Screenwriting is the art of writing for film and television. It is a distinctive form of storytelling that emphasizes visual action.
Screenwriting is done by screenwriters (in Hollywood, screenwriters are simply called “writers”).
Screenwriters write screenplays, also known as scripts. Scripts serve as the blueprint for the creation of films and TV shows.
Screenwriting Is Visual Storytelling
Screenwriting requires the same story elements as a novel, play, or short story.
In all these forms of storytelling:
- There has to be a hero.
- That hero has to want something.
- There should be an obstacle standing in the way of what the hero wants.
- There is a beginning, middle, and end.
- The whole story supports a theme.
In novels, we learn about the hero’s journey through narration and extensive details that serve to create the picture of the story in the reader’s mind.
In plays, we learn about the hero’s journey through dialogue. We typically see characters interact in one space, and the audience depends on those characters to convey the larger world and the gravity of their conflicts.
In screenwriting, the writer highlights particular details and moments that in other mediums would have to be described.
Because film allows filmmakers to visit different locations, catch meaningful glances between characters, and heighten a moment with musical cues, there’s no need for lengthy paragraphs dissecting the psychology of the story or for monologues to explain the conflict.
Screenwriting Is Collaborative
If you are interested in becoming a screenwriter, one of the most important things to ask yourself is if you’re willing to give other artists a substantial say in the way your story is told.
- Executives, producers, and directors will give notes.
- The director and DP will determine how the film is shot.
- The costumer and art department will design the look of film.
- The actors will create their interpretations of your characters.
After all, a screenplay is more than just a story. It’s also the document that lays out the blueprint for the finished product. Therefore, screenwriting is more than just storytelling. It’s also the craft of designing and presenting a world to other artists so they can make their own contributions.
The Benefits Of Collaboration
When you write a screenplay, you have to be okay with “my story” eventually turning into “our story.” In fact, that’s the goal.
This can be a jarring reality for someone who is just getting into the craft… especially someone who might be coming into it with the mindset of a novelist where the project is exclusively about your vision from beginning to end.
But once you open up to other opinions and input, you may find yourself getting excited about new possibilities for your story – elements and ideas that wouldn’t have come up if you were exclusively in charge of creating the final project. Sharing your work with someone else can feel risky, but it’s also a great way to learn, build relationships, and grow as an artist.
How To Get Started
One of the most important things you can do to get started as a screenwriter is to read a lot of scripts.
It is also important to read well-respected books on screenwriting. Here is a list of books that are well-known and frequently referenced in Hollywood. Reading them will not only help you develop your skills as a screenwriter; it will also make you better at discussing the craft in the language used by professionals.
You will also need to watch a lot of movies and TV shows. Eventually, you will want to select the medium you most want to write for (TV or movies), then from there, you will want to focus on a genre. Having a specific area of focus helps you to become an “expert,” which gives you a significantly better shot at selling your scripts.
So, when you have an area of focus, your first job will be to immerse yourself in the movies or TV shows of your chosen genre.
What If You Can't Decide On A Genre?
If you haven’t decided, immerse yourself anyway. Here are a few ways you can get started:
- Pick one genre you’re drawn to and start there.
- Fill in any gaps in your film knowledge.
- Re-watch movies you love with an analytical eye.
- Just watch movies that interest you most and make a note of which movies you are drawn to.
You may discover a pattern that helps you zero in on an area of focus.
The Importance Of Reading Screenplays
There are obvious benefits to reading scripts, the most obvious being that reading screenplays helps you become more familiar and more comfortable with the unique format of screenplays.
Moreover, when you read scripts, you discover nuances and storytelling techniques that are not immediately obvious when you watch movies and that are unlikely to be mentioned in screenwriting books.
It is important to remember that a screenplay is not the final product. The screenplay is the blueprint. It’s the means for creating the final product. Reading a script shows you how a highly visual story (i.e. a film or TV show) is told on the page. You can’t learn that just by watching the finished project.
Writing a screenplay begins with a lot of research and a lot of analysis.
To help you get started, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best screenplays out there and am making them available to you here. To get started, just select a medium and genre, or browse through the A-Z list.