Films are a visual media that we cannot get enough entertainment from. The art of film-making, however, starts with a great story and an excellent script. Steven Spielberg once said that it’s impossible to please an audience if you are only giving them effects; you need to provide them with substance.
The substance here refers to a flawlessly written script/screenplay.
So what do you need to start writing the best script? The best screenwriting software?
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Or the best workstation? While all of these are important, you cannot merely own the tools and expect results.
Owning a wood-cutter does not make you a carpenter; knowing how to use it will make you one. Here are a few simple tips you can follow to get the ball rolling with screenwriting.
1. Understand your Protagonist First.
The most crucial mistake many new writers make is not having well-rounded characters. This action means you need to know your character first; before putting them in an extraordinary situation. Your character bible is more crucial than jumping right into the script.
Not having a well-established character could lead to confusion half-way into the story. If you have not established every trait of your protagonist, throughout the story, these traits could contract themself. This error is the most straightforward way to create plot-holes.
If your protagonist has a limp, you should know the why, what, when, and how of each detail before you place them in a story.
2. Keep Your Characters Authentic.
Unoriginal characters are a definite way to tune people out of the story. When you think of people for your film, make sure they are one-of-a-kind and add value to your narrative. Films are characters first, anecdotes later.
Draw inspiration from people around you and create a character that is an amalgamation of more than one person. This way, your heroes will always be unique and provide a fresh spin to the story.
The character’s journey is innately storytelling, and without original leads, you cannot have an original story.
3. Add Extra Plot Points.
Every scene does not need to be just the protagonist and the antagonist. Sure, they are the crux of the story, but they are not the only factors. Adding subplots and parallel stories are what makes them attractive.
Think of any iconic movies or even video-games; the final crescendo of the film is usually the interaction of these parallel running stories.
Even concerning the main character, add an inciting incident right at the start of the film. The resolution of this incident towards the end of the film is the simplest way to portray a character arch or personal transportation.
4. Don’t Get Wound Up in Semantics.
Yes, the screenplay is the gospel of the film, and it is the only text that encapsulates the whole movie in one place. This is why a set temple and specific formats are put in place to ensure uniformity. These are guidelines that help each person on the movie-set understand the film.
As much as this screenplay format and terminologies are essential, they do not define the film. A film stems from the story, not buried down by templates and keywords. Those are mechanical learning you will master with practice.
5. Narrow Down Your Theme
A movie that starts as horror cannot close as a comedy. Pick your theme and stick to it. This process is not just for the genre of the movie; all aspects of the film must be consistent.
This includes the style of dialog writing, the visualization of scenes, the characters’ moods, and the progression of a story. Owning a unique tone thought the script would make your move more fluid and easy to consume.
6. Embarrass the Three-Way-Triangle of Conflict.
Here is an excellent tool at your disposal that forms the biases of all storytelling. The three-way-triangle is a writing technique that established the relation between the protagonist, antagonist, and the stake character.
There has to be one common motive, storyline, or plot-conflict that connects all these three people. If the three characters are independent and indifferent to each other, it’s not a coherent story at all.
7. Read More, to Learn Descriptions
With time, you learn that writing a scene description is much harder than writing any other parts of the script. These are sections that describe the scene, the characters, or the setting.
Since cinema is about scripts and turning them into visual elements, descriptions are a crucial ingredient. Inaccurate descriptions-writing can be perceived by the reader (or directors, and set designers) differently, leading to an undesired end-product.
The best way to master description writing is to read many more screenplays. The professionals and the master of the art have found ways to explain scenes in as little as one line.
8. Bonus Tip: Replace Dialogue For Actions
Here is a fantastic editing tip for when you finish the first draft of your script. Revisit the story and identify the places in the film where speech can be replaced with actions. The number one rule of film-making is: “show-don’t-tell.”
The film is a visual media, which means the more you can replace talking into visual reactions, the faster and more intense your movie becomes. Here is an example to understand this art:
If your character were to say a line like “I’m scared of the dark,” it is very unflattering to the audience. The way to better this to a scene is by “showing it.” Write a shot where the lights go off, and the character reacts with a shiver.
Now you have accomplished the same results but with a better visualization.
While we did brush on some fascinating insights into film-writing, there is a lot more to learn and practice. These tips should help you get the ball rolling and writing your first script.
The best way to learn more — read more. Pickup a screenplay each day, like it were the newspaper and read it from end-to-end. You will learn more from reading films; than watching can teach you.