How to Write is a Screenplay

Crafting a screenplay from scratch can seem daunting. The technical elements and endless formatting rules, couples with the creative aspect of building an intriguing enough story and characters can be overwhelming. It is undoubtedly a heavy task . But once you get more familiar with and master the technical knowhow of what builds a screenplay, half the battle is won and you can focus your energy in the more creative aspects.

The detail that goes into a screenplay can seem overwhelming, but this screenplay will serve as a bible for all the processes that come after finalizing your draft. Be it your actors looking for direction and their dialogue, the art department being weary of what's needed for the scene setting, your director of photography planning his shots, producers planning the financials, or the director planning his schedule for the day; this rides on the information that would be provided in a screenplay.

Writing a screenplay is manageable when broken down into methodical steps that you can follow, and here's how :

Writing a Screenplay

1. Story and ideation phase

As writers, you would be preoccupied with ideas all the time, consciously and unconsciously. The preliminary brainstorming processes and ideation phase would probably demand the most time and energy from a writer. Its the period during which you attempt to piece together all the puzzle pieces that have been floating around in your head with regards to your idea. Take time to read, write, research, and discover what exactly you want to create around.

2. Familiarize yourself with screenplay formatting and elements

Half the battle is won when you grow familiar with the technical nuances and elements of a screenplay. Some crucial elements in a screenplay include :

  • Specified typeface, font size, and margins
  • Scene headings (or "slug lines")
  • Action lines
  • Character names
  • Dialogues
  • Transitions
  • Parentheticals
  • Camera shots

3. Craft your logline

"What is my story about?"

Look at the overall concept and story that you have brainstormed and fleshed out. Your logline, in order to capture the intrigue of readers, should ideally describe a situation or characters that could present a plot that no one has heard of or seen before. It should spark their interest at the direction your story could take, and bring across the premise of the story and an intriguing emotional undertone.

Your logline would ideally encompass your plot's major question or direction. It can be crafted first, or can be refined as you get through multiple drafts of your screenplay.

Consider the following questions to help you craft your logline :

  1. What is the world of your story?
  2. What is the protagonist's main role in your story?
  3. What internal or external conflict crops up in your protagonist's journey?
  4. What makes your story suspenseful?
  5. What is the main source of conflict between the protagonist antagonist?
  6. What stands out the most about your story?

Gather the answers to these questions and create a one or two liner that would encompass those details. Take time to craft this in the best way possible, given that your logline is the tool that you would use to hoot your reader and to sell your story.

4. Write a synopsis

Use your concept, story, and logline to delve deeper into your vision to build a synopsis. A synopsis is a succinct, short, and clear description of your premise with details about your plot, main characters, and the world in which it is all unfolding.

To do this, first create outline using the main events of your story or script in chronological order. Use a mind-map, cue cards with a short description of an event that unfolds in your story or the introduction of a character, visuals to depict each event to string your story together. Following this, write out a short but sufficiently explanatory

5. Build your treatment

A treatment would follow after firming up your logline and writing out your synopsis. Your treatment would be a lengthier version of synopsis, but developed with more details about your key characters, the world they are living in, how your main events unfold, the development of conflicts between characters.

Unlike your logline or synopsis, a robust treatment would give you a good picture of the sequence of events in your story, coupled with nuanced details and in-depth descriptions of different aspects of your story. Together with putting across all of your essential scenes, treatments also allow for you to write about the themes you are covering and their undertones. You get to look at your story in its more all-rounded version and be able to sieve out what’s working and what's not. With a treatment, it is easier to identify possible plot holes or inconsistencies in your story and be able to fix them before delving into writing your script.

Although your logline and synopsis are the first things that directors or producers see when considering your story for a project, treatments can also help with pitching your work. You have the space to input so much more detail and juice in your treatment.

6. Develop your characters

Your characters carry your story. The need to be compelling and engaging, to keep readers invested in their journeys and your plot. Before writing their dialogues, spend time to outline what makes your character, their place and impact in your story, and plot their “character arc”. Once you supplement the above-mentioned with more minute and defining personality and physicality characteristics, writing dialogue would come easier. You have a better picture of their supposed mannerisms, their way of speech, the key information that they would need to bring across in your script, and their relationships with other characters in your story.

7. Write your first draft

Your first draft or outline is the first manifestation and textual blueprint to how you picture your story to play out and unfold. Dive right into writing your first draft using a screenwriting software. Set a fixed time frame, between two or three weeks, to write out as much of your story as possible. At this stage, do not fret about details such as page numbers, act breaks, or parentheticals. Your story's main events should guide your first draft. It is recommended that you free-write, not go back and forth with editing, and not second-guess your writing during the first draft. This draft is meant to be imperfect, a means for you to continue building upon and working up from.

While you can work on the formatting of the screenplay after fleshing out thr first draft of your screenplay, writing with JotterPad's screenplay template would allow you to seamlessly write and format at the same time. Be able to differentiate your scene headings, character names, dialogues, action lines, transitions and other elements of a screenplay easily with simple syntax, saving you the worry and work of having to come back to an overhwleming amount of formatting work after.

8. Go back for revisions

Once you've completed your first draft, make sure to step away from your desk and take a break from writing. This break will allow you to recalibrate and come back with a fresh perspective for proofreading or revisions. Jumping right into editing after expending all your energy into your first draft would probably cause you to gloss over grammatical or spelling mistakes, and inconsistencies in your script. Coming back with a refreshed perspective after a break will allow you to discern if your dialogue flows well and if your story is coherent.

9. Read good screenplays!

It is crucial that you spend time reading what's already out there. Read as many screenplays as possible; ranging across multiple genres, themes, styles, and lengths. The more you read, the more accustomed you get to the formatting and structure of a well-written screenplay, and you would have exposed yourself to more creative ideas and writing techniques that you could work into your own screenplay as well.

Writing a screenplay is no easy feat, considering the equally heavy creative and technical aspect of it. But screenplay serves as a bible for all that could potentially happen after finalizing it, and makes realizing your screenplay on screen or on stage a smoother and hassle-free process.