How to Write a Movie Script that Rocks!

How to Write a Script

Decision
Decision | Source

How To Write a Screenplay

You're thinking about how to write a movie script. You visualize something exciting. You see a scene. You make a few notes about it.

You read a few lines somewhere about say emerald studded beetles as pets. You make a few notes about that too. You know you'll forget if you don't. You keep notebooks or files on your lap top for nuggets such as these.

One part of your mind flames with fantastic ideas, while the other side of your mind tries to organize them so that they will become a story 'that works' as a movie. You'll be deciding what genre your story is - a mystery or a drama, a horror story. What are those genre expectations? How to write a low budget film from the idea? What is your theme?

This is exactly the process that writing a screenplay involves. We can free float-ideas on the one side of our brain.

The other side of the brain puts them in order, looks for a structure which is more scientific, makes decisions about making the ideas work in a story form for a movie script that an audience will enjoy. Make those notes too. Title them in categories as you go along.

What to Consider when Structuring the Script

These are the main aspects you will need to work out before you write your script:

Is your script character driven? Is it a Horror Story, or would it better told as a Ghost Story (Genre)? What is the tone of your story? What structure does the story ask for? Is it dialogue driven?

  • Characters
  • Structure
  • Plots
  • Tone
  • Genre
  • Dialogue

How to Structure a Movie Script

The 'Three Act Structure' is the classic structure film makers use because audiences are used to the form - ever since since Hollywood began making pictures. It is familiar. The predictable structure poses and then answers the questions we need to have answered within the time frames we are used to.

The first Act takes a quarter of the time.

The Second Act takes a half of the film and the

Third Act takes the last quarter.

The questions asked in the Three Act Structure are these:

A. Who is the someone?


B. What do they want?


C. How badly do they want it?


D. What kind of difficulty are they having getting it.


If you can answer these questions you are a way towards writing something.

Have characters just wandered onto your page that you had not planned?

Have you ever written a story and your protagonist just came into your head and stayed?

See results without voting

How to Develop Characters

You might already have notes on your main character or protagonist. You could still be developing them. There are no rules, or limits. The scriptwriter is king or queen of their worlds. They discover them as they like!

I had some fun answering the above questions - as an example of how to invite characters into my consciousness.

A. The someone is?

A red headed 23 year old lady Eskimo, a baker.


B. She wants?

To eat a mutton vindaloo in India with a prince and princess


C. She wants it so badly?

She will leave her 1 year old triplets with her bodybuilding Texan husband to go to India to eat one. (He's a crane operator that works shifts out in the North Pole)


D. She's having tons of difficulty because.............she didn't win the competition to go, but she'd determined to go anyway and has to fight her husband.


If you want to come up with some ideas for a movie why don't you try the same exercise?

Screenplay Formatting Facts

A Treatment is about 35 pages.

A movie script is approx 90 -120 pages

Each page represents 1 minute shooting time.

Type the script with scriptwriting software such as Final Draft.

A Screenplay

Front Page of a Script
Front Page of a Script | Source

Write the Story Outline First

Before writing your script write the story outline. Write a detailed Treatment too. They are essential documents to work from and help sell the script.

It's a good idea to write about your protagonists and antagonists in short story form - or talk to them with software linked here; to become familiar with who they really are, what their weak spots and endearing qualities are, how they feel (even secretly), what their antagonist is like, what their worlds are like too, how they all speak. Become familiar with the inside of their homes or planets or beach huts or insane asylums as though they were your home. Inhabit their worlds and know them, intimately. And their next door neighbors.

Other research to spend time working on will include reading books about heroes and heroines that are like your heroes. Study the history of your period. Or the language of the place or time, even if your script takes place ten years before the date your movie comes out.

"It's in the detail"

The First Act - The Story

The baker and the crane driver are having a hot tea break out in the snow with their 1 year old triplets when they are hit by a snowball thrown by the wicked boy next door. The huge, rough- faced crane man orders him over to tell him off but a competition leaflet falls from the boys trousers which catches the crane driver's attention. While the wicked boy starts to beat it back to his house, the crane driver reads it to his wife who is entranced by it. It's about winning four nights in India and a dinner of mutton vindaloo. They all laugh and roll on the snowy ground. The wife, mother of the (now crying) triplets is saying she wants to eat mutton vindaloo. She's going to win the competition. The huge rough crane man can't hear her for laughing (and his triplets crying). He hasn't noticed how serious his wife is about this vindaloo business. Or that the wicked boy stopped running away and is standing there laughing too. Or is he?

The Second Act Plot Twists and Turns

We need to know why the red headed baker Eskimo woman wants to go to India to eat vindaloo. We need to know her state of mind, her past, what her marriage is like. What is her husband like. What drives her to want this trip is what must be developed. Is this a romantic comedy? Is it a drama? Can it be science fiction (because the wicked boy is from some weird planet luring a human away)? Is it horror, because one of the triplets disappears whilst they are laughing, (yet another baby to disappear in a year?). Is it a murder mystery, because the woman goes to India and never comes back and the crane driver has to go to look for her with the triplets under arm?

Third Act Resolution

So she didn't make it to India (she learned she had to be happy mothering her children) but her crane husband worked overtime (he learned he had to give her what she really wanted) and earned enough money to have a vindaloo flown in from Bombay for her birthday. She took TEFL lessons while she worked at the bakery, (tuned into BBC4, listened to the afternoon play when they got snowed in) and taught her babies English so that they could go to India when they grew up. (she became the best mother in the North Pole in fact).

Ways to Create Dramatic Structure in Scriptwriting


DRAMA COMES FROM:

  • OBSTACLES CHARACTERS FACE
  • AND THE DECISIONS THEY MAKE.


I've had some fun writing examples of what happens in the story I came up with as a result of answering those questions - to the mother of the triplets and her crane-driving husband in the First, Second and Third Acts - in the blue columns on the right!


Descriptions of The First, Second and Third Act are below.

(Please read the descriptions of the Acts and follow each Act by reading the story developments on the right.)


The First Act

Establishes the status quo of the principal character and SETS UP the inciting incident (which is the event or the thing that creates the problem that the script needs to resolve, that the movie is ALL about).


IT TELLS US WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN


The Second Act

It's where all the plots and twists and turns are elaborated on, new characters introduced. It's where the first serious obstacle is faced and overcome and the main character almost gets what they want. A main sub plot is usually introduced which contrasts with the main plot, (sometimes people fall in love) - creating the collision and the dilemma. It establishes the main tension (things get screw things up) and drives the story forward. Will the principal character ever get what they want? This is where the art of scriptwriting comes in.


SHOWING US IT HAPPENING.


The Third Act

Is about what the main character has learned, what's going to happen next. How will it turn out. Things don't look so good. The resolution was false. But it isn't. (A twist). Then, there's the resolution and an outcome.


TELLS US WHAT HAPPENED.


What Is Scriptwriting?

There are university courses and writers workshops which teach how to write a movie script (or Scriptwriting). But there are very many updated resources available which do explain the craft of Scriptwriting possibly just as well. The links to the text books mentioned here are contemporary, analytical and very helpful.

Movie scripts need to be fresh.

The other links to free downloadable screenplays to read and to study are invaluable.

A really good way to study how to write a script is to read very many scripts of very many genres and cults for example Apocalypse Now. Thelma and Louise. American Beauty. Shine. Trainspotting. Kill Bill. Magnolia. Legally Blonde. Priscilla Queen of The Dessert. Become familiar with audience expectations. The Tone. The Timing. Read the scripts and play the Videos - together.

  • Play the first act of the movie.
  • Stop it.
  • Read that same act in the script.
  • Start the movie where you left off.
  • Continue through the movie like this. Perhaps stopping after only a fewer sequences.
  • Study a sequence
  • Analyze how succinct the action descriptions are in the script.
  • Analyze how each word, each segment of each scene, each action is pushing the story forward.

The art of great scriptwriting is in 'show', don't 'tell'. Words don't describe what we are seeing, words characterize the protagonist; they must surprise the audience. The script describes the action.

If you want to write a dialogue driven script watch the movies The Social Network (David Fincher), The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen Ethan Coen) are great examples -

If yours is a character driven movie, watch Into the Wild, (Chris McCandless) Scarface, (Tony Montana) Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino).

If you want to just have some fun with plots 'Indianna Jones' is your film. Indianna is a great guy but he reacts to events rather than create them and we know so little about his personality or philosophies.

Ways to Write For An Audience


There are 3 key co-dependent participants in telling a film story.

  • The storyteller. (You)
  • The characters in the film (Your creations or from a literary adaption)
  • The audience (People like you!)

How to write a movie script is always and only ever about;

SOMEONE WHO WANTS SOMETHING BADLY AND IS HAVING DIFFICULTY GETTING IT.


© 2012 Penelope Hart

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Comments 22 comments

lafamillia profile image

lafamillia 4 years ago from Soutcentral Europe

Nice hub, and great work. I've voted "interesting" because it is. I am an free-lancer, writer, and I've self-published an book called "I see". It's on Serbian, and I'm looking forward to translate it. Maybe there are someone interested in reading it... ;) Anyway, I have a new hub about Visual Basic programing, check it(me) out. You have me as a follower :)))


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Thanks for dropping in and commenting and good luck with your book ad with you Hubs


FalconSays profile image

FalconSays 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Awesomeness :-)


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Well thank you!


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

Fascinating hub. It's one of my fantasies to write a movie script, although I've never pursued it. I'm interested in every aspect of film making and you've certainly given me insight I never had before. Voted up and awesome!


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Crystal Tatum, welcome to Hub Pages. Scriptwriting in an exacting art form, but if the fantasy is there, well, you have to write one. Good luck


theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales

I love this! Firstly, how nice to 'meet' you! Secondly, I was hooked by the vindaloo-yearning, red-headed, baking Eskimo lady. I have tried and tried to write fiction but with very mediocre results. Lots of useful material here for the aspiring scriptwriter.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

I bet you'll write some good fiction. It takes a free mind! Glad you got something out of this Hub and thanks.


mollymeadows profile image

mollymeadows 4 years ago from The Shire

I've never tried scriptwriting before but I might give it a try now. Thanks for the primer!


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

It's fascinating, takes time and its fun getting to know your characters and story - then comes the hard part, which is a challenge and I hope you write a great script.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Still struggling with writing a novel, will probably put the scriptwriting off for a while ;) - but this was very interesting and useful, so I'll pin it for future reference.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

mollymeadows. Best of luck with your script.

JudiBee. Thank you for your pin. Greatly appreciated.


Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago

I always struggle with writing dialogue. I listen to the way people talk in real life, but somehow don't have the gift for catching it on pages. I like the way you describe it as a "Science," though.

Maybe I will try a more structured approach through exercises you suggest. It's a learning curve, and practice helps.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I've never thought of writing a movie script before but did find your hub very interesting.


CloudExplorer profile image

CloudExplorer 4 years ago from New York City

Intensely well written hub here, and its super packed with useful info for those looking to write a Movie Script.

I actually am interested in developing, and creating a Documentary film soon, and so even though this info may not apply to it all, I do like all of what you've shared with us all here. I will bookmark this hub for a later usage as well, just in case I find the need for such relevant info in the near future.

Oh and I love the way you presented the info there in the Blue column, as them short stories were truly interesting indeed.

Thumbs up and out!


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 4 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

Many thanks for this. As a drama teacher I'm always keen to learn about parallel universes, and the movie business is certainly close to the one I operate in. Writing a movie script is intensely interesting - you need words of course but they must be the right ones and not undermine the visuals - getting the two to work positively is a great process. Lots of useful information. Votes.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Janis Goad. Yes writing scripts is incredibly precise and long before the dialogue is written, the story is written - and the characterization and period and genre are all connected and profoundly real and written.

Just Ask Susan. Very brave of you to have read this hub if scriptwriting isn't what you do! Thank you so much for commenting.

Cloud Explorer. Good luck with your documentary. Hope when you come back to this Hub you will find information to help you. Thanks for comments and thumbs up! Greatly appreciated.

chef-de-jour. Writing a script is writing a story, but as you say, it is visual. The cinematic medium is a collaboration which can only be great if the script really worked in the first place - a really good story. A play too has to have a really good story, so in this they are the same. Thanks so much for commenting:


everythingdazzles profile image

everythingdazzles 4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

I'm a big theatre geek so this is a very well written hub. Lots of good information!


dinesh 3 years ago

thank u for this.

am

ahead.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 3 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

everythingdazzles. Glad you found this hub useful.

dinesh. keep on going!

Many, many thanks for your comments which are greatly appreciated.


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Bookmarked your hubs it was very useful


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 2 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Really pleased. Good luck with your script.

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