I think a lot of the perspectives on writing screenplays is a bit of an “Oh there’s so much do to and I don’t think I’ll plan. I’ll just write it”. Wrong approach, I’m afraid. I tried that before I went to Uni and my scripts were all over the place and didn’t make sense AT ALL, but that’s probably more of a reflection of me than anything else. I’ll give a few steps of what you need to do for the plan and hopefully it works for you too.
STEP 1: THE PITCH
This might sound a little scary at first, but it’s nothing to worry about, trust me. The pitch is what we’ve all read before. If you look on the back of DVD boxes there’s a description of what we can expect from a film. For example, THE DUFF has this as their pitch: “When Bianca’s world is shattered by the discovery her entire school knows her as ‘The DUFF’, she enlists the slick but charming Wesley to help shed her label and overthrow mean girl Madison. Funny, feisty and fun, THE DUFF is here to remind everyone that no matter what people look or act like, we are all someone’s DUFF.”
To write a pitch like the one for THE DUFF all you need to do is think about the story you’re trying to tell, but narrow it down to about fifty words. It can seem easy or hard, depending on how well you know the idea you wish to tell down to every detail.
STEP 2: THE LOGLINE
This is possibly the hardest one to do, but a lot of the time, we can leave this one to be done after you’ve written the entire script. Sometimes it’s easier to do it before you start writing it. The log line is maybe one or two sentences that sum up your story you’re telling. As an example, PERCY JACKSON series of books (by Rick Riordan) have the logline “Half Boy. Half God. All Hero”. That sums it up pretty well, as Percy Jackson is a Demigod who saves the day a LOT.
This could help you later to sell your script when you get to that stage.
STEP 3: CHARACTER BIOGRAPHIES
Every story has a load of characters we all want to know things about to help us feel like we’re part of their world. Character biographies help us a lot when we need to know what kind of character we’re dealing with. Not everything we put into the biographies goes into the script, but it’s good to have the plan to refer back to when trying to decide how each character would react to a certain situation. You can ask as many questions about your character, putting an answer for each. Once you get stuck on what other questions you could ask, question the characters on why you put those answers, getting more answers and maybe more questions out of them to ask. It may seem pointless at first, but trust me, it works.
STEP 4: THE OUTLINE
This bit is the first part of the drag out. For TV and Film we are requested to write as part of the treatment (the planning) of our scripts. They would ask for about one thousand five hundred words to explain what happens in each film. They may want less for TV, but you will be requested to put more detail into the pilot (first episode) of the TV series. For example, for TV you could do the one thousand five hundred for the pilot and then shrink it down to a thousand words for the other episodes. You can decide. Just DON’T in the outline actually have characters say lines. Just give them a gist of what the character may be saying at that point in time.
STEP 5: THE SCENE BY SCENE SYNOPSIS
Dragging out part 2. This part is basically looking through your outline and making them scenes. You write a short description of what happens in each scene. The scene changes when they move rooms, the time changes or when they move location altogether. They would either be an interior (all inside shots, including inside a car), exterior (all the outside shots) and maybe even the int/ext (looking into somewhere from outside) and the ext/int (looking out of somewhere from inside). It’s going to take up a lot of pages, but it will be worth it for when you find yourself writing the script. Somewhere I heard that film scripts have about two hundred scenes, but in a lot of writing I have seen, sometimes you don’t need that many when you can make scenes as long s you want without it dragging out and losing your audience. Then you can go for it, making scenes as long or short as you wish, being the writer you are.
STEP 6: THE SCRIPT!
And at last you can finally start writing the story you’ve been thinking about for so long! Hurrah! As a student who is on a Scriptwriting degree, I’d suggest writing for these styles use a program called FINAL DRAFT. You do have to pay for it, but it is worth it. It sets out the script in the format for the screen and they even have templates that some companies use for their scripts, like the BBC. You write your script and let the story be released into the words you want, looking at the Scene by Scene Synopsis as you go to stick to your plan.
When writing the script, the point of the situation changing needs to be about ten to fifteen minutes in. You also need to have the resolution about the same time at the end of your script. Don’t be afraid to add more hurdles for them to jump, just when they think they’ve cracked the puzzle the characters got. It helps build tension and help the audience to cheer on the characters to succeed.
Once you have finished the script, be happy you have and go back over it once you’ve left it alone for a little while. When you go back to it and haven’t got a clue how to edit it an make it better, ask someone you know to read it (once you’ve put it into a PDF) and get them to critique it and help you make it better. Once you get the feedback, start changing it, but make sure you save it as another draft, since in a lot of treatments they want to see where it was at the start to when you finally get to the final draft. It doesn’t matter how many drafts you have. Just make sure you keep them all to see the progress you make.
That’s all the steps you need. Hopefully this will enlighten you to find what to do to write scripts to your best ability with the planning to make it the best it can be. Whenever you start your writing journey, if that’s what you want to do, I wish you the best of luck. May the (writing) force be with you.