Recently, I’ve been looking back through my old blog entries, and I was reminded of how many were about scriptwriting. It got me thinking again about how many books and articles there are, each one claiming to have the perfect formula to writing great scripts, and then selling those scripts. My blog entries are clearly just a tiny drop in the very large ocean of opinions on the subject.
It can actually be quite daunting, starting out as screenwriter (or a writer/director) and seeing all of this advice on the how’s and how-not-to-do’s of crafting a screenplay. What, if any, of it should an aspiring screenwriter take on board? Are there even any surefire ways to writing a sellable script? What about one that will be made into a box office dominating blockbuster?
The simplest answer is that it’s often hard to predict what will succeed in the film industry and what won’t. Many films have failed that looked on paper like they’d be huge box office successes. The filmmaking business is something of a lottery, so offering any kind of guaranteed strategies for success is at best naive and at worst irresponsible.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be open to advice however, no matter what stage we’re at in our filmmaking career. Everyone involved in the industry benefits from honing their craft, and listening to wise advice is part of how we grow as artists.
My hope with this article (and my blog as a whole) is to encourage people in similar situations, through advice that’s based on my own experiences.
At this point I should insert a disclaimer. I know that in writing this article, I’m joining (again) the cacophony of voices on the do’s and don’t’s of how to write a script.
However, what follows is a more of a practical guide to approaching screenwriting. You might find some of it works for you, and some of it doesn’t. That’s because every writer is different, and so what suits one might be a bad fit on another.
As always, I’d appreciate your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below this article.
Write something as often as you can. I know that life gets in the way, especially of best-laid plans. That’s even more of a reality when you’re having to fit your writing around another job. What I’ve found helpful is to set realistic, achievable goals. Try and write a bit each day. I’m currently re-writing one of my screenplays, and rather than trying to tackle large sections all at once, I’m focusing on a few scenes, or specific issues at a time. I try and think of it like this: even if I only write one scene today, at least it’s one more scene than I had yesterday.
Some writers prefer writing during the day, whilst others find they work better at night. Often you may have to organise your writing around other things, but make the most of the time that you have.
One area where I’m trying to improve is writing at regular times. For some, that would create too much pressure to come up with something good at the time. However, I think it’s important to try and set up some kind of schedule, even if it’s pretty fluid. If we only write when we want to or feel inspired, then we probably wouldn’t write much at all.
Find your place. For some, this will mean locking yourself away in your office or bedroom. For others, they enjoy writing in a public place, like a coffee shop or a library. You could be either one of those, or, alternatively, you might like to mix it up.
Are you sitting comfortably? It might sound trivial, but if you’re going to be spending lots of time writing at your desk/table (or wherever you choose) you need to be comfortable. Aside from it being a hindrance to your writing, it could damage you physically if you’re not seated correctly.
Take regular breaks. Opinions may vary as to the length of time, but make sure you take a break to rest your eyes. Yes, your writing is important, but your health is even more so. So try and schedule a break every now and then.
Invest in some screenwriting software. This doesn’t have to be expensive, as there are free options out there, such as Celtx. This is the software I use, so I can say that even a free to download option gives you more than enough to compose a script. It will make your work look professional, and they’re available for both PC and Mac computers.
Speaking of which, desktop or laptop? I write my scripts using my desktop Mac, but a laptop (or Macbook) will give you the advantage of being able to work on your script away from your desk. What option you choose may depend on budget or personal taste.
The sound of music, or the sound of silence? Again, this will be a matter of personal choice. Some people will find that listening to music while writing is distracting. Others find that some subtle background music helps, especially if it fits in tonally with whatever they’re writing. Ultimately, you should do what helps you write to the best of your ability.
Finally, do something with it. Setting deadlines are useful motivation for the actual writing stage, but it’s just as important to set a target for what you’re going to do with your script when you’ve got a finished draft that you’re happy with.
Are you going to submit it somewhere, perhaps to something like the BBC’s The Script Room, or a screenwriting competition? Or maybe you’ve got friends who are involved in filmmaking, and you’re all going to produce it together?
The point is that a promising script that never even gets seen, never mind made, is a missed opportunity. So take the plunge and show your script to someone who you trust, and who can help move it one step closer to getting made.