Friday, March 11, 2011

Screenwriting 102

This post kept changing as I wrote it. Originally it was going to be a collection of links to some different screenwriting resources, but over the past month or so I've been working on my own screenplay [aren't we all? - Ed] and as a result of that experience, I've pruned this down to three things that have really helped me out.

1. Screenwriting software - Scrivener

Scrivener is a word processor that was originally released for the Mac, and is now also available on Windows. I've used it off-and-on as a writing tool, partly because I like the full screen mode - which it had before Apple added something similar to their Pages application - and partly because of these three features:
  • It saves automatically.
    I really like that it automatically saves changes as you work. There's something comforting about knowing that if your computer crashes, you aren't going to lose all your work. Admittedly, my computer doesn't crash as much as it used to, but it still happens!
  • Script Template.
    Scrivener has a script template, and that's handy! Apple Pages has one too, and you can download one from Microsoft's site for Word; there are also dozens of templates out on the web, so it's not like this is a huge thing. But it is nice to be able to just choose it and go. And it's reasonably easy to use once you learn the keyboard shortcuts; it even remembers character names and will autofill them for you.
  • Scenes.
    But the number one reason I like Scrivener is that you can put each Scene into a separate Scene "page" within the Scrivener document. You can edit the Scenes individually, or the document as a whole. And if you want to change the order of Scenes, you can just click and drag them around in the Scene list.

    Now that's a really cool and useful feature.
For $45, it's not a bad investment; just for the ability to quickly and easily reorganize your screenplay.
Literature & Latte: Scrivener

2. Signs of a Good Screenplay
Just last week I read a post from Michael Rabiger at Mastering Film, excerpted from his book Directing, Fourth Edition: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, which goes over some of the mistakes new screenwriters maker.

Then I went back and looked at my screenplay and realized I was committing several of the errors he mentions, including: over-describing, too much instruction, and camera and editing instructions.

MasteringFilm: Signs of a Good Screenplay

3. Free Online Screenwriting Course
So there I was, with a 100 page screenplay that seemed so close to being finished; but I just couldn't seem to do it. Something just wasn't working; or it hadn't turned out how I'd envisaged it. But I couldn't figure out what to do to fix it.

Then I came across the Screenwriting Unit by Jane Pugh at the OpenSpace Project at the University College Falmouth, UK. This is the complete course notes from a college screenwriting class, and it's online and free. It's free - did I mention that it's free? [I don't think you did - Ed.] You can read the class notes (and/or listen to the instructor read those same notes in the podcasts!)

I listened to the second unit ("The Principles of Screenwriting") and it was a revelation! Suddenly I knew what was wrong with my screenplay, and why it wasn't working for me (too many characters and too many story lines). Yes, I probably should have realized this myself, but as a neophyte, I think I really needed someone to hit me over the head with the solution. Pretty neat that.

Now, I just have to see if I can fix it!

But I definitely recommend taking a look at this material; and it's free!
Falmouth: Screenwriting unit at

Other screenwriting links:
Finally, I said I wasn't going to list a bunch of resources in this post, but I had these already..
  • Writing Better Dialog
    John August has posted several interesting articles and videos, including this one on writing better dialog.
  • Go Into The Story
    Named the "Best Blog for Aspiring Screenwriters," Scott Myers blog covers all sorts of things to do with screenwriting.
  • What Filmmakers should know about Screenwriting
    Elliot Grove provides a list of 10 things Producers should know about Story. Screenwriters should know it too.

"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot."
- Charlie Chaplin

1 comment:

Dave said...

"Originally it was going to be a collection of links to some different screenwriting resources, but over the past month or so I've been working on my own screenplay [aren't we all? - Ed]." LOL. See Kal Bashir's screenwriting / hero's journey work at