Are you a fresh screenwriter looking to improve those tentative first drafts? Or are you a screenwriter-to-be, struggling to relay your creative vision onto those daunting white pages for the first time? As a former university student with a concentration in screenwriting and a couple of screenplays under my belt, I understand how it feels to feel lost when it comes to the ins and outs of writing industry-standard screenplays. Even if you aren’t looking to pen the next big box office hit, knowing how to write a screenplay with engaging characters within industry standards can get you far. So, if you want to learn more about the basics of the craft, read on.
- Read screenplays–a lot of them!
If you’re aiming for a feature-length screenplay–especially for the spec market–you need to read feature-length screenplays, and lots of them. Luckily, there are plenty of sites that host hundreds of screenplays spanning all genres. The sites listed below also have drafts of some of the best-known cinema classics out there, so you can see first-hand how a Hollywood film evolves in the writing process.
Here are five:
- Drew’s Script-o-Rama
- Screenplays for You
- The Daily Script
- The Script Lab (has more recent releases)
- Learn The Structure of a Screenplay
A house will collapse under a faulty framework, and so too will a screenplay fall flat if you don’t use loglines the right way, for instance. Sure, there are no hard rules when it comes to art, but it really helps to know the “rules”–common industry standards, really–before you start breaking them, especially if you want to shop your script around.
The book “Master Screenplay Format: a Clear Guide on How to Format a Screenplay for the Spec Market” by Script Reader Pro was instrumental in laying out the basics of a script’s structure for me, and it’s published by a website that’s chock-full of resources for screenwriters of all skill levels. I highly recommend checking them out.
More resources on screenplay structure:
- “STORY MAPS: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay” by Daniel P. Calvisi
- Screenplay Structure Examples – A Guide for Screenwriters
- Structure of a Screenplay: Everything You Need to Know
- Work on Characterization
More than anything, stories are driven by their characters. Characters–protagonists especially–must give us a reason to delve into their world and accompany them on their transformative journeys. Characters are the soul of a story and drive it forward.
If you want to make your characters and their character arcs more engaging, it really helps to learn just how a character arc is structured: what is your character’s ultimate goal, and what stops them from reaching that goal? What are their values? How has their past informed their current decisions? Asking yourself these questions and more will definitely help you get to the bottom of a character’s… well, character. It’ll make them feel more like a real and complex person.
“Screenplay: Building Story Through Character” by Jule Selbo was one of the best books I’ve read on this. It can be hard to find a cheap physical copy, however, so here are other resources to help you build some truly great characters: