Everyone has to start somewhere.
I can remember that first screenplay I wrote. It was some kind of superhero mash up, it felt like a good idea at the time. If I'm honest, it had a good kernel of an idea at the heart of it, but it just wasn't very good.
Actually, it was pretty atrocious, now that I think about it.
I knew nothing about screenwriting and what exactly it involved or how hard it really is when I wrote it. Looking back, I can honestly say that I'm glad I did write it, if it hadn't been for that first attempt. This writer would never have discovered screenwriting.
I'm currently typing a screenplay that a wrote two-three years ago into Final Draft. As I've been typing this thing and reading it. I've come to realize that it's absolutely terrible. It has a good idea at the heart of it, but the execution of this thing is somewhat lacking to put it politely. It's basically a big pile of steaming horse manure.
Things just happen to the characters for the sake of moving the story forward. It's just bad and if I was giving notes on this thing, I'd be tearing it a new one. The fact that I entered this thing into contests is just ridiculous, not only did it put a dent in my wallet, but I can honestly feel the pain that the reader must've endured while reading this travesty of nonsensical nonsense.
What's become apparent as I've been typing this thing, is that a lot of writers come up with some pretty cool ideas, but it's the execution of the story that inevitably lets them down. If you have an idea for something, sit down with it, let it percolate and grow in your subconscious for a while. And hopefully while it's stewing away in your head, you'll come up with more ideas that will help you turn it into an interesting and entertaining story.
That someone will hopefully enjoy reading.
Don't rush in there and start writing straight away.
There is no sure fire way of writing a screenplay, everyone is different, but the above will certainly help in the creative process.
Once all this is done.
Then you can knock out that first draft as quickly as possible.
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.
After you type FADE OUT.
You'll probably want to get some feedback and notes on the project before you start work on the next draft. Try and figure out what the weak areas are and hopefully find a way to improve them and make that project stronger.
I'd say a minimum of two weeks – ideally three, possibly four.
Once I'm finished with the first draft of a project, I'll try and push that story out of my head. This usually takes a month or more, during this time I'll start putting notes and ideas together for my next project. Usually I'll start work on the next project as soon as possible and push through until I've reached FADE OUT on that one as well.
You can do other things as well to take your mind off that project. Read scripts. Watch movies. Give feedback and notes on other people's work. Join a site like Trigger Street Labs. A great place to learn. Keep your mind immersed in the world of writing and movies.
I like to set myself writing goals. Ideally four, possibly five projects through the course of a year. I'll make my way through each project until I've finished the last one and then head back to that first project and start work on the rewrite. In the hopes of having a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective on it. More often than not, you'll get too close and over protective of your work and stepping away for a longer period will help in the rewrite phase.
Everyone's different, there's no right or wrong way. It might take a while, but you have to find the best approach that works for you as a writer. Through trial and error.
You have to push through and keep writing.
It's a marathon, not a sprint.
When it comes to putting in the work during the development process of the script, these guys set a benchmark.
At Pixar it’s years, literally 5 years, to get the stories right.
Want to write animated movies?
“You can’t just say, ‘Well, I’m not really inspired by an idea yet, so I’m just gonna hang out and see what hits me. Maybe I’ll write a scene and see where it takes me.’”
“I don’t know any writers, who are successful, who approach writing that way at all. You have to approach writing like it’s a full-time job.”
Tales from the Script
One of the things I see a lot of in amateur screenplays, and in my own writing, if I'm honest, and it's a big thing, is a lack of character goals. There aren't any goals for the main character or characters to achieve. This leads to a story without any defined and clear direction. And generally the scenes that play out within the context of that story tend to meander and not actually go anywhere.
Giving the main character a goal to achieve will help structure the story that you want to tell, it will help drive the story forward and give it a sense of direction.
Character flaws and goals can generally be broken down into two categories.
Firstly, there's the INTERNAL struggle that the character is going through.
The internal struggle that the main character is going through usually revolves around some kind of personality trait. This personality trait is the character's flaw, it's their achille's heel that's stopping them from moving forward in their life.
This character flaw could be caused by a whole number of things.
This major event (something bad happened to them) caused them to take on this negative personality trait. They're finding it difficult to get over what happened to them. They might not even be aware of this personality trait (flaw) that they have until it's pointed out to them or something happens (usually something bad) to them that brings it to their attention.
This is their INTERNAL struggle.
This internal struggle that manifests itself in the main character as a flaw could take the form of any number of personality traits.
There are so many to choose from. The list is endless.
Go to character flaws
Over the course of a story, the main character learns to overcome this negative aspect of their personality and hopefully by the end of the story they will be the opposite of how they were at the beginning. If they were irresponsible at the start, they have now learned to become responsible. If they were selfish, they have now learned to be more giving by the end of the story. They have learned something about themselves, their personality has arced over the course of the story. They may not even be aware that they have changed.
But as the reader/audience member, we have seen this change occur.
Secondly, there's the EXTERNAL struggles that characters find themselves in which are usually much easier to see.
Generally, and this is just my own point of view. Dependent on the genre, certain films require that characters are flawed, otherwise those movies just aren't going to work. These are usually character driven pieces, and certainly not your tent-pole summer blockbusters. Generally in these types of movies I just want to be entertained, as long as the story makes sense and the characters don't behave in a stupid manner.
When it comes to a character driven story, I want to see a lot of depth to characters. This is when I want to see characters change over the course of a movie, and the more characters that have some kind of character arc, the better. This is when I want to feel something and possibly even relate to the characters and their struggles in some way. I want to feel their pain and anguish that they go through over the course of the story. This is when I want to be emotionally invested in the characters and the story and situations they find themselves in. And of course, I still want to be entertained with a story that makes sense.
Make sure there are obstacles that get in the way of your characters achieving their goals. Hopefully this will create conflict for your character(s) to overcome.
This is just my take on how I approach my writing.
Movies to check out:
There are loads more.