August 25, 2014

8 Screenwriting Tips That Will Help You in the Long Run

Darius BrittDespite the fact that the internet is brimming with tips and tricks for becoming a better screenwriter (we even have our own in-house guru, Christopher Boone), the screenwriting gods rarely make divine promises of favor to mere mortals like us. No, prosperity, whether measured in money earned or pages written, does not come easy; it all depends on how hard and tenaciously you're willing to work. So, what are some practical things we can do as screenwriters now that will foster beneficial writing and creative habits later? Filmmaker Darius Britt shares 8 screenwriting tips that can help you build a solid foundation and improve your skills.

Many of the things Britt mentions in his video below will help you more in the long run, so if you're looking for a quick fix, these are probably not going to do it -- in fact, I don't think that there's anything that can. Such is the sad life of a sad writer. Ammiright? At any rate, take a look:

If you've researched this topic before, chances are you've read about many of these tips before, like reading scripts and watching movies. However, Britt's insight as to why those things are so important is right on point. For instance, one of his tips is to write every day -- a pretty common thing to hear, and honestly, it's a point that is argued quite a bit among writers. Some believe writing when you don't feel like it is just a waste of time since your ideas aren't inspired (you become a machine rather than an artist), while some believe writing consistently builds the discipline professionals need to be successful. Britt brings up a great point, though, that the writer who writes every day is probably going to be a better writer than the one who only writes sporadically. Why? For the sheer fact that the writer who writes every day is writing more, and therefore practicing more. The more you write, the better you'll get.

Britt's suggestions make up a great daily routine (maybe weekly for some things) for anyone who's interested in becoming a serious writer. Jot down stuff that happens to you to use in your writing. Hear from other screenwriters about their process. Watch and study good/bad movies to find out what works and why and what doesn't work and why. Watching both Chinatown and, say, The Last Airbender will give you all sorts of knowledge on structure, character development, and dialog. Read and study scripts! The shelves in my bookcase dedicated solely to screenplays aren't there to impress dates, you guys. (They don't -- or wouldn't -- whatever.) Even if you read and lightly studied one every week, after a year, you'd have 52 scripts' worth of story structures, character arches, archetypes, and dialog swimming around in your brain.

It's a lot of work, and you won't see results right away, but keep plugging away, and pretty soon you'll see a difference. It's like going to the gym, only with less sweating.

What things do you do daily (or weekly) that make you a better screenwriter?

[via D4Darious]

Your Comment

22 Comments

I like the tip about bad movies. Makes perfect sense!

August 25, 2014 at 5:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kasper

Thank you Kasper

August 26, 2014 at 7:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Darious J. Britt

Watching animation (Pixar - Dysney) to learn script-writing seems a good tip.

August 25, 2014 at 5:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gul Ramani

Thanks for the tips. They were very helpful.

I'm interested in hearing more about your method for breaking down down a movie. You mention things like finding the beginning and ending points for the three acts, identifying the character arcs, and so forth. What are the other elements you look for? Do you have a checklist you use?

August 26, 2014 at 4:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We've touched on this briefly in articles before, but I think it'd be a good idea to do a full write-up on how to break one down.

Really quickly, here are a few things I do when I break down a movie's narrative:

-Write the logline (in my own words)
-Write the synopsis (in my own words)
-Write down the running time
-Make a list of main characters and jot down a quick bio (1-3 sentences)
-Do a beat sheet, (a list of major plot points)

This isn't the only way to do it, but it certainly helps me! (Stay tuned for an in-depth article on this! Thanks for the inspiration!)

August 26, 2014 at 5:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Yes, makes perfect sense. But the moments that stay in the head could be written down also.

August 26, 2014 at 12:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gul Ramani

Isn't this more or less what the already established "Save the Cat" books say?

August 26, 2014 at 8:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Torben

Thanks for sharing!

August 26, 2014 at 2:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Altus Firh

Thank you for commenting.

August 29, 2014 at 1:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Darious J. Britt

Very insightful.. I have trying to start a blog, but getting into that writing mode has proven tasking. I will try adopt some of the info i get here. Its a movie blog btw, based mostly on african cinema and its very much need for improvement. I also loved the break-down tips. Cant wait for the full article. Salam.

August 28, 2014 at 7:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Muhammad Lawal ...

Really great video! These tips are fantastic and should be followed.

August 28, 2014 at 1:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sathya

Thanks, Darious, really enjoyed your video and tips. Good luck on your project!

August 29, 2014 at 2:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thank you Laura.

August 29, 2014 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Darious J. Britt

Aaaand subscribed. Great motivator, Darious!

August 29, 2014 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Max

Glad you found it useful Max.

August 29, 2014 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Darious J. Britt

Great post, V. And thanks for the shout-out. But for the record, I am no guru. Just a screenwriter who likes to share lessons about screenwriting from professionals and my own trials and tribulations :)

August 29, 2014 at 7:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Christopher Boone
Writer
Writer/Director

Don't be modest, Chris. Stahp.

August 30, 2014 at 1:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I have to say I disagree about writing everyday. I understand why you think it'd make you better, but for me it doesn't work that way. I've written everyday on a project before and what I learned is that writing when uninspired is detrimental to your story. For me, the story must write itself and I'm just the lucky individual it chose. When I force write, things get bad and an audience can tell that you were pushing to finish rather than pushing to create a seamless story. Compare it to a sports injury. You wouldn't go tto the gym EVERY day just to keep training if you know you just maintained a sports injury would you? It never gets worse before it gets better

August 29, 2014 at 9:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matt H

Totally agree about acting classes. Knowing how to think and process as an actor is invaluable to character development in screenwriting.

August 30, 2014 at 3:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dandy

Hi.

July 17, 2016 at 8:41PM

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1. LOVE your videos. Please make more!!!!!
2. When I was in school in California, the husband of one of my classmates worked (still does I assume) for Pixar in Emeryville. Pixar uses the same three act structure in all of their movies focusing on heart clutching moments. This is a great concept that I focus on with my writing.
3. As far as writing every day, I have this quote taped on the wall above my computer (I should have the quote tattooed backward on my forehead so that I see it every day): "Write every day, never quit even if it feels like you are shoveling shit uphill with a typewriter." --some guy who lives in Maine.
4. I am a perfectionist which comes from my professional training of "you have to get it right the first time". This is a great quote to help me realize that writing is truly about editing: "First drafts are always shit."--some old man who lived by the sea.

July 17, 2016 at 8:59PM

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Read two classic books: 'Adventures In The Screen Trade' by the great William Goldman, and 'When The Shooting Stops, The Cutting Begins' by Ralph Rosenblum. Both books are short on "theories" and long on actual bareknuckle experience, from two guys who have decades of exploits and successes (and their share of failures - which teach vital lessons, too).

Goldman talked a lot about how he approached screenplay structure, how he put character development onscreen, and much more. Sounds basic, but it's not.

Rosenblum was Woody Allen's longtime editor in the early days, and he dealt with making a pile of often disconnected sequences into an actual film. While that sounds on the surface like it's just about a cutter's job, it really teaches lessons about story structure. He wasn't just splicing film, he was creating onscreen stories without a real screenplay by assembling the pieces. He truly understood effective storytelling, and he did it without typing a word.

These two books taught me some of the wisest lessons about storytelling. Two of the most vital ones:
1. When stuck for an ending, return to your beginning.
2. Regardless of everything else you hang on it, what is the real story you're trying to tell?

July 17, 2016 at 9:46PM, Edited July 17, 10:06PM

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