Screenwriting, just like writing a book, requires time and focus to find the right balance between the source material, and what should make into the screenplay. For instance, it will be impossible and unrealistic to adapt the whole book word by word and page by page into a script and expect that volume to make into production.
To get set up on the screenwriting journey, check out the list of tips below, which will help you make sense of the new screenwriting landscape.
1. Some elements of your story won’t work in the script. You will need to be very selective while choosing what works for the characters, helps them grow, change and move on while moving the action forward. Don’t overcomplicate your storyline by adding too many layers. You can do it in a book, but it won’t work in the script, where you only have 90–120 minutes to tell your story.
2. Be very clear who (which character) you need in your story. Do you have too many or too few characters? If someone isn’t essential to your story, maybe they should be dropped. Too many characters, doubling up on their purpose in the story, will slow down the movie. In the screenplay, the story always needs to be moving forward; scenes should reveal more plot points, without being repetitive.
3. Trust your instincts. You will know if something isn’t working. It’s like writing a story, but the structure is a bit different. If one element doesn’t work in your story, it can have a negative ripple effect on the flow of the whole script. If a scene, a dialogue or characters don’t gel, don’t force it.
4. If you feel stuck, try to swap places with your character and see through their eyes and experience. After doing this exercise, you might decide that merging two characters is what your script needs or perhaps you will come to the conclusion that changing some of the characteristics is what you should do. In a lot of cases what works in the book doesn’t necessarily work on the screen.
5. Most likely than not you will have a lot of backstories developed for your characters. However, adding backstory into your script will only waste a lot of valuable time. Backstories are best left to actors. Sometimes using a prop, a gesture or a line of dialogue can reveal more about your characters than pages of description.
6. You need to be able to pinpoint your characters’ experiences and how those influenced the characters’ current situation. In turn that will lead to actions, your characters are going to take in the movie. If there are too many random actions or the actions are excessively repetitive, you will either make your script too overcomplicated or too choppy. Choose experiences that will be the force behind the action your characters take.
7. Remember scripts are supposed to be visual, a script is all about showing not telling. Show the story to your reader (readers are the people who read scripts and pass them on to their bosses. To get to the top people, you need to get through readers first.), don’t tell them what your characters are up to.
8. Sample exercise for scriptwriters:
• Imagine you were at the end of the script: what would you tell your characters?
• What kind of advice would you give to your characters at the beginning of the script?
• How would you solve the characters’ problems if you (the scriptwriter) were going to be in the story?
Watch your favourite adaptation, read the book and the script (you can easily access scripts online). See how all those three different storytelling formats compare to each other.
If you are ready to take it to a new level, you need to start reading screenwriting books.
My book recommendation is as follows:
“Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” by Syd Field
“Crafty Screenwriting” by Alex Epstein
“Save the Cat!” by Blake Snyder
“Adventures in The Screen Trade” by William Goldman
Each book has a different take on the screenwriting “method”. It’s worth reading them all and choosing the elements that work for you as a writer and represent your writing style. Still, I believe that the best way to learn screenwriting is to read screenplays and write as much as you can.