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Screenwriting 101



Screenplays are often defined as the blueprints for a movie, the document that will guide the filmmaking and storytelling processes from beginning to end. Screenwriting is also conceived as one of the most difficult writing tasks in the world, due to its limitations (page count, writing style, tense, etc.), limitations novelists and poets don’t have.
This post is the first one, in a series, to bring a wider understanding of what screenwriting is, its purpose and tips on how to write better screenplays.
With that said, first things first:

What is a screenplay?

Wikipedia defines a screenplay as:
A written work by screenwriters for a film, video game or television program. These  screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing.
I think this is a great definition of what a screenplay is; like I said before a screenplay is the blueprint for a story, any type of story that is set to become an audiovisual production. It is also a group of different factors, that work together to build a cohesive, gripping story.
Screenplays have been used since the origins of film. During early years, movies didn’t have sound, so screenplays were short scenes that only detailed action for about sixty seconds of film. As the industry began to evolve, different scenes of the same nature were put together to create a story. Then each scene was added a header for setting description, sound was incorporated and screenplays became more sophisticated in time. Which brings us to the next point in this post:

What does it take to write a screenplay?

No specific formula for screenwriting has been found. Each writer has a completely different approach and vision, and approach and vision vary from story to story. The only common denominators when creating and writing a screenplay are an idea and passion.

Where do ideas come from?

Every story is born with an idea, or a question the writer asks him or herself about human behavior or society or mere day-to-day activities, such as:
What would happen if a child skips school? Of course, the answer to that question is obvious, some sort of punishment would be inflicted on the child, but things can get a little more interesting if it was a six year old child skipping school. That makes you wonder: why did he/she skip school? What would a child so young would do instead of going to school? Would the kid be safe? You know, this sorts of questions.
Other times, stories are born with a scene. Imagine, there’s an old couple fighting, they’ve been married for years, but suddenly she wants a divorce. Then, you go back to the questions. For how long have they been married? Why does she want a divorce? Did they have previous issues? Is she in love with another man? Did he cheat on her? And from that, you build a narrative.
Those are just some examples, but ideas can come form different places, a song, a piece of dialogue in a movie you watched, a book you just read, a friend, a historical event, etc.

How to write a screenplay?

Rather than focusing on formatting right now, but I will in a future post, this time it is all about the story as a whole.
Once you have the idea for your story, you must ask yourself questions about it.

What is the genre?

Is your movie a thriller, a romantic comedy, is it a romantic drama or a tear jerker? There are many genres and subgenres to choose from, but once you choose your genre stick to it. Of course, it’s great to add some originality, but remember that when an audience walks in to a specific type of  film they have expectations. If a person wants to watch a crime thriller, they expect a crime to happen soon in the story, if you’re halfway through and there’s no crime, maybe you picked the wrong genre.
If you want to learn more about genres and subgenres, please check this website:

What is the theme?

Themes are known as the moral behind a story, the message you want to transmit with it. Usually, themes are portrayed with the lesson the protagonist learns at the end of the story.
An example is the 2012 film The Hunger Games, at the beginning Katniss focuses on protecting her family at all costs, which is what motivates her to volunteer to take her sister’s place in the 74th Hunger Games, but as the story progresses she learns what the real value of human life is and that no life is worth more than another. So, we can say that one of the themes in The Hunger Games is the value of human life.
So, ask yourself, why do I want to tell this story? What is the message I want to transmit? What do I want people to feel like at the end? This will help you to flesh out the story a little easier.

Who is the protagonist?

The protagonist is the character your story revolves around of. Without character, there’s no story. Your protagonist must feel realistic, even if it’s some type of fantastical creature, there must be some human trait for us to relate and connect with him or her. A common mistake us writers make when creating characters is that we make them perfect, this is unrealistic. Real people are flawed and broken, and your characters, especially your protagonist should be flawed and broken too.

Outline

Just like the screenplay is the blueprint for a movie or TV series, the outline is the blueprint for your screenplay.

Are outlines necessary?

No. Outlines aren’t necessary, you could sit and start writing anything, but the risk of doing this is that you might lose focus on the way. Since us writers are creative people, we are constantly creating, which means new ideas get in ours head while writing and this new ideas might deviate from the story, which would involve lots of revising and rewriting to get back to what was originally wanted. With an outline, all of this is evaded because you have a clear vision of how the story flows and moves. It takes time to outline, but trust me, it’s worth it.
And finally,

Be passionate

Passion is necessary when you’re writing. If you’re not passionate about your story, other people hardly will.
Most of the time during the writing process you will feel like your story isn’t working, you will think it’s bad, you will get stuck, and this is all perfectly normal, it’s just fear of failure in the back of your head. Passion helps shutting that fear down. If you’re excited about what you’re writing, if you feel driven and connected to the story, fear doesn’t matter. As long as you feel confident in what you’re doing, nothing and no one can tell you it’s wrong. Feedback is also necessary, you don’t want to deliver a piece of crap, but over all things, you MUST be happy with your own story. And when fear kicks back in, because it will, just keep writing.