a story broken down into a single sentence or phrase and is one of the essential aspects of scriptwriting. It should describe the protagonist, the goal, the antagonist, the conflict, and any potential obstacles in the story. Iconic examples, such as the first lines from the opening crawl of Star Wars, are easy examples of what a logline can look like.
Ideally, you never want to have just one logline. Come up with five to ten ideas to turn into loglines and test them out. Ask your agent, friends, or even strangers what they think of a logline and whether or not they would see a movie based on it. Seek out voices from inside and outside the industry to get holistic feedback about your lines.
Making a Story Treatment, Fleshing out Characters, and Creating a Plot
The treatment is another critical part of developing and selling a script. It includes a logline, the title, a 2-5 page synopsis, and the central characters. Treatments should give the highlights of the story and the characters. It should also give a sense of style, lay out the genre, and give the readers an idea of how the story pans out.
Often, the treatment is used for marketing and feedback. Many producers and studios will also read a treatment to see if it is worth investing in. From a structural point of view, the treatment also helps you as the scriptwriter. You can see the whole story and how the characters move through each part. The overview can give you an idea of what to change or where to add more details as the whole script starts coming together.
The characters of the story need to be exciting and empathetic. The audience needs to relate to the protagonist and understand their goals. The antagonist should have their reasons, which must be understandable to the audience. Some characters need to be likable but not alienate the audience.
The script’s plot should be laid out at this point, but structuring it still takes work. Making a beat sheet is a great way to keep all the moving parts in order when crafting a plot. This describes the smaller events that link to bigger ones to create the plot. You can use note cards, a flowchart, or a spreadsheet to organize these events and ensure they flow well into each other.
Get Started in Scriptwriting With Your First Draft
After completing all the other steps, it is time to write the first draft. The draft should be anywhere from 90-120 pages written in 12-point Courier font. There are no set rules for this part other than formatting guidelines based on the type of script you are writing. Producers get dozens of scripts daily and only read the first ten pages unless the script hooks them. Make sure the first ten pages are strong; then, it is all about keeping yourself honest and writing a set number of pages daily or weekly.
Once your first draft is done, take a break. Let the script rest for a few weeks to clear your head. When you come back to it, you will have a fresh set of eyes to look over it and can then start revising and rewriting it. During this stage, you must share your script with others so that you can get a variety of perspectives. Others might catch what you have missed. Once you have rewritten the script a few times, made the necessary edits, and formatted it correctly, you have reached the finish line. Your script is ready to be sent out into the world.