Writing a screenplay is by no means an easy task. It can be challanging and overwhelming to say the least. To simplify the process, a screenwriter will take several steps and follow certain formulas to achieve his/her goal.
The script has eight main elements, all of which are key to an effective screenplay.
PLOT – The events and action
CONFLICT – The struggles and obstacles
CHARACTERS – The inhabitants of your story
SETTING – The world of the story; time/place
STRUCTURE – The combination of all the elements
THEME – The controlling idea
MOOD/ATMOSPHERE – The tone or feel
POINT OF VIEW – The character we mainly view the “movie world” from.
Two questions you should always be asking yourself when writing a script are
1) What am I seeing?
2) What am I hearing?
And always keep in mind that actions illuminates character and character determines action.
Start with your IDEA
Write your CONCEPT or LOG LINE – This is your idea in two or three short lines. (25 words or less)
Write your OUTLINE – This should give us a general concept of your story. Don’t be too specific though. (2-3 pages)
Next, your TREATMENT – This is where you want to give all the ideas and concepts of your story. All elements and details are disclosed in your treatment. (10-30 pages)
STEPSHEET – This is a scene by scene work through of your script – who’s making what happens, connections, tie-ins. Who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Another very helpful tool is the CHARACTER PROFILE
Detailing each characters traits, relevant past, present and future.
Today in Hollywood and abroad, the industry standard format for scripts is the three act structure. This was created by Aristotle for Greek theatre.
ACT 1 – In act 1 you want to establish all your characters, place, time, situations, involvements. Everything that the audience will need to follow the rest of the film. The main character takes on a problem or faces a problem of some sort about half way through this act. This is called the inciting incident. (25%)
ACT 2 – In act 2 you should be building all that has been established. Relationships, happenings and the problems your character faces. The complication should progress and by the end of act 2 your main character should seem defeated by the problem. Or if the end result is not positive then the character should seem to have defeated the problems(s). (50%)
ACT 3 – This is where you want to resolve all that has been established and built. All loose ends are tied in this act up to and including the final push to the climax. Especially the character defeating or being defeated. (25%)
An interesting way of looking at it is
Put your character in a tree
Throw rocks at him
Then let him down
You will inevitably face obstacles can at times seem overwhelming – perfection, paralysis and procrastination.
Counteract with these three p’s: Patience – Progress – Passion
Keep at it. The only way to get better is to write. It doesn’t matter what it is about, just write. And remember, TELL A GOOD STORY!