If you are just about to embark on a screenwriting adventure, it’s crucial to know the right screenplay structure.
The script structure for film and TV is very different to theatre screenplay. If you send your finished manuscript in the wrong format to anyone in the film/TV industry, it will be instantly dismissed for looking amateur and unprofessional. Even if you plan to make a film with your friends, still make sure your screenplay is in the right format and don’t mix two formats (theatre + film) in one script. There is nothing more annoying while reading a screenplay than trying to figure out where the dialogue ends, description begins or who is talking.
Excessive descriptions of locations, clothing etc., are also discouraged. Pages and pages of description are reserved for novels, not scripts. An average screenplay is 120 pages long, including dialogues. Film and TV scripts need to be sweet and compact. I like to think of screenplays as minimalistic home decor. The less, the better.
While writing a screenplay, don’t include characters’ background stories, your research, or random thoughts. I would suggest using the treatment for that or making notes in notebooks or separate documents. Characters’ backstories or your thoughts aren’t moving the action forward. Action is what shapes film and TV scripts. Use action to describe your characters, plot, and story.
One page of a screenplay roughly equals one minute on screen. So, keep that in mind, while writing and only include in your script what is necessary, what moves the action forward and what helps the characters grow.
If you are writing your first screenplay, don’t make it complicated and complex by including many different locations and characters; making a period piece for your first screenplay may be problematic as well since the costs of make-up, hair and clothing for period films are astronomical.
If you are new to screenwriting, keep it minimalistic and straightforward, and if you want to see your story produced, use all you have around you to put it on screen. It doesn’t mean your story will be less; it just means it will be re-shaped by the resources you have available, and you will be able to engage your creativity on a different level. Think outside the box and be thrifty in your approach.
I believe any aspiring screenwriter should read books about screenwriting, but you will really only learn how to write for film and TV by practising. I would also suggest that before you start writing a screenplay for film or TV, you should read a few scripts of your favourite films or TV shows to familiarise yourself with the structure and see how screenwriters use words cleverly to give enough information about the characters without writing pages and pages of descriptions.
Since scripts for film and TV represent visual mediums, always try to show instead of telling. The audience can recognise wooden, stiff dialogues from miles away. When you write dialogue, think about the subtext behind the words you are asking your characters to say, and those words will give away hints about the characters and help them move the story forward.
I hope that will get you started on your first draft. Check out my other screenwriting posts if you need more hands-on, practical screenwriting advice.