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How To Write A Screenplay For A Movie: A Practical Step-By-Step Guide

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by Joseph Farruggia in How To Write A Screenplay
October 25, 2014 30 comments
SCRIPT DIALOGUE WRITING

As you probably know, every professional screenwriter has a slightly different answer for how to write a screenplay for a movie. But here’s our take on it: a practical step-by-step method that you can follow from initial idea to finished product.

Note: Not all of these steps have to be followed religiously, but you should aim to cross off as many as you can.

How To Write A Screenplay Phase 1: Prep

1. Focus on one genre. You may love watching Comedies, Thrillers and Dramas, but it’s much easier to break in by mastering and writing one genre.

2. Download and read twenty screenplays in your chosen genre (without writing a word.) Our list of 50 of the best screenplays to read is a great starting point.

3. Make a list of twenty movies you wish you’d written in your chosen genre. Watch them, write outlines of them and break down into outlines. Sign up to grab a copy of our free Structure Hack that shows you how to do this.

4. Go to amazon.com and buy and read these screenwriting books.

5. Get into the groove of writing screenplay dialogue by using this hack: re-formatting screenplay transcriptions.

6. Find or create a calm workspace where you can write in peace without being disturbed for large chunks of time.

7. Create a writing schedule and block out periods of time when you’re going to write during the week.

8. If your life is stressful, de-stress. Check out the work of people like Eckhart Tolle to help with this.

9. If you haven’t already, purchase some professional screenwriting software.

10. Write the words “I am a screenwriter” on a post-it note and tape it to the wall above your computer screen.

How To Write A Screenplay Phase 2: Brainstorm

1. Create a Pages or Word document entitled “Screenplay Ideas” and brainstorm as many ideas as you can for the kind of movie you’d want to go see (in your chosen genre.)

2. Read other screenwriters’ loglines and listen to other screenwriters’ ideas get broken down to get the creative juices flowing.

3. Write the logline for your screenplay. Here are some screenwriting tips on how to come up with a rock solid logline.

4. Get feedback on your screenplay concept. Tell your idea to friends and family and pitch it to strangers. You may not like getting feedback this early, but it can save a whole lot of trouble further down the road.

5. Refine your idea and logline until there are no more plot holes, and people respond with “Whoa. Then what happens?” Or words to that effect.

6. Pick five movies from the twenty you outlined in Phase 1, and watch each one five more times. Break down and study each movie until you know it inside out.

7. Pick five screenplays from the twenty you read in Phase 1, and read each one five more times.

8. Make sure that your idea, quite simply, ROCKS. The last thing you want is to waste months writing a script in which the initial concept is flawed from the beginning.

9. Make sure that you absolutely 100 percent LOVE your idea, because you’re going to need that passion to get through writing it.

best screenplays to read

How To Write A Screenplay Phase 3: Outline

1. Decide what you want your story to REALLY be about. Here’s a post on screenplay theme de-mystified.

2. Take the time to craft a genuinely interesting thematic conflict between protagonist, antagonist and stakes character. Here a post on how to create what we call the “thematic triangle of conflict” in a screenplay.

3. Write a list of what the major turning points are for your protagonist: Call To Action, Act 1 Turning Point, Midpoint, etc.

4. Write a short pitch of the story in prose form: one paragraph for Act 1, two paragraphs for Act 2, and one paragraph for Act 3.

5. Write a list of what the seven sequences are in your story. Break it down into two sequences in Act 1, four sequences in Act 2, and one sequence in Act 3.

6. Expand these sequences and short prose version into a long prose version (10 to 20 pages) otherwise known as a treatment.

7. Show this to family and friends to get their opinion on it, if they work in the industry. Or if they don’t, pay for a professional screenwriter’s opinion.

8. Download and read ten more screenplays in your chosen genre.

9. Make a list of ten more movies, watch them, write outlines of them and break down the outlines.

10. Expand your treatment into a step outline. Write out what happens in each scene using one sentence for each. Or storyboard using index cards.

11. Show this to friends and family in the industry or a professional script reader, then rewrite accordingly.

12. Realize that you don’t have to be 100 percent happy with your outline. This thing is gonna change once you start writing.

How To Write A Script Phase 4: Write! 

1. Write a “vomit draft” of your screenplay from your outline. Don’t worry about writing bad scenes, dialogue or description, just get it down on the page.

2. Take about a week off. Give your head some rest before returning to the script.

3. Start the rewrite. Some writers advocate starting each writing day from where you left off. Others prefer to return to page one each time. It’s your call.

4. Once the rewrite is done, whatever you do, DO NOT send the script off to a screenwriting contest or show it to anyone in the industry.

5. Take another week off. Give your mind some distance from the script before returning to it again.

6. Download and read ten more screenplays in your chosen genre.

7. Make a list of ten more movies, watch them, write outlines of them and break down the outlines.

8. Do a main story pass on the screenplay, making sure there are no logic issues and it’s never boring.

9. Do a structure pass, making sure the protagonist has seven separate goals in seven “mini-movies.”

10. Do a character pass on each of the characters, making sure each character feels real and is fulfilling a specific role. If not, they can be cut.

11. Do a dialogue pass, making sure each character speaks with their own voice.

12. Do a scene pass, making sure each scene belongs in the script, moves the story forward and surprises.

13. Do a theme pass, making sure there’s an underlying message that’s conveyed in the protagonist’s character arc.

14. Do a description pass, making sure the action lines are as clear, descriptive and evocative as possible.

15. Collapse.

16. Again, resist the temptation to enter the script in ten screenwriting contests or show it to ANYONE who works in the industry. Apart from readers at a consultancy.

17. Take two weeks off.

18. Return to script and… yep, you guessed it—do a rewrite.

19. Send your screenplay off to a professional script consultant, or someone you know who works in the industry to see what they think of it.

20. Rewrite until you get a “Strong Consider” or preferably a “Recommend” from said script reader.

21. Realize that the script will never technically be “finished.” What’s important is that you get it to the best possible state you can before entering it in a screenwriting contest or showing it to a producer, agent or manager.

22. Once you think it’s ready, check out this post on How To Get A Screenwriting Agent.

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And that’s how to write a screenplay for a movie. So, the only question we have left for you is: why are you still reading this? Get writing!

Hire us to get your screenplay where you want it to be, get an agent and get sold by clicking the banner below.

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More posts on how to write a screenplay…

How to write a screenplayHOW TO WRITE COMEDY SCRIPTS
WITH LOL DIALOGUE

 
 

How to write a screenplaySCRIPT IDEAS: 5 PROVEN WAYS TO
UNLOCK ORIGINAL MOVIE IDEAS

 
 

How to write a screenplayHOW TO WRITE A LOGLINE:
THE ULTIMATE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

 
 

How to write a screenplay35 COMMON WRITING STYLE MISTAKES
IN SPEC SCRIPTS

 
 

How to write a screenplay16 SCREENWRITING TIPS AND TRICKS ON CONCEPT, THEME, CHARACTER, STRUCTURE, SCENES, DIALOGUE

 
 

30 Comments
  1. Jack Brewer says:

    Wow, this is awesome. Thank you guys.!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Jack – glad you found it useful.

  2. Howard says:

    I have an idea of a movie

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We have a concept analysis service if you’d like us to review it?

  3. Carolina says:

    Wow, I love this. Thanks so much, it’s amazing!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Carolina!

  4. Claire Shitery says:

    I’ve been wanting to start screenwriting but then I felt like I’m not really a writer. I hate writing. I have a lot of movie ideas and when I tell people they always tell me to write it down but I feel writing is really not my thing. What should I do?

  5. Esther says:

    Wow I. Know what to do now thanks a million

  6. Esther says:

    Wow thanks a million I HV an idea on what am doing now

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, good luck, Esther.

  7. Julien says:

    Most honest and comprehensive post ever about this topic. Well done!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Julien – glad you found it useful.

  8. Palash Ghosh says:

    Thanks a lot. It will help me a lot.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome – thanks for reading!

  9. acrith says:

    I’ve been wanting to start screenwriting but then I felt like I’m not really a writer. I hate writing. I have a lot of movie ideas and when I tell people they always tell me to write it down but I feel writing is really not my thing. What should I do?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Having great ideas is only a fraction of the skill set required to be a writer. If you hate it and don’t feel it’s your thing, then it probably isn’t.

  10. pete says:

    absolutely helpful.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Pete!

  11. Rajesh says:

    Wow thanks a million I have an idea on what am doing now

  12. Evelyn Martinez says:

    Thank you. I’m trying to get the story of my family and myself written. I have been thinking about it for years. Really don’t know how to do it. This was helpful.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad we could help, Evelyn!

  13. Ireen says:

    Hello. I have been writing screenplays (sitcom) for a new series. I would love to get your feedback on one of the episodes I have written.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi Ireen, you can find our TV Script coverage service here: https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/tv-script-coverage/ Cheers!

  14. Edward says:

    Great advise

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Edward!

  15. Mike Baker says:

    This was super helpful, thank u

  16. Rachel S. says:

    This is probably the best guide I’ve ever read on how to write a screenplay. What a great read. Bookmarked!

  17. seshu says:

    Writing a screenplay is hard, but you guys give me hope

  18. Husky says:

    That’s incredible man. Its actually the best article on how to write a screenplay I’ve ever read. Thumbs up.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Husky!

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