The 5 Immutable Laws of Screenwriting
A guest article by Danielle Davis
Hollywood 2005. A young, struggling writer has just completed a 120-page screenplay. The writer submits it to an agent. The agent loves it, thinks it's the greatest piece of movie fiction since "Gone With the Wind." Excited, the agent sends it to a producer. The producer reads it and is equally riveted. The agent negotiates a deal between the writer and the producer. Result, the writer gets paid a handsome amount, the agent gets commission, the producer gets a blockbuster movie and everyone lives happily every after! So how can this Cinderella story happen to you?
Follow the 5 immutable laws of screenwriting:
Brainstorm Your Screenplay
Brainstorming is the art of generating ideas.
Both professional and amateur screenwriters use brainstorming techniques to
produce fresh, new ideas. These ideas can be for a complete script or for a
particular scene or sequence. A brainstorming session can be a solo event or
group activity if you have a writing partner or team. It can be conducted simply
with pen and paper or more elaborately with brainstorming software. The latter
can literally spawn thousands of ideas in a matter of minutes.
Outline Your Screenplay
An outline presents a picture of the main plot
points of your screenplay. It's a way to organize the ideas you developed in
your brainstorming session. You get to describe the major events and character
interactions of the story. A screenplay may be written without an outline, but
the story may not be cohesive. Outlining helps you visualize how the main story
and subplot will play out on the big screen. It will also help you see the
holes, strengths and weaknesses. Again, screenplay outlining can be a simple pen
and paper process or created in a computer program.
Story development is essentially structure. It's how your screenplay builds from beginning to middle to end. Let's look at each. The beginning provides the audience with basic information or exposition. It reveals the who, what, when, where, why and how. Using the giant squid story as an example, the beginning must show audiences where this creature came from, why it landed in a backyard pool, how it landed on earth in the first place and so on. The middle of the screenplay is the confrontation stage. This is where our giant squid encounters problems and obstacles. Finally, we move to the ending. How is the story resolved? What happens to the giant squid? Does it get destroyed? Return to outer space? Find its soul mate in the Pacific Ocean?
Every screenwriter dreams of creating memorable characters but not every screenwriter is willing to do the work to develop such characters. As creator, you must challenge yourself to look beyond name, age and occupation. You must go deeper and ask, "What are my characters' wants?", "What are their needs?", "What are their motivations?" The answers will produce unforgettable, three-dimensional characters. And yes, even our giant squid can be more engaging if we understand its wants, needs and motivations. Remember E.T.?
Format Your Screenplay
completed screenplay must adhere to industry standards. If it does not, your
script will be flagged as "amateurish" and may not get read.
is relatively simple and can be accomplished in one of three ways. First, you
can purchase a book on formatting and then set your word processing software
according to it directives. Next, you can buy a formatting add-on program for
your existing word processing software. Lastly, you can buy a stand-alone
formatting program like the popular Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft.
Whichever method you choose, be sure the final product meets the standard. You
don't want to give anyone an excuse to overlook your script.