Hooray for Hollywood!
Despite the myth that many a mischievous actor loves to promote, those stars and starlets don’t make it up as they go along! Writers make it up and I’m one of them. I wrote several scripts for Star Trek which were produced for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
Writing differs from format to format. Prose you’d craft for an article on AC, a movie review for Amazon or that term paper for a college class isn’t the style you’d use for say a novel or sitcom teleplay. The best articles usually tend to be slightly conversational and informative in style and tone. You want to engage readers as if speaking to them, but you’re also composing to educate and entertain your audience at the same time.
Then there’s writing for the screen.
It could be trying to whip up a chuckle filled sitcom script like Scrubs or Friends, an action packed thriller like 24 or Lost or a feature film like Notes On A Scandal or The Departed. It’s writing destined to be acted out. We all know the rule: Show Don’t Say. This is essential in screen writing. Dialog is obviously important, however as one of the more popular and universally accepted modern art forms, films must be as visual as possible. It’s shorthand communication that can charm and delight a movie audience in Orlando, Florida, the same as a packed movie theatre in Hong Kong.
We writers have our quirks just like any other calling or profession. Some of us love to jot down notes onto legal pads, others use a favorite word processor. The digital format of writing is inescapable today and while I’ve heard of screenwriters still using notepads and even manual typewriters, most of us are going to be using PC’s. But it doesn’t end there. Using script writing software is the next step. By choosing one you’re comfortable with and fits your budget, you’re not only increasing your odds of writing more, but writing more effectively. Some of the more popular packages are Movie Magic, Scriptware and Final Draft. Check the web for options and current prices. Microsoft Word can be programmed with standard film script format, so that’s another choice to consider.
There’s only so much mentoring one can get from books on any number of subjects. Still, there are a few great tutorials around. Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting is considered a classic in the industry and at about 10 dollars is more than affordable. The Dummy’s Guide series and Idiot’s Guides also tackle screenwriting. Both offer affordable ways to purchase a “bible” which will cover terminology, strategy and can be a handy reference for the novice to the veteran screenwriter. By reading a book on the subject, you’re exposing yourself to the often winning tactics of a professional screenwriter who knows the industry, at a fraction of the cost of retaining the services of a teacher or attending a pricey workshop.
Networking with like minded writers is a move all writers should make regardless of their writing focus or ambitions. Websites abound on the net helping screenwriters from all points of the globe to come together either virtually or in person by coordinating meeting dates. One of the most helpful things about networking is the invaluable feedback you can get from someone reading your script in progress or even just listening to you pitch the concept. Family or friends can do fine, but they can’t relate to writer’s block or structure problems. You can refine story, characters and plots long before you commit to that final draft and mail it off to a less forgiving agent or producer.
Script Review Sites
There are many websites out there that – for a fee – will read and critique your script. The prices vary with the services, but most don’t come cheap. Script Shark is one of the biggest and is one loaded with recommendations. For myself I use Script P.I.M.P., I’ve found their balanced features and affordable price more than a value. Be aware though that like other endeavors, there may be less than scrupulous people out there eager to part you with your money in return for nothing. So educate yourself about any site before you send them money.
These are concrete steps to help you begin, refine or further your script writing goals. I wish I could list some pithy tips on the stories that will definitely sell and make you a bundle, but you’re sharp enough to realize that nobody can do that. Writers must write what they know, what moves them or what intrigues them. It doesn’t mean you must write only what your experiences have brought you, if that was the case, most writers wouldn’t get much finished. To me, it means writing something honestly and with as much energy and heart as possible. If you strive for that, you’ll probably not only satisfy the critic within you, but also those who eventually encounter your work up there on the screen.