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Before You Start Writing Your Script:

December 14, 2015

Before you type that first bit of dialogue. Before you type the words FADE IN. Before you even open Final Draft, there is much work to be done. Some new writers start their scripts before they even know the protagonist’s name. Some experienced writers may do this as well, but I’m going to give you 5 things to do before you start your script that will save you lots of time and several rewrites.

First: Know your characters! Especially your hero! Take some time to figure out what makes your characters tick. I know some writers will develop an entire backstory for their characters, most of which they never use, but it helps them know how their characters will react in any given situation. I’m not saying you have to write pages and pages of backstory on each character, but a few paragraphs, maybe even a page or two, will give you great insight into their souls. It will help your scenes unfold more fluidly and hopefully keep you from getting stuck.

Second: Know your story! Especially your setting! Take the time to research your settings. Take the time to research everything about your story. Even if you are familiar with the time, the area, the objects and tools, do a little research. It won’t hurt if you have extra information, the more information the better. You don’t have to use it all, but just knowing it will help your scenes unfold more fluidly. Are you noticing a theme here?

Third: Write an outline! There are several ways to write outlines. Some choose to write bullet points. Some use the standard outline we learned in school using letters and numbers to denote importance and sub-scenes. I prefer to write my outlines in paragraph form. I write a paragraph or two for each scene. I explain briefly what happens in the scenes, but I don’t use dialogue in my outlines unless it’s vitally important to the scene. Writing an outline will help your scenes unfold more fluidly. There’s that sentence again.

Fourth: Rewrite your outline! Read through the first draft of your outline. Inevitably you’ll find things that you want to change. One scene may work better later in your script than it does where you currently have it. Some scenes may not work at all. A good way to tell is to ask yourself, “How does this scene move my story forward? Will my story lose anything if this scene is removed?” This will save you the torment of having to cut a scene that you’ve become particularly attached to but does nothing to advance the story. And it will help your scenes unfold more fluidly. When your scenes unfold more fluidly in your script, that means less rewrites.

Fifth: Write a logline! It’s much easier to write this before you’ve written your script than it is to write it after. You should be able to sum up your entire premise in just one sentence… often times it’s a run-on sentence, but try to keep it to one. In rare cases you may need two sentences, but if you can put it all in one sentence then do it. If you can’t sum up your story in a one or two sentence logline then you don’t have your premise fleshed out yet. If you don’t have a premise, you don’t have a story!

Let’s recap: (1) Dig into your characters, get inside their brains, learn their quirks. (2) Research the setting of your story, not just the location but the time and objects in your character’s surroundings. (3) Write an outline. (4) Rewrite your outline by determining what scenes work, what scenes don’t, and where in the story they fit best. (5) Write your logline! A little bit of work before you start your script can save you lots of time and finger tapping once you actually start writing your script! Until next week, happy writing!

  1. With my first screenplay, I dove right into writing the story in screenplay format without writing an outline or really thinking things through using the pointers you mentioned. I used Microsoft Word’s regular blank template, not the screenplay template. I revised it maybe 50 times. Plus, I wrote an English version and a Spanish version. Lessons learned. Now, I use the bullet point method when writing an outline. Color-coding it makes it helpful as well. (I still write the outlines and treatments in Word since I don’t have Final Draft or Story yet.)


  2. Reblogged this on Zanna Shirmana and commented:
    Some good pointers for any screenplay writers out there.


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  1. Before You Start Writing Your Script: | Pen of Paul – Storyteller

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