Screenwriting Crash Course

To all of the Nanowrimo brethren unsure of Script Frenzy or the people who always wanted to write a screenplay – hopefully this post can help a little bit.

If you’re even the smallest bit hesitant about writing a screenplay, give this a read. The following link is an article I’ve been using since the second screenplay I ever completed. Entitled The Three-Week Screenplay and written by Dov S-S Simens, it originally appeared in a 1998 issue of the magazine MovieMaker. The article is six steps, but I diverge halfway through. The simplistic and sometimes humorous article can be a quick confidence builder.…

I don’t follow it exactly as written, so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to either. This can be a map you glance at before deciding to trudge into the desert alone…or you can use it as a guide until you meet a fellow traveler.  Keep reading to learn the rest.

My changes to this process…

I don’t go by days. I like to rush.

I divert a bit at step 4, which I’ll lay out below for anyone else who might like to know. It makes more sense if you read the article first. You can ignore the questions at the bottom unless morbidly curious; since it has nothing to do with the process.

My Step 4:

I take a piece of paper and do the Ws and H; labeling each. Who; what; when; where; why; how. Usually I just say the “when” is “right now” for lack of better answer…but a specified amount of time or whatever period/future/dystopian setting it is can be added.

Then I get five pieces of notebook paper. You can use three if you prefer (especially if three blank pages look less intimidating. “It’s your own little world…” and whatnot (one of my favorite Bob Ross lines).

Step 4A: “the beginning”

If you’re using the three page approach, I suggest folding the paper in half and making a little hash mark as the ideal amount of space needed. The top half of that page is “the beginning” and should be labelled so (to avoid later confusion). If using five pieces of paper, use all of one page as the beginning.

Step 4B: “the end”

Similar to step 4A…if the three page approach, fold the last one and fill the bottom half in; labeling it “the end” – or fill the whole last page if doing the five page method.

Step 4C: “the middle”

Usually endings are the daunting part, but you already finished it. Now you have a blank section to label as “the middle” now. If three pages…remember to fill in the bottom of page one through the top half of page three. If a five-pager person, you have three pages to fill in…but no top/bottom to fiddle with.

All of those empty lines may be feared before attempting 4C, but I usually end up with a lot of overflow. Just remember to number your pages for these steps so you won’t get too confused when assembling it to get to the next part of the process.

Step 5: “outlining”

I hate that word – and I apologize for even putting it in quotes, but here’s why…
Remember steps 4A through 4C? You basically repeat it here. If you keep the scenes to a number like 40, you can try to elaborate on the outline; filling in details of course. Remember a scene is a “slugline” worth in most cases. Some novels have a few locations per chapter. If your screenplay sequence takes place in a bedroom waking up; breakfast downstairs; in the car to work…that’s THREE scenes. When you see the idea of 40-60 scenes as a good estimate for a script, you can see how quickly they can stack up. You might even end up with a hundred scenes in your screenplay. You just need a sentence [fragmented even] to convey the scene.

Doug looks through the house – room by room – to find the phone number, but has no luck.
Doug can’t find number / looks everywhere

Either works!

If you still need a confidence booster, try to look as it this way…

The 40 “scenes” approach can break down as 10 “beginning” – 20 “middle” – 10 “end” (correlating with the layout of the earlier treatment). 60 scenes? 20 “beginning” – 40 “middle” 20 “end”.

The scenes don’t have to show everything, nor do they have to look neat and tidy. Sometimes it even helps to jump around like the steps of the treatment: beginning; end; middle. Whatever it takes. Your “beginning” could be 8 scenes, then 30 scenes for your “middle” and 22 as the “end”. This stage is also where many books and people say to use index cards. That way scenes can be jumbled around and rearranged on the fly; to see how different things may work out or improve the flow of the story. Whatever you feel most comfortable or excited about.

Step 6: “first draft”

That heading can be deceiving since you really wrote your story over and over [perhaps] without even realizing it.

You had…

treatment (beginning, middle, end)
outline (40-60) scenes

So you can call this a third round or even a fifth/sixth draft [including the title] depending on how you work at it. Side note: you can get all of this done before April starts and not be considered a “cheater” in the slightest [if talking Screnzy]. 🙂

The “first draft” step is what I usually title “connect the dots” since I often write from one scene to the next- often adding things between or combining scenes along the way. Having forty scenes lined up doesn’t dismiss the opportunity for pantsing; improv; or taking a left turn and creating a whole different path altogether.

By no means do you have to follow any of the above, or stick to anything you put down before writing a first draft. The “process” is to help build confidence or sureness of one’s story: going from what ‘might kind of be a good idea for a movie’…to something that has the overall look or feel of a movie; allowing one to boldly set forth rather than pondering if it’s best to start at an interior or exterior shot to set the tone.

At any rate, I know there is more inherent structure or “rules” for screenwriting…but that’s part of the appeal. Hopefully reading all or part of this will give at least one person a bit more confidence to type proudly on April 1st…all while feeling less the “fool” as it were. not that there’s anything wrong with setting off things foolishly…

Go proudly! Onward; upward — FRENZY!


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