Being the dream of plenty of film students, writers and even movie-enthusiasts, becoming a screenwriter can be one of the most competitive and frustrating journeys through the industry. Here are some tips aimed at those who are taking the first steps on this journey.
1. Read plenty of scripts
This should hopefully be obvious, but you can’t learn how to craft a successful screenplay just by yourself. You will need to read a lot of screenplays, from a lot of different screenwriters and across many different genres, from the classics to the latest hits, in order to get a full picture of the different techniques at your disposal, along with examples of good writing that works for the audience as well.
2. Write every day
Writing is not just a talent: it’s a discipline, and therefore it must be nurtured and trained daily. A lot of writers keep finding excuses not to write, and of course it can be a frustrating experience when you are not inspired, but by forcing yourself a little bit you will climb the learning curve much faster and soon, you’ll start enjoying it more as you fine-tune your own style and techniques.
3. Know thyself
Not everyone tells good jokes, some people are better at creating suspense and others excel in heart-breaking monologues about love. It’s good to try different genres, but you should use feedback to understand what you are good at, and then focus on doing that. It’s better to excel in a single genre than to be average in all of them.
4. Work on the story
Especially when you are starting working on something new, you probably have a very good premise in mind, and from that you automatically start picturing dialogues and scenes. However, it’s important to resist the temptation of just diving into the actual screenplay: focus on the story first, write a short synopsis, then a 10-pages short treatment. Make sure that your story is complete and make the necessary changes before you start working on complex tasks such as defining characters, as they will be harder to change if you realize too late that something is not working.
5. Finish the first draft
Francis Ford Coppola used to say that screenwriters should power through to the end of a first draft without worrying about making everything perfect. Take your time to revise your script – you will probably go through around thirty working versions of it before it’s good to be submitted. But once you have your first draft, from start to end, the whole process will be much less stressful: all your ideas will be laid out for you to rearrange, scrap or expand.
6. Have a point
Stories that really stick in the audience’s memory are the ones that take a stand on their themes, that communicate something and ultimately make a point on something that matters. This doesn’t mean that you should only write serious movies: even parodies and B-movies (if they are good) can have a fresh perspective on a comical or satirical theme.
7. Be patient
When you think you are done with your screenplay, think again. Is it the best it can be right now? Maybe. Just let it rest for a month and don’t think about it, then read it with a fresh mind and judge. More generally, be aware that it takes years and a lot of practice just to be a decent screenwriter, then a lot of other factors come into play. Mostly, though, it’s about talent and persistence, and since you don’t really have control over the first, focus on the latter. As frustrating as it might get, keep writing, keep looking for feedback and, only when you are 110% satisfied with it, send out your work and hope for the best.