Strategies for Improving Your Film Screenwriting Process

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Writing a script for a film is usually a ton of fun. You’re dreaming up scenes, dialogue, and settings while trying to push a particular vision or idea you have for the movie. 

But, at a certain point, screenwriting gets hard. The ideas that once flowed from your fingers now seem disjointed. You can’t remember why a particular character has started to act up. Or, when revising, you stumble across a plot hole large enough for a jumbo jet. 

The good news is that struggling with screenwriting is virtually a rite of passage. No matter how long you’ve been writing scripts, you always have room to improve your screenwriting process. 

Organizing Your Ideas

Writing a great script often requires you to use your imaginative faculties and dream up an entire fictional world full of characters, towns, and drama. It’s little wonder that, amongst all that creative output, you might get a little lost and confused yourself. 

It’s ok to produce a plot that intrigues the reader, but a disjointed, disorganized script won’t go far in the film world. You can impress producers with your script by getting organized early in the writing process. 

Mind mapping is one of the best tools available to screenwriters. A good mind map can help you unpick layers of confusing dialogue and give you a clearer vision of your overall project. There are plenty of different ways you can choose to mind map, and you should give them all a try before settling on a process for yourself. You might consider filling each box with: 

  • A plot point and related events
  • A character and the web of their relations
  • Major ideas that you want to promote
  • Thematically related scenes

Organizing your film with a mental map is an easy way to “see” your ideas on the page. This will help boost your productivity when you sit down to write and give you clear direction. 

Boosting Productivity

Productivity is an under-appreciated term in the world of art and film. Everyone thinks you just have to wait for a wave of inspiration and ride it as far as it will go. But, if that were the case, a mere handful of movies would be produced every year. 

As a screenwriter, you must remember that your job is to produce a script. This sounds banal, but many screenwriters have an existential crisis towards the end of the second act and fizzle out without producing a finished script. 

There are plenty of productivity-boosting tips you can nab from the business world. Chief among them is improving the environment you do most of your work in. For example, if you work at home, you can take advantage of home office ideas to improve your productivity. Simple steps like getting the right lighting, a good chair, and an adjustable desk make a huge difference to your ability to get through the day and produce a great first draft. 

First Drafts

Writers have been hoodwinked into believing their first draft must be as close to the finished product as possible. This is complete nonsense — almost all good writing starts with a bad first draft that blossoms into a wonderful finished product through revision and re-writes.

If you’re having trouble letting go and writing a “bad” first draft, try following the advice of Anne Lamott

Lamott is a novelist rather than a screenwriter, but her principles still apply. Lamott has a low-stakes approach to writing and pushes the idea that “very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it.” You might think that icons like the Coen brothers have their scripts fully realized from day one. But, in reality, they’ve probably gone through hundreds of red pens in their screenwriting careers. 

So, if you’re ever stuck, the answer is simple: just write. Even if the writing is terrible, words on a page can always be sculpted, polished, and deleted during the revision process. 

Revision Strategies

Writing a first draft takes creativity, determination, and a heavy dose of self-forgiveness. But, when it comes time to revise, you have to shift your value system as a writer and attempt to carve your David from the block of a script you’ve produced. 

When revising, try to wear different editorial hats throughout the process. 

Start with the large-scale issues like the plot, ideas, and overall vision. Ask yourself questions like, how does this scene or character fit into my overall purpose? Or, do they break away from it for a particularly good reason? Taking care of the big ideas all at once ensures that the general arc of your screenplay is headed in the right direction. 

After your first round of large-scale edits, try to hone in more on mid-level issues like the dialogue, scenery, and setting. Pay attention to the way your characters speak and imagine them moving through your space. It doesn’t have to look “right,” but it should at least make sense and cover up plot holes. 

Finally, get stuck into the minutia of your script. Use word processing editors like Grammarly to help spot grammatical errors and syntactical slip-ups. You may even reconsider the font you use or the way you lay out pieces of dialogue. The purpose of this final stage is to get your script to look professional before you receive feedback.   

Getting Feedback

Good feedback is Goldust in the screenwriting industry. Folks who know how to give feedback are usually inundated with requests for proofreading. Equally, there are plenty of Negative Nancys and Downer Dans standing in the wings waiting to unfairly criticize your work. 

When looking for feedback, don’t be afraid to reach out to folks who are not involved in the film industry. Readers who don’t work in film can still spot areas for revision and motivate you to improve your script.

Be sure to give any readers direction for feedback. Ask them to look out for particular things you’ve been working on like the realism of your dialogue or the way you direct off-screen action. This will give folks a clear direction and ensure that you get something useful back from readers who generously give up their time to read your script.  

Conclusion

Becoming a skillful screenwriter takes time and plenty of effort. Even naturals like William Goldman had to hone their craft through years of study and rigor.

You can make the whole process easier by organizing your ideas and creating an environment that is conducive to writing. When it’s finally time to write, cut yourself some slack and simply produce a first draft. You can improve upon your drafts later with a revision strategy that improves the macro and micro issues of your screenplay and results in a production-ready script.  

ProductionHUB ProductionHUB Logo

About the Author

Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to video production, content creation, and marketing strategies. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter: @HamiltonJori

Related Blog Posts

Comments

There are no comments on this blog post.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.