new to screenwriting?

I’m not going to say a lot on this blog about the absolute basics of screenwriting – the three act structure, turning points, act breaks for TV, etc –  so I thought I’d gather together some resources here for anyone who needs them.

Of course, these are my personal recommendations, based on what happened to be the most help to me.  Other resources are available, your mileage may vary, etc, etc.

BOOKS

The first screenwriting book I happened across was Writing Screenplays That Sell, by Michael Hague, and I still think it’s the simplest, clearest one-volume guide to structure and character.

Add to that Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  Not only are they excellent books, but movie producers will use a lot of the terms in these two, so you’ll need to know what they’re talking about.

Mastered those three?  Move on to Crafty Screenwriting by Alex Epstein (and companion volume Crafty TV Writing is the only really incisive book on TV writing that I’ve yet found).  And maybe My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter  (some great stuff on character).

Got a finished script you want to rewrite?  Try How Not To Write A Screenplay, by Denny Martin Flinn.  And the invaluable 500 Ways To Beat The Hollywood Script Reader, by Jennifer Lerch.

And if you’re going to your first pitch meeting, you’ll need Ten Minutes To The Pitch by Chris Abbott.

WEBSITES

There’s a good selection in the Links section of this website.  And there are loads more I don’t have room to mention.  Browse around, see who appeals to you.

For basic questions – script layout, what is an act break, how do I know when a new scene starts, and so on –   John August’s  http://screenwriting.io  is the place to go.

And I must just just add an additional plug for Go Into The Story, probably the single most useful online resource: Scott Myers’ dedication to helping young screenwriters is phenomenal, and sticking around this site for a year is almost as good as putting yourself through film school.

DVD EXTRAS

It’s astonishing what you can learn from commentaries and special features on your favourite TV shows and films.  For example, every episode of Leverage comes with commentary from the series creators and the writer and director of that episode (and there’s more material on John Rogers’ website).  The extended cuts of The Lord Of The Rings are dripping with documentaries on every aspect of film making.  And there are hundreds more I don’t have room to mention.

And don’t just use them to learn about writing.  The more you know about acting, directing, editing, cinematography, even special effects and stunts, the better you’ll get as a writer.

GET GOOD FEEDBACK

This is the hardest thing to do, and the most important.  Find people who really understand story and get them to analyse your script in detail.

Find an online community, join a writers’ group, make friends on Twitter and exchange scripts with other writers.  And give as much as you take.  Having to come up with a considered opinion on someone else’s work will teach you to analyse and understand your own more effectively. Help other writers get better, and that good karma will pay you back in the end.

READ SCRIPTS

Seriously.  Watching films is not enough.  Even if it is more fun.  There are plenty of online resources with downloadable copies of produced scripts available for educational purposes – that is, to educate you into being a better writer.

 

Advertisements

9 comments on “new to screenwriting?

  1. Have you ever had people hate your writing?

    • debbiemoon says:

      Well, different people like different things. Every writer pitches lots of ideas, and producers like some of them and don’t like others. Of course, what one producer hates may be exactly another producer loves…

  2. Leigh Joslin says:

    I actually enjoy reading screenplays over reading novels. I’ll often read a script and then watch the corresponding film after with the script-in-hand. I make mental notes of techniques used in the script and I watch it played out after – if used! Also, most recommended special features for a DVD or Blu-ray: Gladiator.

  3. ArtemisThaliaKatnissMaddyRhydianJana says:

    I recently wrote a script yet some parts were extremely hard to think of what to do and the cast could not agree on the setting as it didn’t feel right.For our cast we only had 4 actors and 1 director so you can probably see we did this for fun.
    We had to reschedule for another day to be able to use one of the actor’s building site. How do you know when the location is right if you are an amateur actor/screen play writer.

    • debbiemoon says:

      Amateur productions are always difficult because it’s hard to figure out who’s in charge. In a professional production, the actors don’t get any say in whether the location is ‘right’ or not: the writer writes a scene in an imagined location, and the director and location manager pick somewhere to film it.
      As for picking the right location while writing – find a location that reinforces the theme of the scene. A scary location for a scary scene, romantic for a romantic scene. OR you can do the complete opposite, and set, say, a scary scene in a romantic place, to surprise the audience.

      • Harry says:

        Hi Debbie,
        Did you ever write for amateur productions before you became a professional writer then?
        Also, what was the first script that you wrote professionally and how did you approach getting your first script made?
        Thanks

      • debbiemoon says:

        Not amateur as such, no. Though that would be a good way to hone your writing skills.
        My first scripts were short films – one commissioned through an ITV scheme, the other by a commercials director looking to move into features. Then Alison Hume approached me about writing for The Sparticle Mystery, then Wolfblood…

  4. Jane says:

    Hi Debbie,
    Thanks for answering my previous question.
    Would you say that good screenwriting is more of a natural talent rather than a skill that can be gained and what was the timescale from the original idea of Wolfblood to the final version ready to pitch?

    • debbiemoon says:

      All writing is a mixture of natural talent and learned skills, in the end…
      Up to the pitching stage was only a few months, but then there was about 18 months of development before we were ready to start writing episodes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s