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Writing Your First Screenplay

Updated on March 4, 2014

Creating Your First Screenplay

So you want to write a screenplay? Well as a person that has written a screenplay and that has known people who have worked in the Movie business, I have several tips for you. First and foremost get yourself a bunch of index cards. Put them in the drawer for the day you are ready to start creating your screenplay.

How to Begin

I was brought up in the theater not as an actor but as a person who directed and managed productions. So I have a great deal of experience with stage acting. When writing a screenplay you have to accept unless you plan on writing a one person screenplay that it is a collaborative process. Movies are expensive to make and therefore you just have a really original script to begin with as a template. But it is only a template. Unlike writing a book a screenplay is a visional medium. Why would you ever have a character explain anything when you can show it in a scene?

Actors are of tremendous importance to the process as they give your characters’ life.

Yes producers have to believe in the project and the less your script costs to produce the more easily they can believe.

Your director and art director are truly your conductors of your screenplay.

So your project has to capture the ambition all of the aforementioned players before it can even be considered. So when you write your screen play keep all of these people in mind and make certain you give them the material they need to make your script their movie.

Before you write a word, I suggest you get scripts, watch films and study the art of film making. I mentioned before The Three Days of the Condor. This was an excellent script in that the character of Faye Dunaway purpose was to allow us to know what Robert Redford’s character was thinking. It was also a relatively low budget film with a small cast.

The same was true of the film Silver Streak which takes place primarily on a train. You can’t get much lower budget then a train as a set.

And then I mentioned Taratino’s Pulp Fiction but really any of Taratino’s work. And the ask yourself what is the purpose of this scene and that scene and why is this character here? Once you can start answering those questions you will start to understand the craft of the cinema. There is an art based on logic in film making even if it is not apparent. You literally have to open your eyes and start viewing films differently. And I am warning you once your eyes are open to cinema you will never view a field the same way. You will dissect it and no longer just enjoy it for amusement. But as you do this you will begin to understand how to write your first film script.

Elements of a Screenplay

Index Cards

I have written just scripts and I have adapted my own books into scripts. Books converted into scripts lose something as they were not initially intended to be in a visual medium. And converting scripts from a visual media to a book is not the as good either. But I have done both. Inevitably to make the script marketable I had to change the book a bit.

A screenplay is a three act play just like a regular play but you can change the scenes quite a bit. But remember more scenes the more money your screenplay costs.

There use to be a formula for screenplays back in the 1970(s) and that is why I like to refer you to the older movies in which a the first plot point is turned in the first ten pages of the script or the first ten minutes. The next plot turn usually occurs in the last 15-20 minutes. I referred you to study Taratino’s work because he turns this rule upside down in it head. And the truth is you don’t have to follow these rules. You can have many plot turns and frequently movies do now days.

What is most important is that you learn to make your scenes as complete as possible. Each scene should be a little movie and able to stand alone on its own. A screen play with a lot of plot point turns and with stand alone scenes is Magnolia. Personally, I have not read this script but it was one of the best scripts to come out that year.

And all of you scenes have to be written on your little index cards and moved around so that your entire play has a climax to the second plot point or crescendo and then the ending. On average my screenplays tend to run no longer than 120 pages and no less than a 110 pages.

Study your scene’s and then put them in order and when you are completely satisfied start writing your screenplay.

I would recommend less exterior scenes than interior unless you are an established screenplay writer with a producer with deep pockets.

Never have dialogue when you could have action or your can demonstrate a concept without words. Actors are physical creatures so have them moving instead of speaking. Believe me it will make you much happier to have them act instead of remembering lines. A great film for this is All Is Lost with Robert Redford.

And your script should be mathematically based much like poetry. But since film making is a collaborative process you have to be able to mold your project into everyone’s project. I like to use the example of the movie Good Will Hunting. It was not a great script but it was an award winning script. It followed all the old rules of script making although the crescendo was a bit flat. I think the reason that script won was because it was such a collaborative process.

Using Index Cards

How to End?

Your job ends the day you finish writing during the movies. You will have to answer to a producer, a director, actors and a script supervisor. Working on set can be very demanding and challenging and sometimes screenplay writers are replaced on set because they do not work well with others. Finishing your screenplay in your home isn’t the end of your work. You will be revising your screen play throughout the entire production until it is finished. This is also true of theater plays as well.

But if you are interested it is getting easier and easier to make your own productions and put them on you tube. And You Tube is moving into the Entertainment industry.

Writing is very fulfilling whether it is a screenplay, a book or a simple article on writing for Hub pages.

Pulp[ Fiction Movie

Three Days of the Condor

Silver Streak

Good Will Hunting


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    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 5 years ago from Florida

      Hi GirlsTalk,

      I have been working on a research project and I am behind in my hubbing. No problem. I love writing screenplays. It is a merry weekend for me locked away from the world. I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors.


    • GirlsTalk profile image

      sharon 5 years ago from Brisbane Australia

      Thanks for your great suggestions.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 6 years ago from Florida

      Hello Sinea Pies,

      If you really wish to pursue this I suggest you study the scripts and movies I have suggested and let me know if I can be of any assiatnce. The index cards really work and the way things are done today you can write, produce, direct and air on You Tube and make a killing.

      Always lovely to hear from you and have a wonderful weekend.


    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 6 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Very interesting hub. I've often wanted to write a screenplay but was at a loss for where to start.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 6 years ago from Florida

      Hi Richard,

      Screen plays are a very different form of writing and require you to be overly organized. You have to know the ending before you even begin to write and follow the plot point turn formats. I don't think I could write a screenplay without index cards because there is always more then one plot line evolving as you write.

      I wish you well on your endeavor and really the index cards always get me through. It also helpes me eliminate unnecessary scenes and keep my budget in mind as I go.

      Please let me know how it turns out.

      All My Best,


    • Richard Craig profile image

      Richard Craig 6 years ago from England

      I've been hard at work making another attempt of a screenplay and this time I hope I will finish it. I don't use index cards because I tend to just let things flow from start to finish and play it out in my head. Maybe the index cards will help me finish though, thanks!