Being a screenwriter is often a tough and thankless task. However it’s one of the staple roles in the film industry, so we thought we’d bring you some top screenwriting tips to become an expert screenwriter.
It’s said that the screenwriter is one of the least powerful people involved in a project – even though they’re the ones who, ultimately, bring the story to life on a blank page.
Like every other creative job, it takes time, effort, and experience to hone your craft and transform yourself into a good screenwriter with a unique voice. Read on to find out our top screenwriting tips to help you improve your writing, get yourself noticed, and become a whizz screenwriter in no time.
Like art, how to write a script is an entirely subjective matter and every writer has a different methodology for doing it. Some plan meticulously, others dive in spontaneously – there’s no one fixed route.
The screenwriting tips listed below may not work for everyone, but they are generally considered in the industry to be the best things you can do to improve your screenplay and kick start your writing career.
1. Take a class
This is one of the first screenwriting tips you should consider. Quentin Tarantino once famously stated that he never bothered with traditional film school – the video store where he worked was his teacher and he learned how to make movies by watching other people’s films.
While this may have worked for him, it doesn’t work for everybody. No one, in the history of film or television, has ever sat down to write a script and churned out a masterpiece without hard graft and years of education behind them.
There are thousands of classes and courses you can take – whether that be via formal education like a university degree or an online crash course that aims to teach you the basics of the trade-in a shorter amount of time.
Not only does taking a class teach you about the fundamentals of writing for the screen and help you develop a writing process for the future, but it allows you to experiment and try new things without the possibility of professional failure.
2. Read scripts
Most film and television scripts are freely available to find online – whether that be through a service like The Script Lab or just uploaded as PDFs on various websites.
Create a list of your favourite films or TV shows and do some exploring on Google; you’re more than likely to find copies of the screenplays. Not only will this teach you about style and format, but you can learn how scenes are crafted and how much detail a screenwriter might put into the action that we, as an audience, never see.
This is especially important if you want to write for a specific genre – like sitcoms, soaps, or horror movies – because they all tend to follow a very rigid structure, which needs to be learned and understood before using.
READ MORE: How to become a successful screenwriter
3. Find the experts – read their books
Closely linked with tip number one, finding experts in screenwriting and reading their books can vastly improve the way that you write.
If you’re not so keen on taking a formal, sit down class. Reading these books can give you a real insight into the way screenwriting has worked for decades, with analysis of real films.
Some of the best and most widely used texts include Syd Field’s ‘Screenplay’, Robert McKee’s ‘Story’, Blake Snyder’s ‘Save The Cat’, and John Truby’s ‘The Anatomy of Story’.
Screenwriting is a detailed and vastly complex pursuit, but if you understand its fundamentals, you’ll understand how to create dynamic and exciting stories through your own scripts.
4. Watch, watch, watch
Perhaps one of the most entertaining screenwriting tips on this list – watch everything you can!
If you want to write sitcoms and other comedies, watch the most popular shows within the genre. Explore the deviations of the genre like mockumentaries and multi-camera comedies.
The same goes for any other genre. If you’re aware of what’s currently being made and written, you’ll understand how your own script will eventually fit into the genre.
IMDB and many pop culture websites have curated listicles and endless articles about the best films of all time, and they’re certainly worth checking out.
5. Invest in screenwriting software
You’re doing yourself no favours working on your screenplay in Microsoft Word. There is plenty of software out there for screenwriters on every budget and at every experience level.
Their biggest benefit? They automatically format everything for you, so you know you’re writing the way the industry expects of you.
READ MORE: The best screenwriting software to use
6. Show, don’t tell
Writing screenplays is vastly different from writing a novel or a stageplay. The key difference is that screenplays represent a visual medium and so must be written to reflect the visual nature of the piece.
‘Show, don’t tell’ is the gospel in the screenwriter community and essentially tells the writer to show us action, rather than telling us about it.
When you write a script, you should always be thinking about the visuals and how you can use that – instead of dialogue – to move your story forward and create something visually exciting for audiences to watch.
7. Cultivate a writing routine
Writing is hard. Even the best screenwriters get blocked and frustrated, wondering if they’ll ever churn out a great script again (they usually do).
Having a routine for writing will help you immensely. Whether you set aside some dedicated time every day to work on your script or you set a word goal for yourself, creating a routine can get you into the practice of writing every single day.
The more you write, the more you will improve as a screenwriter. Screenwriting, like any kind of creative pursuit, requires discipline, training and hard work. The sooner you integrate into your daily life, the sooner you’ll find yourself succeeding.
8. Find your community
We often consider writing to a wholly isolated profession. It’s just one person, sat with a laptop or a pen and paper, conjuring words out of their heads.
But finding a community of like-minded people can not only help you socialise and network with other writers, it can also provide a sounding board for ideas and willing participants to give you feedback.
Every writer improves with notes and feedback, so having people around you will give you that all-important input from others. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are bursting with screenwriting groups – you might even find some in your local area.
9. Don’t be afraid to be terrible
Everybody starts from square one. Writing scripts is like no other creative work – and no one is ever brilliant straight away. Allow yourself to be terrible. Allow yourself to write the awful first draft that makes you cringe or word vomit out a scene that’s too long and too expositional.
Your unique voice is what will make you stand out from hundreds of other writers – and with time and dedication, you can cultivate it into something spectacular. No one – not even Academy Award winners or legendary screenwriters – was amazing at the beginning. You just have to take the first step.
As the old saying goes: ‘You can’t edit a blank page.’
We hope this article helped you, check out more of our screenwriting articles below: