Five Things I Learned While Writing My First Full Length Screenplay

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I recently finished writing my first full length screenplay, a ninety page monstrosity which I wrote for my Final Major Project/Dissertation for university. It took me most of the academic year to plan and write and it was quite the learning process to say the least. I picked up a few things during my time in writing which may come in useful, so without further ado let’s begin. These are five things I’ve learned over the course of writing my first screenplay:

1) Give yourself plenty of time to plan

This is a bit of a no brainer but it is very tempting to write by the seat of your pants. It is essential to give your idea a lot of thought before you begin, else you may come to the awkward realisation halfway through that your idea isn’t working, or that it doesn’t have a strong market as you first thought. Needless to say this is not a good thing.

I fell behind schedule at one point during the production in order to rewrite my idea completely, keeping only a few core concepts such as its genre and the premise in its simplest form.  This caused problems for my schedule since I had to rewrite most of the script from scratch. Always plan ahead so you have an idea of where you want to go before you start.

2) Write a step outline if possible

This relates to my previous point of planning. A step outline is like a synopsis but more detailed, breaking the film down scene by scene. The purpose is to get a rough idea of how the film will work out on a scene by scene basis. It will also help you recognise any flaws at an early stage. I failed to maintain my step outline once production finished and that created a lot of the problems I had in the middle of production since I failed to give the story more thought as smaller changes made me diverge from the step outline.

3) Watch films similar to the one you are writing. Read works in other mediums if possible.

Basically you should be watching films similar to the one you want to write. It is good to know if your film is original compared to those with similar themes and content. This may also give you ideas if you struggle during the planning or production stages. Reading works from other mediums is also a good idea. Film is a limited genre and thus one may be more likely to encounter an original idea after reading a book, graphic novel etc. Market research is essential to any work, and I found myself watching and reading works similar to my script long into the production stage.

4) Get the first draft out the way

I found it was beneficial to try and write the first draft as quickly as possible. The purpose of writing the first draft is to get the idea on the page. The first draft wasn’t going be a masterpiece. Thus I wrote my first draft at a reasonably swift pace so I could redraft as soon as possible, allowing me to devote my time to the tedious editing process. As a writer the editing stage is far more important to the overall work, therefore one should get the first draft out the way so that one can begin editing the script into something worthy of studio submission.

5) Be prepared to do a lot of editing

Editing is what makes an okay script into something more worthy of someone’s time. I spent a large chunk of the overall production process redrafting my idea until I was finally satisfied. A poorly edited work will be full of plot holes, spelling and grammar errors, as well as inconsistencies within the script format. Therefore it is important that you spend a lot of time editing. If you struggle, it is always beneficial to have a friend or two to look at it and point out problems, but you should be prepared to do a lot of the legwork yourself.

I hope this list has been of use to you all. These are things which I just picked up during the production process, rather than from any particular writing books. They may come in useful, or they may not. Writing is a difficult art, more so when you are writing something full length and hopefully my experiences have been of some use to you all.

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