September 26, 2019

How to Start Writing Your Script

How to Get Started Writing a Screenplay
If you want to know how to start writing a story, you've come to the "write" place (sorry not sorry).

We all know the most horrific thing on the face of the earth is either Pennywise... or staring at the blank page. Pennywise isn't real (I swear), but that blank page and blinking cursor will haunt you for your entire life, especially if you're a writer. 

If there is a fool-proof way to learn how to start writing it hasn't been discovered yet. Instead today I'll go over all the steps I take to get my story onto the page and into my manager's hands so he can go sell it. 

Let's GO.

How to Start Writing: Get Your Words on the Page

I'm excited to go over the strategies I use partly because each key point here is elaborated on in a separate post on that exact method, tool, and resource. 

Why is that cool? Because with this SINGLE post you should have a whole kit to help you start writing your screenplay from start to finish. 

It should also save you about 100k in film school debt. Which currently crushes me and defines every decision I make in life. 

But enough about me, let's get into the article! 

How to get ideas for writing

Ideas can come from all over. You can steal stories from the news, talk about current events, write a biopic about your favorite famous person, or use something from the public domain

The point is, you need to keep an active list of ideas. You never know when inspiration will strike. 

Anything can be a movie idea, but the best movie ideas come with great endings, not just great opening scenes

More on that later. 

The ways to begin a story 

You can begin a movie a number of different ways. People like flashbacks or other plot devices. I like to begin in media res, or in the middle of a scene. Let the audience come in on the action and play catch up. 

This gets people engaged right way and invests them in the story. 

"I have ideas but I can't write..."

Ok so now you have ideas.... but you need to get WORDS on the page... how can you do this? 

There are plenty of cures for writer's block out there, but I am guessing you're just dealing with imposter syndrome or the fake feeling that you don't deserve success or belong. 

That's all horseshit. 

Dreams are dreams until you make them realities. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. It's as simple as that. 

So sit down and write. 

1. The best way to start a story? A logline

Loglines are the way I generate ideas for my screenplays. I usually come up with a list of about ten loglines and then talk with my manager about which he thinks are marketable and could work. 

Don't have a manager? This alternative is even better: 

Share them with your friends, preferably not ones in the industry, and see which ones grab their attention and which ones don't. 

What if you don't have any friends? 

EVEN BETTER!

Go up to some strangers at a coffee place and say "Hey wanna hear 10 loglines?" They probably will want to and you'll also get a great read on the quality of your ideas. 

After you and your manager/friend/stranger pick the top three loglines, it's time to go off and turn those into beat sheets. 

But wait... 

Before you move on to beat sheets, please make sure to read up on how to write a noisy logline. The logline really is the core strand of DNA for a story. If it works, the story can work. Problems with the logline will mean problems with the story. Don't settle when it comes to loglines!

How to Write a Logline
How to Write a Logline

2. Another good way to start a story?A Beat Sheet.

Ok, so we're on to the beat sheet now.

A beat sheet is a list a writer makes of the emotional moments, plot points, or 'beats' that outlines and defines their story. 

Beat sheets give the relative moments that happen in each story. They can also help whittle down which ideas were good loglines but might not have enough to them to sustain an audience for an entire movie, or TV pilot, or whatever you are writing. 

I know I have a solid idea if I make it the all the way through a beat sheet and I still love it the idea by the end. 

But more than just 'loving it' you need to feel like each beat is taught, and earned, and part of a story that has a reason to continue. 

What are the beats in a movie script

What comes after a beat sheet? 

3. A treatment can help you to get started writing. 

Once I have my beats, I assemble it in long-form within a treatment. The treatment is a written-out version of the story that captures the tone, characters, and moments that I think pop.

I write my treatment like a short story, It has lots of editorial notes, pictures, and even references other movies or tv shows. I want the story to be clear and concise. It's starting to feel more like a fully fleshed out idea with elements that can attract people beyond words. 

Next I share my treatment with my manager. 

He helps me poke plot holes, establish more of the acts, and gives general notes about the emotional payoffs. 

I then use these notes to create my outline. 

Again, if you don't have a manager you still should find a good sounding board. That stranger at the coffee place might st

4. Outline to learn how to start a story.

Lastly, I create an outline. 

I make these outlines in my screenwriting software or in Word/Pages. This outline is super detailed. I include scene headings, every beat I now happens, and even some key dialogue I think belongs in the movie. 

The reason I make this outline so detailed is that I don't want there to be any confusion when I sit at my laptop to write. I need a road map... a STORY map...

I want to be able to fly through the acts and get a first draft done as soon as possible. 

So make your outline detailed and efficient. 

5. Open your screenwriting software to get started writing.  

Here it is, the moment of truth.

I like to have my title figured out before I write, that way I can label the drafts and ease into page one. But you gotta open it and start writing. 

It can be scary, intimidating, and frustrating, but if you've done the prep it will be easier.  I fail every day. Sometimes I write one line, sometimes I write 30 pages. The key is chasing the actual writing. 

Sit down, hit the keys, and see your ideas come to life. 

Terrified to write a scene? Try out some of our 75 prompts to get your story going. 

What's next? Start writing your feature film

Screenwriting is hard. But to become a filmmaker, you need to learn scriptwriting to master storytelling. We'll give you free lessons. 

 

Your Comment

2 Comments

This is a good article and yeah anyone that is looking to ditch school this is a great template.

This is my non-official coarse load for people that want to save on not going to film school;

Final Draft - $250 - This is the best tool as a writer you can get. Sure it costs money, and that sucks, but for the price there is TONS of value here. I think there is a lot of cloud services out there that cost less, but in my opinion I really like Final Draft because since you own the software and can download it you never have to worry about connectivity issues, service outages, and or the parent company closing down and shutting the servers down. (RIP Amazon Screen Writer)

Basics;
Save The Cat - $21- This is the best book for new screen writers to read, it speaks in common terms but really does great getting people up to speed on what they need structurally and follows the process from the beginning to the end. Really breaks down the mysticism of writing and get a good base for people to then mix it up.

Syd Field's Screenplay - $16 - This is the classical film scrip writing book, while it might be a bit dry and a little pompous in some places, this has many reference to classic material and why they work and really gets into the minutia of classical story development. (Personally its not quite as good as Save The Cat but even that author agrees this book is worth reading)

Advance reading;
Your Screenplay Sucks - $17 - So you wrote a scrip, and you have rewritten it 2-5 times and feel like you are in a good position. This book has a long check list of things to read through and make sure that you have all the ducks lined up before submitting it.

Pure Theory;
Robert McKee's Story - $26 - This book has some rock solid information on story structure. This book reminds me of music theory, and how much deeper a person can go down to perfect their craft. It is not a light read and sometimes gets way to general for its own good.

$330 for a huge wealth of knowledge and the tools to pull it off. But it only works if it is used.

Personally Save The Cat is probably the only book most beginners will need, but the other books do have more information... but yeah maybe invest into the Save The Cat book and the other books in its series. Especially Save The Cat Strikes Back as it goes more into detail as to how to navigate Hollywood as a screenwriter and what to expect and how to set proper goals in your career.

I hope someone actually reads this article and decides they can do it. Cause yeah... spending thousands of dollars to have people tell you basically the same thing... Is not always the best investment.

September 27, 2019 at 12:34PM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
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Thanks, Kyle - I tell people all they need is Highland ($50) and this site and they pretty much have it all.

September 27, 2019 at 5:39PM

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Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
Writer