So you want to become a screenwriter? – Part 1

by James Bell on January 13, 2009

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The thing that stops most people from setting off to realize some inner created world is usually the seemingly more daunting aspects of screenwriting. Namely- How do I become a screenwriter? Well whether it’s a real life experience or an imaginative mind persisting to call out from the subconscious, everyone has at some point or another had an idea. Luckily for you the film business was built on those and only continues to thrive by the fact that people keep having them.

But writing, in all forms, is a craft. It takes discipline and hard work to create the best quality results possible. You’ll find, usually, that you have specific strengths in one area and complete weakness in another. It’s up to you to do the research and countless hours of effort to bridge the gap, and weave the best story possible. Writing is not easy, and without determination to see it through to the end you won’t get very far at all.

There are very differing levels to which one can become involved in screenwriting, stage, feature-film, television, even short films. Finding your place in those different worlds is up to you, we just hope to answer some questions or guide you in the right direction. Ultimately, only you can write your story.

I want to write but I don’t know where to start!


Ideas might be the birth of something glorious, but like everything in the process – they are, quite simply, a means to an end. The first and second biggest hurdle to screenwriting is starting. The bigger of the two hurdles is, of course, finishing, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The first thing you’ll need is something to write with.  Now, some people might be fine with pen and paper but if you hand a prospective producer or stage director your script, scribbled in blue or black ink, you can be sure you’re not getting a call back. No, you’ll need some software.

Industry standards are generally; Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx.

If you really wanted to, you could just as easily write a screenplay in Microsoft Word or any other subsequent similar program, but if you want to be taken seriously make sure to have the formatting down. Which we’ll discuss more shortly –

So if you have the software, then what?  Start writing.  Sounds easy, usually isn’t.  Professional writers all have their own ‘process’ and even that changes with experience.  Some outline, plot acts, write treatments, bullet point scenes, and even just start from page one and see where they end up.  Nothing is a given, no process works best for everyone. It’s a personal thing that only comes from experience. What you need to do though, is make sure you understand your story – what you’re trying to tell and why.  Define for yourself the beginning, middle, and end – and then see where it takes you.

What’s the proper Format to write in?

Since Screenwriting software programs do the formatting for you, that’s typically easy. But the smartest and most effective way to know script formatting is by reading scripts.  Produced ones, not fan fiction posted somewhere, but produced screenplays.  You can find them online (usually free), or you can order them through certain stores.

Some online resources for you are:

The writing craft is really something that only the writer can force themselves to learn. The old adage “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” holds true here. We will trump this one numerous times; If you want to write, start reading and never stop {but do make sure to add in some serious writing time ;) }

Should I take classes for writing?

This might not be the answer you’re looking for, but it’s the truth. Everything in life is school for writing. Your attentiveness and research into the world around you will help fill your stories with the life much needed. Mix that in with some vivid imagination and you’ve got yourself a pretty great skill set to start with.

So the answer to this really depends on the person. Anyone that’s been at the game longer than you always has a wealth of knowledge you can learn from, but in the end it’s about how you take that knowledge and apply it to your own work.

This goes for “HOW TO” writing books as well. The likes of Syd Field, Robert McKee, among others, have a vast amount of knowledge which will help you with structure and character arcs, etc.  But again, you’re the writer; you have to take what you can learn from anywhere and apply it the best way possible for your story.

Classes are a great place to learn though, and meet other contacts and like-minded individuals to learn from and along with.  Look into universities and colleges that offer writing classes and see what fits your intentions best. One of the great things about writing schools is that it forces a deadline onto you, and if you’re someone that has a hard time making your own, there’s built in incentive for you.

Look out for Part 2 which will include things to consider after writing your script.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rob January 16, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Great Article. Especially like the last portion there…inspiring!

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