Writing for film is likely one of the most sought after and best-paying careers available to a writer. It’s increasingly difficult to make a living as a screenwriter, though, thousands of people write screenplays every year. Only about one percent of screenplays that are registered make it into full production. Though, a long-shot and the fact that the opportunity exists, thousands of people will continue to write spec scripts every year with the dream they have a chance at the impossible.
When I first imagined the life of a screenwriter, I had thoughts of people that spent time alone on a sunny beach with a pad of paper and a strong drink nearby. The idea of being a writer spending countless days, weeks and years turning out thousands of pages of fantastic stories sounded mysterious and appealing. Then, reality set in, I would have to come up with impressive stories that people would want to see on the screen. I would have to write characterizations that would resonate with actors as well as a large audience. I would have to consider locations and most importantly, budget.
Though, what I have learned since, screenwriters are just like you and me. They exist all around us, living and working in everyday life, their world seen from a slightly different perspective. If you’re like me, you analyze situations and create scenarios based on action around you, picking out pieces of information that will serve as dialog or references to create descriptive scenes.
The formula for success is one’s own interpretation of happiness. Write what you know, work off your inspiration and pull ideas from all around you. Life is moving at 24 frames per second. You just need to take a snapshot at the right moment and write it down. Before you know it, you’ll have some material for a screenplay.
Though, you’ll need to understand the importance of scene structure. Good screenplays are built on the three-act structure; the beginning middle and end. The best way to approach this structure is to think of your stories setup, conflict and resolution. The first act sets up the story, establishes the crisis and hooks the audience. The second act develops the conflict further, making it more complicated and brings the hero’s crisis to its peak. The third act resolves the conflict, concludes the story and gives the audience their payoff.
Multiple scenes make up each act that connects your story together. Each scene plays a special part. Ensure that your main characters have a goal; with obstacles to they must overcome in order to reach their goal. The basic rule of writing any scene is to know that each scene must move your story forward. You’ll want to ensure that each scene has a good pace and the action flows; think cause-and-effect. If you’re debating a scene for too long, it probably doesn’t move your story forward and should be removed, no matter how good the dialogue.
We perform a multitude of actions in our day-to-day life. Most of what we do could be considered trivial and just plain boring. When writing your screenplay it’s best to leave out the trivial and stick to the story. Remember that film is visual; show, don’t tell.
Let the inspiration flow and your creativity will take shape.
- David L. Spies