Successful Screenwriting: 7 Tips to Enhance Your Script for the Big Screen

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Do you dream of the day where your story transforms into film, you see your name in lights from Hollywood's red carpet, or you watch your characters come alive on the big screen? A few successful scriptwriters have listed some of their BEST insights on when (and how) to put the pen to paper, and are steering you clear of crumbling up your ideas and playing basketball with your trash can. 

Here are seven ways you can ensure your script sees the big screen: 

Structure/Plot

"Woody Allen says it best: 'To me, the torture is getting the idea, working the idea out — its general plot, structure and story.'
Your idea can come from anywhere at any time. It could hit you like a ton of bricks, or it could take hours in a brainstorming session with friends to figure out an idea. However, you have to remember it's not about the idea itself, but how you are going to implement it in a successful story. There are no bad ideas, just bad ways of communicating what you're trying to say through a script." - Gilda Graham, script consultant 

"Structure is good. (Not just for the story, but more importantly for the writer to create a space to work in. Give yourself goals. Treat it like a job, not a hobby.)" - Linda Palmer, Award-winning filmmaker, scriptwriter

Concept

"The most important thing to me is to start with the right story --- a point so obvious it seems barely worth stating, yet is so essential. If I have that, the script will almost write itself, and if I don’t -- no amount of laboring over it will help. I trust my instincts, and by now I can feel whether a story will work almost immediately. Then I put it to the test by asking myself:

  • Do I have a compelling central character or characters? Not necessarily likeable ones, but at least interesting ones? 
  • What is at stake and are the stakes high enough to make the story worth telling? 
  • What is the core conflict? 
  • How does/do the character/characters grow? 
  • How might the plot be structured? 
  • How can cause and effect advance the plot? Sub plots? A sense of place and time? 
  • How would I sum up the story in a sentence or two? 
  • Who is my audience? 
  • How will I shape the story, where [it] begins, where [it] ends? 

"I make sure I know all that in advance---and this doesn’t even touch the research aspect."  - Rebecca Goldfield, author

"Inspiration comes at any time. You can have an interesting dream (leave a notepad by your bed). You can be anywhere just thinking. You can have a great title idea and develop your script idea around the title. Great concepts come from being inspired." - Michelle Gamble, CEO, 3L Publishing 

Character Development

"Character descriptions are an often overlooked place to step a script up. When people write a generic character description, they miss an opportunity to let their writing shine, to tell us something about the character that can immediately make us identify with them and lastly, to hook the reader." - Denise Hewett, Founder and CEO of scriptd.com

You must have a knowledge of the Hero Goal Sequence - Graham

Hook them 

"I can't emphasize enough how important the first 10 pages are. Do not wait to hook us [until] page 20, do it in the first page and keep building. The same goes with setting the stage in a scene. The more interesting descriptors of a location and the atmosphere can make me as a reader stop in awe and engage me to the highest level." - Hewett 

"I look for pacing---does the tension rise and fall, but with stakes growing ever higher? Have I appealed to all the senses? And humor helps, sometimes even in dark moments. But always, always---a light touch. It’s like making a pastry, you can’t overwork the crust or it gets tough. I’ve made some truly inedible pies and tarts in my life, and there were a lot of people politely pushing their dessert around their plates after the first bite. You want that lightness, that unforced quality in your writing---or else people will be scraping it around their plates." - Goldfield 

Dialogue 

"I need to be able to distinguish characters in dialogue. If I'm reading a conversation I should be able to distinguish between the two people talking, otherwise those characters need more development." - Hewett 

"...Documentary film and graphic novel writing isn’t so much about conveying dense information through language. Instead, you absorb information on many levels and by using many senses. It can be great for emotional impact and immediacy." - Goldfield

"You must have brief dialogue that gets to the point." - Graham 

Worst Mistakes and Assumptions 

Assumption: "Your first draft is done and ready to send out. (NO! Writing is re-writing. Get feedback from a trusted group of writers in your circle, have a staged reading for feedback, and generally don't send anything out until after your 3rd draft of it)"

Assumption: "Once you write it, it will get made. (NO! Unfortunately it takes far longer to sell or make films then it does to write them. Don't quit your day job just yet.)"

Assumption: "Someone will steal my idea if I show it around. (Not likely. It takes a LOT of effort to steal someone's idea and then write a story that still needs to be made.)" - Palmer 

"The biggest mistake that can ruin a script is not having a call to action. It sounds simple, but so many people get involved in being creative, funny or unique that they forget that the script needs to give the viewer something to do: click this button, call this number, fill out this form..." - Anders Clark, Writer/Editor at Disciples of Flight 

"Not knowing how to format your script properly! It will get thrown in the trash before it's even read if your script isn't industry standard." - Graham

"Professionals know beginners and newbies right away when common mistakes are made, such as not doing the cover sheet correctly. Know what the format is supposed to be so you're not ruled out before they even read the first 5-10 pages." - Gamble

Know Why You're Writing

"Step 1: Identify the demand. What is the product / service / idea you are engaging the audience about?

Step 2: Create doubt. What are the problems / obstacles in the way of people looking for this product / service?

Step 3: Present a solution. Give your audience the reason why what you offer is the solution to their doubt or problem. 

Step 4: Call to action. Finish off by giving the audience / viewers an action to take." - Clark 

Contributors

Gilda

Gilda Graham is a script consultant, who helps writers realize their creative vision. As soon as I completed my Film Production and Screenwriting degree at California State University of Northridge, I headed straight into the Los Angeles Industry. Working at various film companies and freelancing for eight years has given me a depth of understanding about what is needed to get scripts read. Currently, I'm teaching workshops to guide aspiring writers in screenwriting techniques in addition to consulting on scriptwriting.

Linda


Award-winning filmmaker, Linda Palmer recently wrote, directed and produced the multi-award winning short, OUR FATHER, starring Michael Gross (Family Ties, Tremors) and Michael Worth (God’s Ears). Linda founded Runaway Productions, a boutique production company specializing in low to moderate budget commercials and feature films. She studied film production at HFI, UCLA and Long Beach City College.

Rebecca


Rebecca Goldfield began her career as a producer at National Public Radio and went on to work as a documentary film producer for the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic Society, the Discovery Channel and PBS, among others. She now has added graphic novels as another medium through which to tell great true stories. 

Anders


Anders Clark has been writing scripts and involved in the world of video production for a decade, and has learned more than a few tips for more effective writing. He currently serves as an Editor/Writer at Disciples of Flight.

Michelle

Michelle Gamble, CEO, 3L Publishing, is an award-winning writer and screenwriter. She has written six books among them the California Girl Chronicles series, Body in the Trunk, and the award-winning Second Bloom. She also has had a script optioned and sold and produced another script which is titled Virtual Seduction. 

Denise


Denise Hewett started Scriptd as a way to help Hollywood connect dots quicker, empower writers and give screenplays the glorification they deserve. Previously Director of Sales and Marketing at famed nightclub, The Box. Seasoned television and digital producer who has worked on Ugly Betty, Sex and the City 2, with tenures at MTV and Endemol (Executive Producer). Bachelor's Degree from Gallatin at NYU. 

Main image via Google 

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