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Script writing is at one time an art, science, and trade. It’s also not for everyone. Mastering it requires a significant amount of self-discipline and practice, and breaking into the film and television industry as a writer demands perseverance.
That being said, if you’re passionate about storytelling and dream of seeing your ideas come to life on the big (or small) screen, then pursuing a career as a screenwriter is well worth the effort.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide you with a deep dive into the essentials of script writing, from formatting and structure to crafting complex characters and compelling scenes.
The aim here is to provide you with real-world insights and practical tips that will actually help you succeed in the world of film and TV writing.
Let’s get started!
How to Write a Script
Script writing requires a unique combination of creativity, structure, and personal drive. And while there are many different kinds of screenplays, there are only a few foundational elements that every script needs: a strong story concept, engaging characters, and a clear plotline. Here are some simple steps you should follow to ensure that you nail these aspects of your next script.
- Develop your story idea: Start with ideation and brainstorming sessions. Work towards developing a compelling story concept that can be explained in two sentences or less.
- Create an outline: Before you actually sit down to write, make sure you create a detailed outline of your story. Highlight major plot points, character arcs, and scene descriptions.
- Write your script: Once you’ve finished your outline you can begin writing! Use your outline as a guide and begin writing your script scene by scene. If you get stuck, skip ahead in your story.
- Edit and revise: Once you’ve got a solid first draft, it’s time for you to edit and revise your script. We recommend reaching out to a friend, colleague, or professional script reader to go over your work and ensure that the dialogue, pacing, and overall story are engaging and well-crafted.
Understanding the Basics of Script Writing
Before you can master the art of screenwriting, you’re going to need a thorough understanding of the basics. This includes how to properly format and structure your scripts.
If you want your screenplay to stand out, submitting a well-formatted manuscript that adheres to industry standards is an absolute must. Here are some essential formatting elements you must include in your script:
- Pick a standard font, such as Arial or Typewriter and make sure it is a 12-point size
- For page layout, maintain 1-inch margins on all sides of the page
- Separate your scenes with sluglines, which denote three things: whether the scene is taking place inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.), the location of the scene, and the time of day that scene is taking place.
- Write all dialogue in standardized centred columns and ensure character names are written in all caps.
- Use parentheticals (i.e. brackets) to indicate specific actions or emotions.
Of course, while you have the option to manually format your screenplays using the guidelines above, we recommend utilizing a screenwriting software program such as Final Draft or Celtx as these programs will handle all of the formatting for you.
Not sure where to start with screenwriting software? Check out our blog The 5 Best Software Programs for Screenwriters. Or watch the video below!
The structure of your screenplay is vital for maintaining a coherent and captivating narrative. In most cases, your script will follow a three-act structure, which consists of the following:
- Act One: Set-up – Introduce your protagonist, establish the setting, and present your story’s central conflict. Act one is all about setting the stage for the viewer.
- Act Two: Confrontation – Have your characters face challenges and conflict. During act two, you want to raise the “stakes” of your story and allow the plot to gain greater complexity.
- Act Three: Resolution – Resolve your story’s central conflict via a climatic confrontation of some kind. Following this climax, be sure to tie up any loose ends and provide closure for the viewer.
Expanding Your Script Writing
Once you’ve got the format and structure nailed down, it’s time to expand the depth of your script by focusing on a few foundational elements, including story arc, dialogue, character development, and your story’s visuals.
Constructing Story Arcs and Plot Points
Every great screenplay contains a carefully-constructed story arc – the overarching narrative structure that guides your story’s characters and plots through a chain of events. To create a strong story arc, we recommend you start by focusing on the following:
- Establish the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
- Develop specific plot points that work to propel the story forward. If a plot point does not carry the story forward or “raise the stakes,” consider cutting it
- Ensure that each scene can be tied back to the narrative’s central conflict
Identifying and Crafting Dialogue that Resonates
Compelling dialogue is crucial for creating believable characters. It’s also one of the toughest parts of screenwriting. To write dialogue that resonates with your audience, consider implementing these tips:
- Develop unique and organic voices for each of your characters. Ensure that their speaking styles match their personalities.
- Use nuance and subtext to reveal your character’s emotions and motivations; avoid exposition.
- Keep dialogue concise and conversational and always consider how it ties back to the narrative’s central conflict
- Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin argues that dialogue and music follow the same rules. So be sure to consider the rhythm and flow of your dialogue.
Crafting Memorable Characters with Character Development
The creation of memorable, multifaceted characters is key to the success of your script. Here are some tips you should consider when crafting your screenplay’s characters.
- Develop a clear arc for all of your main characters. Make sure that their arcs highlight how your characters evolve and transform as they navigate a story’s conflict.
- Bring your characters to life by giving them distinct qualities and idiosyncrasies.
- Infuse each of your characters with specific motivations and goals.
- For added context, write detailed backstories for your main characters
Creating Powerful Scenes with Visual Components
The art of screenwriting lies in its uniqueness as a form of writing tailored for a visual medium. Unlike other forms of writing, screenwriters need to think and write in highly visual terms; they must consider how their words will translate to images, movements, and expressions on screen.
Consider the following strategies when trying to construct a visually compelling scene for your script.
- Employ vivid, descriptive language to create a clear mental image of each setting and action in your script. Use descriptions that can be easily grasped and brought to life by a film or show’s director.
- Focus on finding ways to convey and evoke emotion visually, rather than telling readers directly.
- To keep audiences engaged, be sure to incorporate dynamic action and movement where possible.
- Implement visual motifs and symbolism to fortify the themes and ideas of your story
Improve Your Script Writing Skills Today!
In conclusion, breaking into the film and television industry as a screenwriter is a challenging but worthwhile endeavour. And it’s going to be a lot easier now that you’ve gone over the A to Z of script writing as you’ll be equipped with the foundational knowledge required to further build and refine your screenwriting skills.
That being said, if you’re serious about launching a career as a screenwriter, we recommend you consider taking a screenwriting-specific course, such as Writing for Film & TV Diploma and Writing for Film & TV Associate Diploma (offered online) at Toronto Film School.
These specialized programs have been designed to align with the real-world needs of the film and television industry while offering students the chance to build their networks, learn from industry professionals, and fine-tune their writing skills.
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