Plenty of people have a great idea for a film or a television series. Sadly, a lot of these ideas never make it onto paper – and of those which do, only a small proportion ever grow to grace our screens. Sometimes this is because the people with the ideas do not know how to write screenplays. And sometimes it is because they do not know how to write good screenplays. Here, therefore, are a few tips which may help you to both get your ideas down on paper, and to present them in a good, viable manner.
Finish Your Drafts
It sounds strange to start this advice at the end (so to speak) – but finishing drafts really is very important. It’s all too easy to get frustrated with your work as you go along, and to endlessly revise parts you’ve already written. This means that your screenplay never moves along, and you’re likely to get sick of it before getting anywhere near the ending. Even if you don’t get sick of it, focusing endlessly on tiny portions of your script makes you likely to lose sight of the bigger picture – not to mention delaying you immensely! However badly you think you’re doing, soldier on and get it all down – right to the end. THEN you can go back and make revisions. You can write as many drafts as you like, and refine your script to your heart’s content. Just be sure that you finish each draft you write. Not only will this ensure that your script keeps advancing, it will also give you a much clearer idea of structure and so on as you progress.
Know Your Characters
It’s always a good idea to know your characters deeply, inside and out. You don’t have to put all of this development overtly into your screenplay, but it will help you an awful lot when writing realistic, convincing, and interesting dialogue. Explore your characters’ motivations. If they’re doing or saying something simply to advance the plot of set up another piece of dialogue, your script will come across as flat and unrealistic. Make sure that they always have an internal reason to do what they do and say what they say. If, for example, your character is a liar, understand WHY they are a liar. Have they been punished for telling the truth in the past? Do they fear the consequences of the truth? Do they have another reason for lying and, if so, what’s behind that reason? Always ensure that your characters are deeply developed, and have sound psychological reasons for their actions and their speech. Sure, your characters drive the plot and therefore need to do things which specifically advance that plot. However, if you understand their motivations and their personalities, you’ll find that your characters and dialogue are less obviously simple plot-devices, and much more artistically convincing.
Learn To Cut
Editing can be a really painful process, but it is a necessary one. You’ll probably find yourself having to slice out swathes of material which you love, and of which you are proud. It’s horrible, but it’s worth it. However brilliantly a piece is written, if it’s proving detrimental to the screenplay as a whole, chuck it. Keeping in bits which don’t help the overall story simply to please your vanity is not the way forward. If you like then you can incorporate what you’ve cut into your next screenplay – nothing is wasted for a writer!
Tell The Story
At the end of the day, scriptwriting is just another way of storytelling. It’s the story which is important. It’s the story which will engage your audience. It’s the story which will capture the imagination. And it’s the story which will be remembered. Stories are immensely important for humans – they’re how we make sense of the world, among other things. So don’t get too carried away with extraneous detail or lavish set pieces. Focus always on the story, and tell it well. Writing out structural maps may help you to do this more effectively. Set pieces and lovely little details are great, but only if they help to tell the story as a whole. Within the bounds of the storyline, however, you can be as free and inventive as you please – that is, after all, the joy of storytelling!