ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Five Tips to Help You Become a Successful Screenplay or Script Writer

Updated on February 22, 2016
MarleneB profile image

Marlene is a published author who enjoys sharing tips that have helped her succeed in writing fiction, non fiction, and screenplays.

Lights! Camera! Action! Screenplays are written to be performed by actors.
Lights! Camera! Action! Screenplays are written to be performed by actors. | Source

The Challenge

At the urging of our friend and fellow hubber, billybuc, I wrote about my experience with screenwriting. Thank you for the idea, Bill. This was a fun publication to write.

My Experience as a Screenplay Writer

Screenplay writer, screen writer, playwright, or script writer are all names for a person who writes in a format that is meant to be performed by actors. Throughout this publication I will use these terms interchangeably.

I started writing scripts for church dramas and became hooked upon seeing my work come to life. When outlining a story idea, I start by utilizing a concept called “story boarding” and then I write the script. Story boarding is a process of illustrating or drawing the scene sequences so as to have a visual reference to the story’s transition from beginning to end.

When it comes to drawing, I am not as talented as I wish to be. I started story boarding with stick figures, then I progressed to creating storyboards by cutting out representative photos and clip art. For the most part, no one will see your storyboard but you. But, if you create a storyboard worth sharing, your storyboard will be an effective tool when you go to pitch your script. I’ll talk more about pitching in a moment. For now, let’s take a look at the bare minimum skill and efforts you need to become a successful screenplay or script writer.

Tip 1: Write Scripts With Direct and Concise Directions

Writing screenplays is about more than telling a story. In between the scene set-up and dialogue, the screen writer also delivers direction. When you write a screenplay, you essentially write for three audiences. You write for the actor, director, and the viewer of the produced screenplay. In order to be effective, you must have an absolute command of language, grammar, scriptwriting terminology and scriptwriting structure.

For the Actor

Your directions need to be clear and concise. Bad grammar and punctuation can cause confusion. Certain words mean certain things to actors. It is your job to know how to write direction. For instance, when you direct an actor to walk toward “stage left” or “stage right”. You need to be clear about whether you are directing from the actor’s point of view or the audience’s point of view.

For example, generally, stage left and stage right is the actor’s left and right as the actor is facing the audience. When you are writing for theaters, some producers want you to reference the “house left” and “house right” which is directing from the audience’s point of view.

Dialogue is dialogue. Dialogue is written exactly how the actor is to say what you have written. There are no rules here except to make sure the dialogue you have written is appropriate for the character.

If you are an independent writer, then it is up to you as to how you direct the scene, however standard policy for the industry is to direct the actor from the actor’s point of view.

Sometimes, you will be commissioned to write a script. If so, write directions according to how the producer desires. Some producers want to give the actor the freedom to interpret your dialogue. In this case, you will leave off the “parenthetical” directions. Sometimes, you will work with a producer who wants you to give some direction. The following example is a scene that I wrote for a script involving two characters who are somewhat at odds with each other. I have given some direction for the actors to gain insight on which emotions they should show during the scene.

Write to Direct the Actor

Script writing to direct the actor.
Script writing to direct the actor. | Source

For the Director

If you are an independent writer, then you write how you deem appropriate. Just remember, unless you are also the director, there will be someone who has authority over how the final script will be produced.

Allow the director to guide you on the director’s preference for whether to include parentheticals or not. Whatever you do, be concise. The director is using your structure to produce a finished product. In the following example, I wrote that the scene was to be faded in and that it should be set as a flashback. I have also let the director know that the scene should be set up as an interior setting (INT.) so they know to set the correct lighting at the character’s office in the morning.

Write to Direct the Director

Script writing to direct the director.
Script writing to direct the director. | Source

For the Viewer

The genre will determine how you write the script for your intended audience. When you are finished writing the script, read the script all the way through and try to imagine what the audience will see, hear, and feel when they view the performance.

Tip 2: Pick a Genre

There are many genres from which a script writer can write. Each genre has its own set of general rules and formats. Pick a genre that you enjoy watching and are familiar with and write for that genre. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You will have a better chance of honing your craft.
  2. You will become recognized for the genre that you write.

The screenwriting industry is very competitive. There are thousands of people trying to get their scripts read and produced. Unless you are an excellent writer with excellent skills your chance of succeeding in this industry are slim. KNOW YOUR CRAFT or your script will end up in the script cemetery. This is where scripts go to die. No one will ever end up reading your script. Can I just say, good scripts do not get read. Excellent scripts get read. You need to capture the producer's interest with the first line or he/she may not continue reading. Time is valuable and producers don't have time to read mediocre scripts that have the potential of producing mediocre movies or television shows. They are not going to waste their time reading a script that they have no intention of producing. Your script must be spectacular if you expect a producer to buy it and then spend hundreds of thousands of dollars producing it.

Once you become known in the industry for writing a certain style of script, producers are more likely to seek you out when there is a need for your particular style of writing and for the genre in which you write.

Screenwriters like Will Ferrell can write a script and command upwards of $4 million for scripts those producers buy just on speculation that they are going to produce the script. Will Ferrell writes comedy, so when he writes a script, producers who are looking to produce a comedy are likely to contact Ferrell to see what he has to offer or they may simply commission him to write a script for them.

Whether you write movie scripts, TV scripts, radio scripts, anime scripts, Oscar scripts, plays, or musicals, the following table shows examples of movies associated with that genre. Some movies cross over into multiple categories so you may see some movies shown two or three times in the table.

Table of Genres and Movie Examples

Genre
Examples of Movies
Action
48 Hours, Armageddon, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Bourne Identity, Kill Bill
Adventure
The Abyss, Airforece One, Indiana Jones, Apocalypse Now, Batman, Lost in Space, The Lord of the Rings
Animated
Antz, The Lion King, Toy Story, Who Shot Roger Rabbit?, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Transformers: the Movie
Comedy
Alfie, American Pie, Analyse That, Analyse This, Annie Hall, Back to the Future, Charlie's Angels, The Cable Guy
Crime
Get Shorty, The Getaway, The French Connection, The Godfather, The Green Mile, Lethal Weapon, Thelma & Louise
Drama
12 And Holding, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, 25th Hour, 3 Kings (Spoils of Way)
Family
Antz, The Flintstones, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, The Lion King, Stuart Little, Toy Story, Who Shot Roger Rabbit?
Fantasy
Alien, The Lord of the Rings, Lost Horizon, The Princess Bride, Return of the Jedi, Star Wars, Superman, Supergirl
Horror
Sixth Sense, Alien, An American Werewolf in London, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Jaws, Jurassic Park, King Kong
Musical
Hard Days Night, The Lion King, Nashville, Newsies, The Pianist, Rent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Mystery
Sixth Sense, Basic Instinct, The Bourne Identity, Clue, The Green Mile, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Romance
40 Year Old Virgin, An Affair to Remember, As Good as it Gets, An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman
Science Fiction
12 Monkeys, The 5th Element, The Abyss, Alien, Back to the Future, Battlestar Galactica, Planet of the Apes
Sports
The Jackie Robinson Story, Million Dollar Baby, Rocky, Rocky Balboa, The Ringer, Game 6
Suspense
Sixth Sense, Slay the Dreamer, Alien vs. Predator, Alone in the Dark, Assassins, Gold Finger, Jaws, Heist
Thriller
Sixth Sense, 8 Millimeter, Batman, Face/Off, Fatal Instinct, A Few good Men, The French Connection
Western
American Outlaws, The Great Train Robbery, Maverick, Shanghai Noon, Silverado, Wild Wild West
This list of genres shows the most commonly known genres in the screenwriting industry.

Tip 3: Read a Lot of Screenplays

Read, read, and read! Read as many scripts as you can get your hands on. This is, in my opinion, the best way to become familiar with how to write a screenplay.

Websites

There are many websites that allow you to download and read scripts for free. But remember, just because these scripts are free, it is in no way acceptable practice to steal another person's work. My favorite place to find scripts is a website called Simply Scripts. Simply Scripts is a database of hundreds of scripts from all genres and all types of production such as movies, television, and radio shows.

Trade Magazines

The magazine I enjoy reading, learning and keeping abreast of the screenwriting industry is Script Magazine. Before they produced their web version of the magazine, I subscribed to the paper version. Now, you can subscribe to the online version of Script Magazine, a valuable publication for script writers.

Script Magazine has lots of free downloads and resources available to screen writers. Get proper screenplay format tips, story structure tips, how to sell a screenplay, and much more.

Tip 4: Self-teach Yourself to Write Screenplays

Books

If you are just trying screen writing on for size, reading is the primary way to learn how to write scripts. Aside from downloading and reading scripts, books are also very valuable tools. My absolute favorite book is a book titled, “The Screenwriter’s Workbook” by Syd Field. Syd Field is a prominent writer and instructor of the screen writing craft. I used this workbook to produce one of my first commissioned screenplays.

Software Programs

There are software programs that help you create, format, and fine-tune your scripts to acceptable industry standards.

Final Draft

I use Final Draft. Final Draft is a software program that helps writers construct the actual script. The program has prompts for each genre and each genre is pre-formatted according to standard script writing guides. Even though the software provides pre-formatted guides, the writer can override the format to fit their writing style. If you are new to screen writing, I highly recommend that you don’t change the pre-formatting because if you use the most current issue of the program, the software is set to help you write a professional-looking script that is formatted with the industry’s preferred style.

The cost for Final Draft is currently $299.00. I have also seen it available for $99.99 at websites like Writers Store.

Truby’s Blockbuster

I use Truby’s Blockbuster. Truby’s Blockbuster software is a program that helps the writer fine-tune every angle of the story. From describing character profiles, to scene set-ups, to action you have an intricate tool at your disposal through Truby’s Blockbuster software.

The cost for Truby’s Blockbuster is $279.00. But I have seen it available as low as $59.00 at Writers Store.

Note: I receive no compensation for my endorsement of Writer's Store. I just happen to believe it is the ultimate place for writers to find helpful tools for the trade.

Tip 5: Attend Screenwriting Events

Third level institutions such as colleges and universities offer screenwriting classes on a regular basis. If attending a school for higher education is not feasible right now, consider attending a screenwriting workshop or convention.

The most fun I have ever had learning the script writing craft is from attending workshops and conventions. At these events, you will meet talented writers with the same interest. The excitement level is high and people are eager to share what they know with you.

Network, Network, Network!

After you have finished writing your screenplay, you will need to market it. In the screenplay world, we call it “pitching” your work.

Introduce Yourself

Screenwriting executives, directors, and producers are a tight-knit group. For the most part, you will need to get an introduction before gaining the opportunity to have your script read. When you attend screenwriting events, introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Bring plenty of business cards to hand out to people you meet.

Caution: Do not try to shove your script into everyone’s face. It is a real turn-off. It is rare that executives will take the time to read your script on the spot. And, don't think that if you can get the script into their hands at the event, they will read it later. Think about this for a moment. When you hand someone your script, now they have to carry this script around with them throughout the event. It is not likely that they are going to want to be burdened by holding your script in their hand all day. They may just toss your script into the nearest trashcan in order to free up their hands so they can enjoy the event hands-free.

A Proper Place and Time to Pitch

Every time I have attended a scriptwriting event, there was always a contest, seminar, or special time and place set aside for writers to meet face-to-face with an executive in the screenwriting industry. This is when you have an opportunity to pitch your story idea to a director or producer and possibly give them a copy of your script.

When you pitch your story idea, get your idea presented in a concise, but exciting way. At the larger workshops and conventions, you may have one little minute to share your idea. So, for yourself, write a dynamic pitch script that allows you to present your idea quickly, yet thoroughly enough that the complete idea is conveyed. Practice your pitch script until you know it by heart. You only need to present the highlights of your story. Don't allow yourself to get long-winded, explaining every detail. You have a limited time to present and if you go beyond your allotted time, your pitch will be cut short in order to allow others to share their story ideas as well.

Sometimes It's Who You Know

Like I said, the executives in this industry are a tight-knit group of people. Sometimes, getting your script read is a matter of who you know. Part of your marketing plan is to meet lots of people in the industry.

Don't stalk executives, but go where they go. Participate in activities that they participate. Dine where they dine. They are out and about, wheeling and dealing. So, you need to be out and about, as well. You need to be seen to be heard. Let people get to know you and what type of scripts you write so that the next time a producer asks, “Who do you know who has a screenplay about such and such?” Someone who knows you might remember you and pass your name along. It could happen just like that. In fact, among the first few plays that I wrote was for a church production. The pastor’s wife asked one of the members, “Who do you know who could write a Christmas-themed play? The member was a friend of mine who knew that I was a writer. I met with the pastor’s wife and she gave me the assignment without even asking for my credentials. May I brag and say, the play was a hit.

Success Can Be Yours!

Although it is my ultimate goal to some day have one of my scripts produced by an industry giant, let me be perfectly honest and clear about the fact that I have yet to have one of my scripts become a blockbuster movie. Until that time arrives, I am happy to keep writing and directing the occasional Christmas play or Sunday drama production.

I am no longer going out hustling, bustling, and schmoozing with the big guys. It is a lot of work to get yourself set up to be in the right place at the right time. I am happy with the productions I am doing, therefore, I do feel I am a successful script writer.

You decide what success means to you. If it is to write for fun, then you are successful. If it is to do more, then set that as a goal and work toward it. Success is what you make it. Remember, to write excellent scripts, you must read as many scripts as you can, write as much as you can, study the script writing craft, and network with other writers and executives in the industry.

Success can by yours if you read, write, mingle, and pitch that script.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 13 months ago

      Thank you.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 13 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Honestly, Robert, nothing you do is a waste of time. You never know when a query letter or email will fall into the right hands. My personal experience with this industry is that the people who work in this industry are "tight" with each other and they refer business to each other. If you are outside of their sphere it is difficult (not impossible) to get in.

      For example, I have a close family member who is a wardrobe stylist for a very popular network show. I'm not going to drop names here, but she works with a very notable actor/director. She told the director about me and because I am a family member of someone who works on the show, all I have to do is give a script to my family member who said the director will accept it, read it, and give it an honest "look." That is valuable in this industry. I would not have that opportunity any other way except because I know someone who knows someone. If I were to send a query letter to this director, my script would probably go straight into the trash can. But, if it were handed to him by my family member, it would have a serious opportunity to be purchased.

      I'm not saying you should stop doing what you are doing. I'm just saying, it is more difficult. Keep doing it. Everything counts. But, if you can get in front of people face-to-face it is better.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 13 months ago

      Thank you, lots of good information. What if meeting film making people face to face isn't practical? Are the query letters and emails just a waste of time?

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 13 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hello Rajan! Thank you for your comment. Actually, the terms script writing and screenplay writing are both words used to describe a document that is written to be performed by actors, whether on stage or screen. Often, people will use script writing to refer to theater or radio performances and they will use screenplay to refer to television or movie performances. This is not a universal answer, because it depends on who you talk to for the answer. This is, however, my personal experience and how the people around me use the terms.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 13 months ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful and of course interesting information on screenplay writing. I always associated script writing with story writing and screenplay writing with writing dialogue and thought they were two different set of things and needed two different people to do full justice to them.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 18 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Shyron E Shenko, you are so kind. Thank you very much for your support.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 18 months ago

      I am back to re-read this and I will share it also.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hello poetryman6969! I think it is all a matter of interest. Specific talent is required for all genres of writing. While writing screenplays is easy for me, writing poetry is extremely difficult. I bow down to poets.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Shyron E Shenko, you are so kind. Thank you for your positive feedback. I think you have a great idea. Picking up some of your old work and writing them for a screenplay just might be the solution to getting them published. I would definitely try it.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 20 months ago

      I think this talent is well beyond me but it is an interesting view into a world I will never know.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 20 months ago

      Marlene, I am fascinated by your writing, looks like I found something new to try, my friend Jo (Jo_Goldsmith11) was going to do something along this line, but with all the other things (writings) she has going on, I guess she does not have the time.

      I saw you comment to billybuc about "mean streets" that is why I wanted to read you hub and I am so glad, and I left a message for you there.

      I think I may try this with some writings that I have been working on for some 20 years.

      Thumb up across the board except funny. Sharing.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hello catmalone. Thank you for your feedback. It means a lot to me.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hi Suzanne. Thank you for your confidence. For me, it has been a lot of trial and error. It also helps to have a family member in the entertainment business. But even that is no guarantee.

    • catmalone profile image

      catmalone 20 months ago

      Very Awesone Hub with very useful information. Thank you for sharing the knowledge.

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 20 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Wow, a very useful hub on screenwriting! I've looked at it before but I think you're the expert here, so I'm going to take my tips from you ;)

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hi Matt! Thank you for your kind comments. My ideas are limited to my experience. I hope it is enough to help someone succeed.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Oh Faith that has happened to me on a number of occasions (not being able to edit) but I knew what you meant.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hello Faith. Screenwriting does indeed require a different kind of mindset. It is a more involved craft. But I thoroughly enjoy it. I encourage you to do it. Reading scripts in the genre and platform (theater, movie, or TV) will be a valuable way to shorten your learning curve. Go for it, friend!

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hi anusha15. I am glad you enjoyed this publication. Thank you very much for you encouraging feedback.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hello Ms Dora. Thank you so much for your feedback. It was fun sharing my limited experience. I hope it helps someone succeed.

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 20 months ago from Oregon

      Great information Marlene. You are well versed in all these areas and field of study. I found this hub to b very interesting and well researched. Thank you for sharing a lot of your promoting and marketing secrets as well.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 20 months ago from southern USA

      Oops. sorry for the typo on pondering ...it would not allow to edit my comment.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 20 months ago from southern USA

      Wow, Marlene,

      What a great article on the subject I am ponding at this point in time. I am thrilled you have posted this hub here.

      You certainly know your stuff, and with your direction, I just may think on writing a screenplay again. In high school I directed a play, and so I have that mindset of thinking, but then there is all the other that goes into writing a screenplay.

      You are a professional all the way, Marlene.

      Up +++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      God bless you

    • anusha15 profile image

      Anusha Jain 20 months ago from Delhi, India

      Some great tips here. I loved the first one the most. The example was a great one, and expressions were awesome. I look forward to see more writeups from you on similar topics :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 20 months ago from The Caribbean

      This is a great share, Marlene. Thanks you for the honest talk about the struggle to succeed in this industry. Voted Up and more.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hello ChitrangadaSharan. Thank you very much for your compliment. You are truly kind. I think the reason writing screenplays is easier for me is because it is so structured. Once the structure is understood, then the rest becomes easier, too.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 20 months ago from New Delhi, India

      This is so interesting! You are so talented. I always thought Screenplay is so difficult. You need special understanding to do it beautifully.

      Very well written and well explained hub. Thanks and voted up!

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hi FatBoyThin. It's OK to disagree. That's the world we live in. I understand what you are saying. But, I still work as an actor and have read many scripts over the years. More times than not, the scripts have some type of direction. Words that mean nothing to a non-actor have a definite meaning to an actor. For example, last month I was given a direction to read the script "breathy." The average person would not know what it means to read a script breathy. Later in that same script, I was directed to read the script with a "tropical" tone. When I read the dialogue, I interpreted the script one way, but when I read the command to read it in a tropical tone, I knew exactly what the director meant. In the acting world, "dignified" and "surprised" do have meaning and offer enough direction for the actor to be free to bring more of themselves to the scene. And then, like I said, some producers want the writer to add direction, and some don't. I write the script how the director instructs me to do. Thanks so much for your feedback. It really does mean a lot to me.

    • MarleneB profile image
      Author

      Marlene Bertrand 20 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Hi Bill, thank you for your suggestion. Yes. I find writing screenplays much easier than writing novels. With novels, there is so much effort and connecting with the readers on so many levels that I find it difficult to do. You, on the other hand, do quite well with capturing emotions, describing scenes, and taking the reader through a journey that they don't want to end. I enjoy reading your novels, but I know (right now anyway) that I could not write as well as you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well this just confirms what I already knew...there is no way I could do this well. My mind can't wrap around the process. Funny how some of us find novels so easy, while others find screen plays much easier. Anyway, that was nice of you to mention me...this is a wealth of information and so well-written. Good job dear friend.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 20 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      This is a really interesting Hub, Marlene, though I'm afraid I have to disagree with you about directions for actors. Actors should NEVER be told how to say their lines. Instructions like 'dignified' or 'surprised' are completely irrelevant. Actors interpret the script from the dialogue. If they really don't know how to say a line, then either they are plain bad actors, or you have really bad dialogue! Voted up.

    Click to Rate This Article