Writing a screenplay seems a simple task but has much detail and depth to it. For someone who has grown up watching movies, it is understandable that writing screenplays, building characters, and developing a strong relationship between the story and audience is quite an art. You not only need excellent writing skills but also a powerful imagination. The in-depth process of drafting a screenplay requires you to be open about critique and improvise your piece over and over.
Screenplay writing is an iterative process, which continually moves towards betterment. Mostly the final version is a result of hundreds of iterations and drafts that have undergone numerous additions and subtractions. An essential aspect of writing a screenplay is to realise this piece of work is not going to read by someone; rather, it would be seen.
The translation of writing into visuals is unique and different, so you must understand how to write what you want to show and how to show what you have written. It is also advised to go through as many screenplays as you can to understand the transition and flow.
Before you start writing a screenplay, it is essential to understand and practice the following skills:
- Learn how to format your documents
- Idea formation
- Fleshing out
After you have learned and practiced your skills, it is time to get to work.
There are four phases of writing a screenplay, these are:
Research, Logline, and Character
To start your screenplay, it is essential to first do your research. What are you writing about? Conduct research regarding your storyline, characters, settings, genre, and tone to determine what your screenplay is going to be.
Once you have a concrete idea, develop a logline. Logline, a small and brief script to introduce your main idea in a summarized way. Logline should comprise the overall concept, as well as hint at the characters. The logline is often used by people to see if they want to invest in your story or not. Working on a logline is important as it is the first step to get your work started.
Next comes the character-building process, which requires a lot of effort and detail. Character development should co-exist with your storyline. The characters should have their backgrounds and backstories. Strong personas and personality traits should be identified, and the purpose of their character should be filled. Each character in your story must signify it’s important and conveys its meaning.
Formulate A Screenplay Treatment
Treatment is an elaborate summary that consists of a logline, character detail, the plot, and synopsis of the story. It is used to get an overall idea of the storyline and the details associated. The length is usually from 2-5 pages that a producer may read to understand the concept of the film. The length may vary depending upon the story type. Treatment is more detail-oriented, and this is where your story takes depth. After reading a treatment, the reader must know the detailed concept along with the storyline of the piece.
Moreover, treatment includes the climax and turning points of the story to build momentum and interest using the character’s roles. It should be stimulating enough for the reader to follow up with its details. It creates an impression of your storyline and helps you identify the areas that still need to be worked upon before diving into the detailed version.
After writing treatment, it is time to break your story into scenes and develop each scene. Describing scenes can be a hard task as it requires immense detailing. People use various mediums to plan the scenes of their story. The story arc components will help you work better on the whole visual. Remember that your story is to be shown and not read, so focus on the actions. How do you want the scene to open, which characters come first, and which ones come last?
Notes are essential while outlining the scenes. The plot of the story should be laid with details, so it gets easier for later steps. Remember to keep the viewer in your mind and keep them engaged through your storytelling. There should be elements of anticipation and tension so that the viewers remain hooked. The outline defines definite detail and course of action in your storyline. After highlighting the significant events of your story, you should also focus on the supportive scenes and details that are less highlighted.
Draft, Revise, Finalize
Now that you have a logline, characters, and a detailed treatment along with the story’s plot, you can finally begin to write the script. It gets much easier and clear to write a screenplay after doing all the steps mentioned before. This draft should include all the dialogues and descriptive actions. Make sure to make the beginning of your screenplay enjoyable as it is going to decide the fate of your screenplay.
The first 10-15 pages should be able to grasp the attention of the reader, and he should find your script worth pursuing. The screenplay must have interesting characters and a well-put story. The screenplay must be written in the present tense. You should keep in mind that you are writing for something that is to be seen by people and not read. You can also use software or online platforms to format your documents. You need to follow the format that is acceptable by the professionals, and for that, you can use any software. After writing your first draft, go through it again like a critique, and rewrite it with improvements. You can repeat this process of re-reading and revising unless you believe you have come up with the best possible outcome.
Remember, this is a long and strenuous process that can also be heartbreaking at times, so be patient and open towards change and constructive criticism. You can also ask for help from someone who has the experience and get them to review your piece.
It may seem daunting to transfer an idea into a movie or a play, but it is not as challenging as it looks. If you follow the above steps, you can end up with a great script. Some people have great ideas, but their writing skills are not that great. If you are one of those people, don’t be discouraged. You can also opt for screenplay writing workshops or seminars to gain the necessary skills. Many companies offer online and offline classes. A close friend recently attended an online workshop facilitated by a Software development house in Pakistan that did wonders for her writing style.
Don’t give up and continue revising to get a play that’s worth watching.