Screen writers develop original ideas for the screen or adapt previously written pieces of work as motion pictures. Adaptations may come from novels, stage plays, musicals and many other sources. Screen writers work in two ways: they can be commissioned to write a script or spec (a short form for “on speculation”), meaning that the screenwriter is hoping that someone will like the independently written script enough to buy the right to it and arrange for production. Once a screenplay has been purchased, the producer may decide to have it rewritten either by the original writer or by new writers.
The first step to writing a script is to create an outline, which is a one or two page description of the action or plot. This is followed by a treatment, which is a detailed description of the film, containing some passages of dialogue with all the scenes sketched out and the subplots developed. Then the writer begins the script itself, which fills in all the details. It set forth the time and place of the action, describes the character’s physical appearances, and suppliers all the action and dialogue. Scripts also indicate where cameras should be positioned, and what camera movements should occur while filming. Scripts indicate transition devices between scenes, like Dissolves (when one image gradually replaces another), Fade-ins (when an image gradually replaces the blank screen), Fade-outs (when a blank screen gradually replaces the image), and straight cuts from one scene to the next.
DON’T BREAK THE RULES
Before we go ahead, it is important to know that there are rules for good story and screenplay writing that should not be broken. That does not mean they can’t be broken. The problem usually come when you break a rule and you’re unaware you are breaking it. If you know the rules and chose to break one for a set of specific reasons- and you are alert to the problem caused by breaking the rule- then go ahead and give yourself permission to break it. Never break a rule out of ignorance.
The hardest thing for most writers to do is to WRITE. Many writers hate writing but love having written. The reason for this is that we often put the need on ourselves to be “brilliant”. You’ve set a standard for yourself “I have to be perfect”
Of course no one is perfect. We’re all flawed and deep down; even the most egotistical of us knows that we have big holes in our character we’re still working on. So if we’re not perfect, how on earth are we going to write perfectly? This dilemma is what causes writer’s block. We can’t get that first word on the page because we know, in our hearts, that it is being written by an imperfect being, and it most likely won’t be brilliant. So what happens? We shall. We PROCASTINATE. We don’t write. HOW do we solve this?
Give Yourself PERMISSION to be BAD
Every great writer who’s ever lived has, on one occasion or another, written garbage. It’s okay to write garbage. You’re a good critic, you’ll fix it later. Even Shakespeare wrote garbage. Every writer has bad days, or a day he or she isn’t connecting with the material. A day when, unknown to us, the story we are writing or the character we created has been improperly designed. When this happens, writing becomes a struggle. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your muse, or that you’re a creative burnout. It just means that you have a problem in your story structure or with character motivation. Something is dishonest that seemed okay when you set it up. Rewriting is part of the process. Most writers plot with their heads, and write with their hearts. Sometimes that causes unintended dishonesty. You start to push to make it happen. It feels forced… you freeze, and your creative fire starts to burn low, and the next thing you’d say “I’m out of here”.
Don’t go, stay right where you are. Start asking yourself a few questions. Put yourself in the place you’ve designed for your principal characters. Ask yourself “If this was really my problem, will I do what I’m saying the character is doing? Would I say what he or she is saying?” If the answer is “no”, start redesigning- get out of your head plotting demeanour and deal with your emotions.
One major reason why this happen is because we push story points around on our chessboard without regard to what the character would be thinking and feeling. This and many other factors that cause bad writing make us afraid of writing. Fear of failure provides lack of effort.
Trust me, it’s okay to write garbage. You can learn from bad writing. Don’t try to be brilliant, it’s a standard you most likely will never attain, and if you’re trying to be brilliant, the most common by-product isn’t brilliance, but pretentiousness.
Writing is not that hard, make up a good story, then let it flow. Leave the brilliant work to the dead. You have to make a place in your day for this activity or it will NEVER happen. The one great thing about acting is that you will always improve! With each new script, short story or novel, you’ll get slightly better. The ones you write next year will be better than the ones you wrote this year. Keep going and your talent will grow, but you have to make that happen.
STAGES OF WRITING
All writings, and in our context screen writing, involves three stages:
This is the first stage of screen writing in which the writer brainstorms on a particular idea he or she intends writing on, carry out research where necessary, then outline a draft of the story and plot it’s structure and subplots. He or she then writes a treatment for the story; a detailed description of the story, highlighting every major actions and scenes.
No one builds a house without first calculating the cost; failure to plan is planning to fail. The height of any building is determined by the depth of its foundation, likewise the price of every great screenplay was settled in the pre-writing stage. Until this stage is properly set up, don’t bother starting the screenplay.
Having designed a well structured draft of the story, the next stage is to proceed with the actual screenplay, where the screenwriter fleshes out every scene in the story, establishing every action and dialogue as well as other details in the story.
Apart from spelling and grammatical correction that may arise after the screenplay might have been written, leaving the script to lie bare for a couple of days or weeks could be the most profitable turnaround on your screenplay. Fresh and perhaps better ideas are bound to flow in when we write and allow the screenplay to lie fallow for a few days or weeks. Such fresh ideas could necessitate minor adjustments in the story line, or even a major structural adjustment. In any case, the need for rewriting arises.
CHOSING YOUR STORY
Sure you really want to enjoy writing a screenplay? Choose a story you absolutely love. Don’t write just for money. Choose your stories carefully because from now on you will be stuck with them. Don’t write something until you’ve thought it out and plotted it out completely, and then don’t stop until it’s done.
Some other RULES for choosing your story
1.Test the premise with some smart people you trust. Supportive intelligent feedback can be valuable.
2.The burden weighs upon the writer to provide for the audience, and not the other way around. Writers who scorn rather than respect their audience will never hit the long ball.
3.You must be worthy of their audience. Write something that merits their time and attention. Don’t be boring. Aim high; stretch yourself.
4.If you must write on a subject you are not too familiar with, then do a proper research on it, else you’ll be on an excursion trip to the island of frustration, because writing will definitely be a struggle and boring.
Now, you need to have this as a RULE: Never start writing anything that you don’t finish; never quit any screenplay halfway because it isn’t working. You get nothing from an unfinished project and you learn nothing. The day you chose to finish that horrible script is the day you start on your road to success.
DESIGNING THE CHARACTERS
Who are the people in your story going to be? Why do I care about them? Will any one else? What is the journey my hero/ heroine is on? What is his or her major flaw? These are just a few questions to ask before laying out a character arc. You want to have engaging characters that are not perfect. No body likes a perfect person.
A flaw in a character are always more interesting than the strengths. Characters on sometimes-painful journeys make for good dramatic writing. Chose them carefully and plan their trip.
Who Are The VILLAINS?
Make sure they are fully rounded. A good antagonist will help define the protagonist. If you are going to write him as the complex monster that he is, you must see inside that twisted logic. Show that he believed he was a hero, despite the fact that he was one of the most infamous villains’ mankind has ever seen. Finding the motivation for the villain is extremely important. Make him or her a believable character.
THE THREE ACT STRUCTURE
Screenplays are defined by a standard structure called the three act structure.
This is the opening part of the story called the SET UP. Here the writer introduces the audience into the story, where it is taking place, the key characters involved, and set up the PROBLEM in the story that the protagonist is trying to solve. For instance, Act One could introduce a woman running with a child in her arms, and being chased by some men. What’s going on? Who is she? Whose baby is it? Let’s go! Get the story started! Make it interesting.
By the end of Act One you should also have introduced the antagonist, and set up of all of the secondary character relationships.
This is the most important act in the drama because you have two most important structural moves in the story.
The complication usually comes at the top of Act Two. The problem that we already set up in Act One, now has to become much more dangerous and difficult. A good way to design the complication is to let it be a piece of back-story that has remained hidden until Act Two.
The baby in the woman’s hand is not hers as she originally thought when she left the hospital, but was accidentally switched in paediatrics by an Angel nurse, who is in reality the new Messiah. Now all evil forces on earth are trying to kill the new Christ child (much bigger problem)
The heroes must then try to solve this bigger, much complicated problem, while the adversaries makes move to defeat them. YOUR ADVERSARIES MUST BE IN MOTION. Adversaries should not be standing around, waiting to be caught.
Destruction of Hero’s PLAN
At the end of Act two is the second act curtain. This is the destruction of the hero’s plan. At the end of Act Two the protagonist should be almost destroyed, and at the lower point in the drama, either physically and/or emotionally. He (or she) is flat on his back, and it looks like there is no way he can succeed.
This is simply the RESOLUTION of the problem. From the rubble laying around him/her, the protagonist picks up a piece of string and follows it to the eventual conclusion of the story. Some stories have downbeat endings where the hero learns a lesion, but dies or is defeated.
It is always possible to alter the Three Act Structure, but remember if you break this plot rules, you should at least know why you are doing it.
You can see why Act Two is very important. It complicates the initial problem, and it defeats the protagonist at its end (the two major Act Two plot development).
If you have ever watched a movie, or read a book where it starts out great and then, after a third of the way through. becomes a “Hummer” where nothing new is happening and you’re starting to get bored, this almost always because there is no second act.
More DETAILS on the Three Act Structure, Story Plot and Subplot will be treated at SCRIPT to SCREEN.
See www.hdfilmacadeny.com/S2Sdetails for more info.
Although many writers utilize their own modifications on the standard screenplay format, there is a basis upon which all feature film screenplays are structured.
The standard screenplay format is devised for simplicity of reading by many different departments in addition to roughly timing out to one minute of screen time for one page of script.
Screenplays should be written in a twelve point font. Generally courier or courier new is used.
Margins are generally set as such (spaces are assuming 12 point font at 72 spaces per line)
Scene number (if used) is 1.25 inches from the left edge or 13 “spaces” in.
Scene Heading 1.75 inches from the left edge or 19 spaces .
Action is 1.75 inches from the left edge or 19 spaces in (cut off at 35 characters (including spaces) per line)
Dialogue is 2.75 inches from the left edge or 29 spaces in (cut off at 35 characters (including spaces) per line)
Character name is centred on the page (about 43 spaces in).
Parenthetical direction is 3,5 inches from the left or 36 spaces in (cut off at 16 characters (including spaces) per line).
ELEMENT OF SCREENPLAY
A scene heading always start with a distinction whether the location of the scene is indoor or outdoor. INT. Signifies an interior location, while EXT. signifies an exterior location. These are always abbreviated and followed by a period and one blank space ant then the name of the location where that scene take place. Scene headings, also called slugs, are placed for each and every location in the screenplay, including all the various elements of a location. For example INT. OLD HOUSE LIVING ROOM might be followed by INT. OLD HOUSE KITCHEN if the characters or action moves to the kitchen, It is not correct to have INT. OLD HOUSE and move characters from one room to the next within the same scene. Each room is treated as a separate location in the script because when the film is actually shot, these sequences will most likely be shot put of order (all scene in the kitchen will be shot together and all scenes in the living room will be shot together, possibly on different days) and, possibly, in completely different physical locations (the kitchen may be a practical location in an old house, the living room might be built on a sound stage). Some writers like to put a hyphen between the main location and the sub location, i.e INT. OLD HOUSE-LIVING ROOM and INT. OLD HOUSE-KITCHEN, but this is not required.
Following the location name is one or two hyphens (depending on the writer’s taste) and the time of day the scene takes place; DAY, NIGHT, DAWN, DUSK, EVENING, or MOMENTS, LATER, CONTINUOUS (if the scene is immediately after the following, as in the characters walking from the living room to the kitchen in one conversation). After the scene heading, there are two carriage returns (one blank space) and the ACTION begins. Scene headings are always in all capital letters. E.g INT. OLD HOUSE KITCHEN-DAY
Action is the description of what is happening in the scene, IE; mark walks into the living room from the kitchen and picks up his book. Action is always written in present tense (mark walks, not mark walked). Action is in non-indented paragraph/prose form and s the longest element on the page (spanning from the far left to the far right hand margins of the page). It is generally accepted that actions should not be longer that ten lines without a break. Action also describes the locations as much as necessary. Action is always in the traditional English upper/lowercase. There are two line breaks between the end of action and the name of a character speaking (one blank line between action and character name) or the beginning of a new scene (one blank line between the end of action and the scene heading for the next scene).
When dialogue is spoken, it is preceded by the name of the character speaking the dialogue. The character name is placed on its own line, and centred on the page. It is always in capital letters. There are some modifiers that can be placed after the character name in parenthesis (separated by a single space). Voice Over (V.O) IE: JOHN (V.O) is dialogue that is presented on the film’s audio track, but is not spoken by the character on screen. Voice over can be a voice on a telephone or the sound of the character’s own thoughts. Off Screen (O.S) I.E: JOHN (O.S) is dialogue that is spoken by a character in or immediately near the physical location of the scene, but who is not visible on the screen in that shot or scene. This could be a character speaking from another room. There is only one line break after the character name before dialogue (no blank space) Character names are always in caps.
Dialogue is the actual spoken words by the character. It is place immediately under the centred character’s name, and indented considerably from the left hand side and slightly from the right to stand out on the page. Dialogue is presented in standard upper/lowercase text (ALL CAPS can signify extreme, emphasis or SHOUTING). Underline and italics can be used for emphasis, but should be used sparingly.
This is very brief (usually one or two words) of direction or clarification that is placed within a character’s spoken dialogue. It is placed, indented from the dialogue on a separate line and enclosed in parenthesis. Parenthetical direction is only specific to the speaking character (not to other characters in the scene) and should be extremely brief. It can indicate a direction to a different character in the scene, a notation on a specific emotion or intent in the following dialogue- dialogue never ends with a parenthetical direction. Parenthetical direction is usually written in all lowercase letters IE: (beat). After the dialogue ends, there are two line breaks (one blank space) between the next character name or action or new scene heading.
Some Standard Format NOTES:
The first time a character is introduced in action, their name is presented in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to paint out their introduction. Sound effects such as phone RINGS or an alarm BEEPS are placed in all capital letters to point them out
Scene transitions such as DISSOLVE TO, CUT TO, FADE TO BLACK are placed flush right, on their own line. They are placed at the end of a scene with one blank space before a new scene heading. Generally speaking, they should be used sparingly.
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SCREEN WRITING
Here some additional tips that could be of help you become a better script writer.
1.It is important to do thorough preparation and research. Be an “expert” in your subject matter.
2.The challenge is not to write truth, but to write seductive BELIEVABILITY.
3.A screen writer should look for places to integrate his/her screenplay with toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball CONFLICT: social conflict, emotional conflict, spiritual conflict, cultural conflict, internal conflict, relationship conflict, psychological conflict, and/or physical conflict too. Conflict is crucial in maintaining the reader’s interest in the story and in the characters. You may write a story about a man in a solitary confinement who never has interaction with anyone else except a prison guard and still have conflict which could be interesting to read about. But some kind of conflict is necessary.
4.Most writers don’t spend nearly enough time on character, so the characters lack depth. We don’t bond with them; thus they are incapable of taking us along on even the most exciting roller-coaster story ride. You can have the most complex “roller-coaster” in the world, but if the reader/audience isn’t “hooked” emotionally to your main characters, they won’t be “along for the ride”.
5.In good stories you start out with a likeable hero(s) who have psychological and moral flaws. He/she must be likeable enough to entertain and intrigue us, but flawed enough to have the potential to learn and grow. “perfect” people are not likeable!
6.Try to take us into a unique world; we should learn something new while we’re been taken on a journey and entertained.
…more to come your way at SCRIPT TO SCREEN PROJECT, August 3, 2013