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Top tips for writing a script

Tue 02 Jun 2020

Top tips for writing a script

Got an idea for a script? Now it's time to make it a reality. Discover our top 5 tips for how to write a script that will get you noticed in the industry and could kick-start your career:

1. Read other scripts

You might be inspired to write a script because you’re a big fan of films or theatre shows. But as an aspiring script writer, it’s reading a film or theatre production script, rather than just watching the show, that will give you the most useful insight into how your favourite films or theatre productions were made.

By reading other scripts, you can explore how scripts are structured and gain insights into how characters are developed and how to write and format dialogue.

Don’t just stick to your favourite films or theatre productions, though. It’s most beneficial to read a wide range of scripts across a variety of formats and genres to give you a deeper understanding of how scripts are written and to open you up to more ideas on what to write.

2. Create an outline

Often, writers get caught in writer’s block because they feel bogged down by the idea of coming up with an entire, finalised story from day one of their writing.

But in many cases, writer’s block can be easily avoided by simply taking a more organised and systematic approach to script writing.

Your outline will act as a framework for your script, guiding you through the progression of your story. Much like a roadmap, your outline will let you know where you’re at with your script and where you’re going. Of course, you may want to take a few small detours along the way, but having an outline will at least give you a destination to aim for.

The amount of detail you include in your outline can vary, but it should include at a minimum a breakdown of each act and scene you want to include in the final version of your script. As a general rule, the more detail you include in your outline, the easier and quicker it will be for you to write your script.

 

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Writing for Script & Screen course details

 

3. Show, don’t tell

Sometimes, if done well, it can be fine to use a narrator to tell your story. But most of the time, it’s better to let actions tell the story.

Instead of relying too heavily on exposition, let your characters show the audience who they are through their dialogue and actions. Also, try to present information relevant to your story as part of the action, rather than through unnecessary exposition. Flashbacks, for example, can be a good way of doing this.

Remember, film and theatre are primarily visual media, so ‘showing’ the audience something can be far more effective than just ‘telling’ them something.

4. Keep the action moving

Don’t get bogged down with unnecessary details and back stories, or create diversions from the main storyline that drag on. Keep in mind that every scene in your script needs to drive the action forward. If it doesn’t, cut it out.

Remember, a standard spec script shouldn’t exceed 120 pages.

Academy Award-winning screenwriter of L.A. Confidential, Brian Helgeland, says: “If you write a scene that is lateral, cut it out or make it do something. Make it drive you to the next moment, because there’s no time to mess around.”

5. Keep your audience in mind at all times

Remember who you’re writing for. Sure, you might be captivated by your own story, but essentially, a successful script writer needs to write for their audience.

Who that audience is depends on the kind of story you’re writing. But whoever they are, serve them well and keep them in mind at all times when you’re writing.

When in doubt, put yourself in their shoes. If you were sitting in the audience, what would you like to see happen?

As filmmaker Don Roff says: “Always mystify, torture, mislead, and surprise the audience as much as possible.”

 

If you want to become a better script writer, Falmouth Flexible offers an online MA that will give you the expert knowledge and skills you need to write successful scripts for film, TV, theatre, and a range of other platforms:

Writing for Script & Screen course details