So, you want to write a screenplay? What’s wrong with you? Writing a script is one of the hardest things you can set out to do. But my goal here is to make it easy on you.

Sure, storytelling can be a blast. There are times when you have the audience in the palm of your hand, twisting them and turning them for the sake of drama...but there are also times when you stare at a blank page and want to curl up in a ball and die.

Regardless of those highs and lows, writing can be one of the most fun endeavors in the world. You get to explore without leaving the comfort of your own home – but feel free to use it in a coffee shop or office. I’m not picky, I just want you to write!

Creating something from nothing is the best feeling in the world.

Today, we're going to learn how to write a screenplay together.

Let's get started.

Why Should I Listen to You?

This is the existential question you should ask yourself every time you sit down to write and want to get your thoughts and feelings out.

But for this intro’s purpose, allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Jason Hellerman, and I’m a writer living in Los Angeles. I’m in the WGA, I’ve been on The Black List twice (a list of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood), and I’ve worked in both television and feature films over the last ten years.

I’ve had my ups, my downs, and everything in between. But the one thing I’ve done is always kept writing. And I wrote this book to help you do the same.

I’m not going to pretend I’m some genius or guru. What I am is a working writer in Hollywood. I have my Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from Boston University. So I’m certified to teach and have taught some courses on the collegiate level.

And now I’m going to teach you.

No student loans involved! Trust me, you don’t want those.

This is the way I write every single screenplay. If you hate it, find a way that works for you! If you love it, great - write as many screenplays as possible. The way to develop your voice and get better is by just doing it.

Stuff to Know Before You Get Started:

script format how to write a screenplay

Before we dive into how to write a screenplay, there's a lot of stuff you should just know. So I made a list of helpful links to other articles that should take you there.

Once you've mastered all this stuff, it's time to get into the planning phase of writing your screenplay.

Planning Your Screenplay Out

Character-map how to write a screenplay

I find that the way I write the best screenplays is through extensive planning. So I'm going to give you the order in which I use these documents, and you can take it from there.

Once I have done all this stuff, I actually get into the writing of the screenplay! But sometimes, I don't do any of those things...

How To You Write A Screenplay Without Planning

How To You Write A Screenplay Without Planning'Captain America: The First Avenger'CREDIT: Marvel

Yeah, I just gave you a whole process I usually follow, but there are plenty of times I jump in without looking. That's a valid way too.

Much like rapping, sometimes you have to freestyle to learn your story’s beats. I’ve never been great at this option, but it’s a strategy that works for some people in screenplay writing.

When I try to use this strategy, I like to take every movie script scene by scene. Ask yourself, "Who’s in this scene? What do they want? How can I stop them from getting it?"

Movies can be a bunch of scenes where people try and fail to do things. When stacked together, they teach us a compelling lesson about how someone can arc (or not). If I’m writing without an outline, I start every day the same: on page one.

This makes the process longer, but I find that refining where I was (and editing where I’m going) gets me the best first draft.

Even if the inclination is to move back, the key is always to move ahead. The more new pages you get every day, the more you can refine tomorrow.

When I’m using this strategy, I may only write a few pages a day, but I set myself up when it comes time to go back and spend all my time tweaking and editing. I’ll have thought through lots of options and hopefully picked the best versions of each scene.

It may take me much longer to finish a draft if I write without an outline, but I do wind up with a more solid piece of work to hone and tweak.

How to Write a Screenplay: The Opening Scene

How to Write a Screenplay: The Opening Scene

'Raiders of the Lost Ark'


I'll be brief since we have a whole article on opening scenes, but they matter. Duh. Your opening scene has to set the tone for the whole film or TV show. In your first pages, I need to see the heart and soul for why this project needs to get off the ground.

We should also learn a ton about the genre of the project.

Clue us in and be straightforward. Set the mood so the reader knows where things are going.

Superbad is a raunchy comedy, and there’s no better way to open a movie than to set up the relationship between main characters.

We meet Seth and Evan and see that they spend ALL their time together. These are two guys who can talk about anything, except how much they are going to miss each other when they attend different colleges in the fall.

From raunchy teen comedy to classic adventure, Back to the Future also starts on the theme. Instead of having a boring alarm clock waking Marty up, it’s a series of clocks and it plays into time travel.

We also learn how close Marty and Doc are…and how eccentric Doc must be.

But what about a movie opening where your time is up?

Sunset Boulevard starts with the main character dead, floating in a pool.

What makes this one of the best movie openings of all time is that it set the bar high for mysteries. We get right into it: what could have made our main character die? This push thrusts us into the underground of Hollywood and carries us, via flashback, into the series of events that got us here.

What about another flashback that starts a movie? This time from A League of Their Own.

What’s great about this movie is that it leads with the importance of these players.

We open at the Hall of Fame and we know that these women got there. As they recognize one another, we flashback to show us how they got there.

As you can see, these kinds of openings are popular. They may feel played out today, but only because they’re built on this kind of pedigree.

Like the opening of Goodfellas.

Goodfellas’ opening seems innocuous. We have three guys in a car, but we quickly see them murder someone in a trunk, and then we flashback to how Henry Hill became a gangster.

The opening scene of a screenplay is your chance to captivate the audience from the very beginning. It's the moment that sets the tone, introduces characters, and establishes the world of your story. Crafting a compelling opening scene requires careful consideration and strategic storytelling techniques.

How to Write a Screenplay: Act One

'Moonlight'CREDIT: A24

Act One of a screenplay is the foundation upon which the rest of your story will be built. It introduces the characters, sets up the world, and establishes the central conflict.

A well-executed Act One is essential for engaging the audience and laying the groundwork for the journey ahead.

  • Character Introductions: The beginning of Act One is the perfect time to introduce your protagonist. Show them in their ordinary world, establish their daily life, and provide insights into their personality, desires, and flaws. This initial characterization helps the audience connect with and understand the main character.
  • A Day in the Life: Paint a clear picture of the protagonist's normal life before the inciting incident. This sets the baseline against which their journey and growth will be measured. The status quo should be relatable, allowing the audience to empathize with the protagonist's desires and struggles.
  • Inciting Incident: Towards the end of Act One, introduce the inciting incident—the event that disrupts the protagonist's ordinary life and sets the main conflict in motion. This incident should be unexpected and create a sense of urgency, forcing the protagonist to take action.
  • Establish the Goals: As the inciting incident unfolds, raise questions in the audience's mind. What does the protagonist want? What obstacles will they face? What's at stake? Establish the protagonist's goals and the initial hurdles they'll need to overcome.
  • Supporting Characters: Introduce supporting characters who will play significant roles in the protagonist's journey. Each supporting character should have a distinct personality and purpose that contributes to the story's development.
  • Plant and Payoff: Drop hints and foreshadowing related to upcoming events or conflicts. Foreshadowing creates intrigue and keeps the audience engaged, as they anticipate how these hints will later connect.
  • Themes: Begin weaving in the thematic elements and motifs that will be explored throughout the screenplay. Themes are the underlying messages or ideas, while motifs are recurring symbols, images, or concepts that contribute to the story's depth.
  • Transition to Act Two: By the end of Act One, the protagonist should be at a point of no return. They've taken the first steps toward addressing the central conflict, setting the stage for Act Two, where they'll face even greater challenges.

Act One lays the groundwork for your screenplay, hooking the audience's interest and preparing them for the journey ahead.

By effectively introducing characters, establishing the central conflict, and raising questions, you'll create a strong foundation that propels your story forward and keeps viewers invested.

Then it's time to go to the second act.

How to Write a Screenplay: Act Two

How to Write a Screenplay: Act Two'Ocean's 8'Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Act Two of a screenplay is often the longest and most challenging part of the story. This is where the protagonist faces a series of escalating obstacles, undergoes character development, and the central conflict intensifies.

A great Act Two is essential to keeping the audience engaged and invested in the story.

  1. Escalating Obstacles: Introduce a series of obstacles and challenges that the protagonist must overcome in pursuit of their goal. These challenges should escalate in complexity and stakes, increasing the tension and driving the narrative forward.
  2. Character Development: Throughout the second act, allow the protagonist to grow and evolve. They should confront their flaws, make choices that reveal their true nature, and learn from their experiences. The character arc should be evident as they transform in response to the challenges they face.
  3. Subplots: Introduce subplots that enhance the main story. Subplots provide depth and variety, shedding light on different aspects of the characters and their world. However, ensure that subplots contribute to the overall narrative and don't distract from the main conflict.
  4. Midpoint: This is the most important part of Act Two. This moment shifts the story's direction, altering the protagonist's perspective and approach to the conflict.
  5. Raise the Stakes: As Act Two progresses, escalate the stakes and consequences. The protagonist should face increasingly dire circumstances that challenge their commitment to their goal.
  6. Internal and External Conflict: Explore both the internal and external conflicts the protagonist faces. Their inner struggles and emotional growth should parallel the external challenges.
  7. Transition to Act Three: As Act Two concludes, the protagonist should be at their lowest point, facing seemingly insurmountable odds. This transitions smoothly into Act Three, where the conflicts come to a head.

Act Two is the heart of your screenplay, where characters are tested, conflicts intensify, and growth occurs.

By skillfully navigating this section and effectively balancing plot development with character arcs, you'll maintain the audience's engagement and set the stage for a satisfying resolution in Act Three.

How to Write a Screenplay: Act Three

How to Write a Screenplay: Act Three

'Scream VI'


Act Three is the climactic conclusion of your screenplay, where all the buildup and conflicts come to a head. It's the resolution of the central conflict and the culmination of character arcs. Writing a compelling Act Three is crucial for delivering a satisfying payoff to your audience. Here's a detailed guide on how to write Act Three of your screenplay:

  • Low Point: Towards the end of Act Two or top of Act Three, the protagonist should experience a low point—both emotionally and in their pursuit of the goal. This moment tests their resolve and sets up the climax of Act Three.
  • Pacing: Maintain a tight pacing throughout Act Three, with the climax building steadily toward the resolution. Keep the tension high to keep the audience engaged.
  • Climax Setup: The beginning of Act Three should set the stage for the climactic confrontation. The protagonist should have a clear understanding of what they're up against and a plan to achieve their goal.
  • Final Obstacle: Introduce the final, most challenging obstacle or conflict the protagonist must overcome. This obstacle should test everything they've learned and force them to confront their deepest fears or flaws.
  • Stakes and Sacrifices: Highlight the stakes and sacrifices involved in the resolution. The protagonist may need to make difficult choices that reflect their growth and commitment to their goal.
  • Final Twist: Consider adding a final twist or revelation that provides an unexpected yet satisfying resolution. This can add depth to the story and leave a lasting impact on the audience.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion of Act Three should tie up loose ends and provide closure to the story. Whether it's a happy, bittersweet, or open-ended ending, it should feel appropriate based on the themes and tone of the screenplay.

Act Three is the culmination of all the efforts you've put into Act One and Act Two.

Deliver a compelling climax and you'll provide a powerful and memorable conclusion that leaves a lasting impact on your audience.

How to Write a Screenplay: The Ending and Final Scene 

How to Write a Screenplay: The Ending Scene



The closing of a screenplay is your final opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your audience. It's the moment that wraps up the story, provides resolution, and delivers the emotional payoff for the journey you've taken them on.

Writing a powerful closing scene requires careful consideration and the ability to tie up loose ends while leaving room for reflection.The best endings pack power, emotion, tie things up, and always leave the audience wanting more. So how do you get there? Sure, you need to have written a screenplay that gives us characters we care about, a world that's well defined, and a build-up that makes us yearn for the conclusion.

None of that is easy. But once you have it, you know you have to make it all worth it.

Movies are their own kind of messes. They can be a bear to write. You are tackling different act structure and a whole lot of planting and paying off details. When it comes time to end your story, you might just want to type "fade out," but you have a few things to consider.

One of the big ones is if you want to leave your story open for a sequel. This transfers to certain genres better than others. Whether it's a comedy or action movie, it's certainly something to consider. Outside of that, you want to ground the ending on what it means for the characters.

How will your ending resonate with the people inside the story?

And how will that make the audience feel?

Be decisive, not wishy-washy. You want the emotions to be clear and concise.

The last thing you should keep in mind is the common mistake to have multiple endings. That means many scenes that sum up what happened for each character. Instead, I would try to find a way to group them so you don't exhaust the audience.

Movie Ending Examples

Obviously, spoilers ahead.

Let's start with the first movie ending that made me cry.

The Truman Show is a special film that really relies on the audience finding empathy with its lead character. The emotional journey links up nicely with the action of the story. Truman conquers his fear of the water and takes his boat to the end of his world, the adventure he dreamed of as a child. When he reaches the wall, he has to decide whether to go or to stay.

His leaving the bubble and heading out into the world is a great ending. We don't know what the future holds for him, but we know he's overcome the biggest hurdle in his life. We're left wanting more, but feeling like we've seen him tie up all loose ends. It's a really simple ending, but so hard to get right.

A movie like The Shawshank Redemption does something not similar at all. This is a sweeping movie that takes us across generations inside a prison. It's a movie about confinement, justice, and freedom.

In the movie, Andy Dufresne escapes, and we cheer, but there's a lot of film left. The ending comes when Red finally gets over his own hump and passes the parole board. That's his emotional hurdle and his physical escape.

We follow Red's voiceover as it takes us to the tree, and then on the road to Mexico. The movie could end with him on the outside, on the road, but early test audiences wanted more, so they went back and filmed that final shot on the beach with Andy and Red uniting.

It's the perfect final image for the film and for the audience to see these men in the sunshine.

A final movie I want to mention is Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister. This film about a guy who sleeps with his dead brother's girlfriend's sister and then regrets it is a touching comedy about friendship and family.

In the final moments, the trio of protagonists sits around on a bathroom floor, waiting for a pregnancy test to show results. Just when it does, they all begin to react—and the film cuts to black. When I first saw it in Boston's Coolidge Corner Theater, everyone gasped.

Many would call this a non-ending, but I disagree. We've seen the romance at the center resolve, we've seen the sisters become friends again, and we've seen this trio make their peace with the past and with whatever happens in the future. For me, leaving the movie here allows us to embody how we want it to end, and know that no matter what, it will all be okay.

How to Write a Screenplay: Rewriting

How to Write a Screenplay: Rewriting'PAINT'CREDIT: IFC Films

After I finish my first draft, I treat myself to something. It could be new sneakers, movie tickets, a short trip somewhere fun, or anything to reward myself for the struggle of getting up the mountain. A few days later, I crane my neck back and look at the real summit.

I told you we’d say it over and over, but all writing is rewriting. You can get a first draft done, but the best scripts are sculpted. You chip away at stories, characters, and motivations until they sizzle and pop off the page.

I usually try to attack the rewrite in a few stages. The first thing I do is lock the story. All of my first passes are just getting the scenes in the right order. I then worry about character arcs, and I do a dialogue pass at the very end.

I tweak action lines as I go, but my writing style is pretty sparse. I don’t use a lot of metaphors of flowery language, so I don’t think too hard about anything besides whether or not it’s clear what’s happening on the page.

For me, the rewrite passes are the best parts of writing. You can take more chances here, delete pages, move things around, and have fun with the story.

As you lock the scene order, you can get into characterization. I love doing individual passes for each person, really making their voice come off the page, giving them individual ticks and may be repeated expressions — anything to cause emotions to soar. Finally, I hit the dialogue and get rid of unnecessary lines and exposition.

This is where I’m at my most ruthless and where I lose the most pages. Sure, all writing is rewriting, but how do you know when to stop?

I like to give myself a few weeks off between drafts. I get individual feedback from friends, and then I go to my manager. He and I strategize, finding a point where it feels like we’re in a good place to bring on other voices like directors and producers.

Then, if I haven’t been paid, I usually set a limit to the number of free passes I’m willing to embark on. That could be one for the producer and two for the director that comes on.

Finally, when we go to buyers, I make sure my team is aware that the free work is done. I’ll do as many paid passes as it takes to get the movie into production, but that’s another story for another time.

Here's a few links to help you on this journey:

Writing a screenplay is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor that requires dedication, practice, and a deep appreciation for storytelling.

And a lot of patience!

Remember that each screenplay is a unique expression of your creativity, so don't be afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of the cinematic medium.

With the right tools and mindset, you can craft screenplays that resonate with audiences and stand the test of time.

Now, go get writing!