5 Screenwriting Tips for the Aspiring Screenwriter

{By Ellery Sadler}



I’ve loved movies ever since I can remember.

At the age of three I was quite capable of controlling the TV and was known for constantly wanting to watch movies … oh wait, that hasn’t changed.

 Anyway, I’ve always been fascinated by film and so I decided to delve into the world of screenwriting.

After recently writing a novel, I wanted to turn it into a screenplay. This however is a little bit more work and a little bit crazier than I first thought. So what do you do if you want to write a screenplay?

#1 You Need to Read These 3 Screenwriting Books

  1. The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field. This is the first book I read on screenwriting, and it makes a great introduction to the amazing world of screenplays. Syd Field is legendary in the screenwriting world and carefully guides you through the most important steps of writing your screenplay. This is a great way to ‘get your feet wet’ and the exercises at the end of the chapters are wonderful for developing your story.
  2. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is one of the best books on screenwriting (and writing in general) that I have ever read. Mr. Vogler goes through mythology, legends, old literature and new novels and shows that most stories can be boiled down to a few key elements and that successful films adhere to these too. It’s amazing to see the common threads throughout story-telling history. I read it in two days. Yep, it’s that good.
  3. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Oooh this might be my favorite one of all. Mr. Snyder is snarky and sarcastic and entertaining, as well as informative. I found what he had to say very insightful and  extremely helpful, but I would recommend reading The Screenwriter’s Workbook first as this is slightly more advanced. (One note: Mr. Snyder seems to believe screenwriting is more of a science than an art, which isn’t my favorite theory. But I still highly recommend the book. And with his track-record, he may have a point.)

(One note: These books sometimes use excerpts from or reference mature/inappropriate mainstream movies, so just be aware as you read them.)

#2 Get some Good Screenwriting Software (and learn the lingo)

Screenwriting formatting is very complicated and tedious if you do it by hand. So it’s important to have some good screenwriting software. I use and recommend Adobe Story Free – it is free (which is good for a teenage screenwriter :)), easy to use, innovative, very up-to-date, and I absolutely love it!

Just get familiar with the language of screenwriting. It’s easy to do with Google, but make sure you know what EXT. and INT. and V.O or O.S or P.O.V means before you start.

#3 Watch Some Movies

  • Oh boy, this is my favorite part! Movies movies movies! Ok, but watch them with screenwriting in mind. Take notes if you are really dedicated, or just mentally take notes. What is it about the movie/characters/relationships that interests you?
  • Most movies start with a hook (something that grabs your attentions), a trigger (something that sets the ball rolling) and then some backstory (a little information about the characters) – can you spot these?
  • Notice the relationships/body language/facial expressions/sets/camera angles etc.
  • What is the ending like? Do the characters come full-circle? Is it a shock? Tragic? Happy but with a twist? Or just place cheesy?

#4 Develop Your Story

Ok, sorry, you’re kind of on your own here. No one can do this part for you. Following the exercises in the screenwriting books I mentioned is probably the best way to go. It’s important to keep a concise structure as well. As I’ve been writing mine, I’ve noticed how hard it is to keep things short – but it is imperative if you want a good screenplay (and a movie that is less than four hours).

#5 Write it!

Also, don’t rush through it. Work on it, think about it, day-dream about it a little. Enjoy it. It is a journey worth taking.

And who knows? When you’re finished you may have the world’s next best feature film!