How to write a screenplay?

Chris W

As You Wish
Staff member
Screenwriters - When you start a screenplay do you have it all mapped out in your head before hand? Or do you just go to town and start writing without knowing where it is going yet? I believe that's how Stephen King writes his books.
 

WriterK90

Active Member
Supporting Member
I have been forcing myself to outline before I begin writing. It's really hard though. I feel outlining is the hardest part because you have to make all of the decisions right away, even if you change them later. I can take a very long to make and commit to a decision. But once I outline, writing is much more fun.

Act 2 (or 3 if five act pilot) is the hardest to outline and write. I always know the beginning and end before the middle.
 

Septopus7

Moderator
Staff member
Supporting Member
I have been forcing myself to outline before I begin writing. It's really hard though. I feel outlining is the hardest part because you have to make all of the decisions right away, even if you change them later. I can take a very long to make and commit to a decision. But once I outline, writing is much more fun.

Act 2 (or 3 if five act pilot) is the hardest to outline and write. I always know the beginning and end before the middle.
Hard same with that last part. Beginnings and endings usually come to me pretty easily. It's the messy middle stuff that gets lost in the shuffle. Flowing from Point A to Point B is never easy, and you don't want to do it in a way that feels artificial or unnatural. But since what your doing by its very nature is artificially creating a beat to move the story forward, well...it's hard.

But yeah, I tend to write by the seat of my pants, most of the time. Doing a very rough outline (We're talking Act I, Act I, Act III) etc. sometimes helps if I absolutely don't know where I'm going and get blocked on the way there, but I tend to live my writing life like Michael Scott:

Michael Scott.gif
 

Chris W

As You Wish
Staff member
Outline is good. The screenplay I wrote in film school was awful because I never could figure out a good ending.
 

Cd23

Active Member
The way I learned to do it in screenwriting class and then kind of was forced into continuing was coming up with a logline, then I have to figure out a beat sheet, and then I write it. Of course with scenes or characters in mind already, but this is usually my process so far
 

AkilRashad

Member
I'll expand on a concept through free writing. I'll watch films and documentaries relating to that concept and take notes. I'll start coming up with characters, situations, back grounds, symbols. I may even start writing dialogue between two characters that I find interesting. If I feel like I have something then it's off to the races.

Also, I have tried the method of just straight up dumping out a story with no outline, but it has always eventually faltered for me--atleast in feature length screenplays. This is how PT Anderson (my favorite director) writes and I find it difficult to keep up with all of your work. On the screenplay I'm about to work on, I'm certainly going to try outlining.
 

addik

Member
Hi, @Chris W, thanks for tagging me on this thread!

I haven't done feature-length scripts (though I'm starting one soon... I hope), but one of the things I do is start with a concept and a character--something you can write down in a sentence, like "Addik, who hates math with a passion, falls in love with a quirky math teacher." Then, I write down a sample scene... It doesn't have to be on the final draft, or it might not even be a plot point (Sometimes, depending on the character, I write monologues)... But what it does it gets me into the headspace of that specific character (after some research done, of course). And from there, I can imagine the different situations that character has to go through to grow and to change (or to resist growing or changing).

It's time-consuming though, but it gives me a clearer idea of the story I want to tell, rather than just laying down beat sheets or plot points. (Not that I'm putting down anyone's style, but I tried that but it hasn't worked for me so far)
 

dsulli

New Member
To outline, or not to outline. There's the question.

The bulk of my work has been in novel writing, but the concept is the same. The tough thing is that there isn't really a right answer here. Everyone's process is different. I encourage people to do what works for them. For example, I have written all my novels by hand. There is something about the brain's connection to your hand's writing that I need to be creative. Typing doesn't do it for me; however, give me a pencil and composition book, and I'm on a roll. Stand back!

As unconfined as the above advice is, there's one lesson I have learned after getting 157,000 words under my belt. Make an outline, but never follow it.

OK, that sounds confusing. What? Make one but then don't use it? No. That's not really what I meant. My point is that the outline is only a framework, but it should never be the final product. Don't restrict yourself to it, or you'll box yourself in. Sure, it puts you on the path, but it isn't the thing that gets you to where you're going. If you get a script that matches your outline completely then you didn't let your characters take the story where it needed to go. Create dynamic, interesting, flawed characters. Now go put them in a pressure cooker (of sorts). Next step - make them get themselves out of it. This is key. Don't YOU get them out of trouble. THEY have to do it. That's when the characters start driving the story, and you get an ending that not only doesn't match your outline but is better than what you originally imagined.

Cheers!
 

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