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What Is a Screenplay?

The screenplay has a very different structure to the structure authors use for writing books. The script for a fiction film (documentarians work in their ways and don’t always work from a script while making a documentary) is divided into scenes, which move the action from one location to another. Change of scene happens every time the character/s go to a different location: kitchen, park, leaving room etc.

In a screenplay, each scene heading needs to have a specific layout:

– indicate if the scene takes place indoor (INT.) or outdoor (EXT.)

– location (where the scene takes place)

– what time of the day the action takes place.

SCENE

EXT. PARK-MORNING

Every scene consists of a short description of what the scene is about and what is happening in it. In short, what the audience/reader will see or hear. Keep in mind that not every scene has or even needs dialogue.

I see screenwriting as much rawer and “naked”, compared to narrative fiction writing. A script needs to be very specific to convey the story; there is no room to add adjectives or elaborate descriptions of what character A is feeling in that very moment.

How the characters feel should be expressed through action and dialogue. Besides, actors hate when writers describe feelings for them. You can write: “Jess banged the door with force” but “Jess was so angry that she banged the doors forcefully” would be somewhat frowned upon.

I’m a big fan of simplicity in a screenplay, and I much prefer writing as it is, without adding unnecessary ornaments. If your character walks out the door, write that the character is walking out the door.

Character’s actions and dialogue should express all necessary subtext.

Everyone involved in turning your screenplay into a movie will understand your story through subtext that hides behind action and dialogue. You surely don’t need to spell everything out.

Remember that once the director and producer get attached to your project, they will change things in your script, so don’t be too emotionally attached to what is on paper.

Usually, one page of a screenplay amounts to one minute of a screen time. Suppose you are planning to write a 90 min. long film your script shouldn’t be longer than 100–110 pages.

While writing your screenplay, you need to pay attention to:

– structure

– pacing

– characters

– dialogue

A screenplay’s job is to sell the story to the producers, executives, and creative talent that would/could work on the project. In theory, you should capture your reader’s attention on the first page to persuade them to read until page 15. If the reader stops reading on page 1, well… your story won’t be picked up.

Agents, production companies, individual filmmakers option screenplays, stories, and books, but don’t count on heaps of money showing up in your account. It just means that someone has expressed an interest in your story.

The screenplay is the first element of a package a producer or an agency puts together to attract investments and creative talent. So without the script, there is no package.

It’s hard to make a living as a screenwriter, not because it’s hard to write screenplays but because so many people are so damn good at it. It’s a very, very competitive field. So never hang up on just one story, write as many screenplays as you can to practice the craft, and maybe someone somewhere will like it enough to turn it into a film, or at the very least to option it, which will put your name on the map.

If you considering turning your book into a screenplay, make sure you read screenwriting books, blogs and scripts of the films you like and the films that resemble your story the most, before you start investing time in adaptation. Screenwriting is mega time-consuming.

Having a screenplay based on your book doesn’t guarantee that a production company will pick up your story. Still, it might attract a filmmaker who falls in love with your story, or it might be enough to have your book/story option for possible development. Development is just the first stage on a long road to the red carpet…

While you are here, you might also be interested in Creative Distribution.

2 Comments

    • Magda Olchawska

      I think you should and that would be wonderful. I know you have been looking into turning your book into a film. I’m going to write weekly posts about turning books into screenplays, kind of a guide for writers because I know that it is a very different process. Keep me updated on your progress Daniel.

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