Format - The very first thing you need to do is format your screenplay properly. The last thing you want to do is spend a good amount of time writing something that looks unprofessional to industry insiders. For more information, visit our screenplay formatting page.
Story - When determining how to write a screenplay, you need to start with story. If you are writing a Hollywood story, choose a plotline that will hook your reader. The classic suggestion is to make your idea "pitchable" in 25 words or less. For example, a great movie such as Shawshank Redemption could be summed up in the following: "A man wrongly accused of murder battles to find new meaning to life and keep hope alive within the confines of a brutal prison environment". That doesn't mention anything about a prison escape, but it does describe the movie in 25 words or less. Shawshank is an exceptional movie in many ways, and if you look at most financially successful films these days, they can be summed up in one short sentence. Armageddon: citizens unite to stop a meteor from destroying the earth. Legally Blonde: A ditzy Beverly Hills blonde follows her boyfriend to law school. Now, if you'll think about most, there are many exceptions to the rule, and if you believe you're on the way to writing a great, unique screenplay, don't let our advice deter you in any way. A gut instinct can often replace all the good advice in the world.
Character - If you're writing either a Classical Hollywood or Independent screenplay, you need to have characters that come to life on the page. They need to be unique, flawed, funny, and they must, at times, surprise us by their actions. Many independent films such as Sling Blade or Swingers have been successful due to the strength of their characters. Get your back story down...we all have secrets and issues from the past. Your characters should be the same. Establish quirks and idiosyncrasies based on people you know. Anything you can add to make the character more real to you will ultimately make the script worth reading. Once your screenplay takes shape, you may be interested in a screenwriting agent.
Writing what you know - Most sage advice dictates that you write your script about what you know. While that can be fine for some writers, it doesn't work for those who are trying to write a movie about a lunar colony uprising or a secret plot to assassinate a foreign dictator. Our suggestion is to write the story you truly want to write, and make sure you do enough research to bring your world to life. As far as your characters are concerned, if they're exceptional, you can place them anywhere and they'll do just fine. If you are having problems getting words onto paper, you can try taking a screenwriting class.
Schedule - Establish a time to write. There's no sense in learning how to write a screenplay if you can't be serious about it. If you're like most people, you have a job, and maybe even children. Just like exercising or anything else you prioritize, you need to establish a writing schedule. Whether it's in the early morning while everyone is asleep or at the evening after dinner, pick one hour when you sit down and devote yourself to the craft of writing a screenplay. Luckily, screenwriting is something you can do for one hour a day and actually get somewhere. If you don't have a job or kids, then you have no excuse...write, write, write. If you need help formatting your screenplay, there are many screenwriting software solutions available that are easy enough for beginners to use, but advanced enough that the professionals still use today.
Getting out of the house
Yes, it's very important to finish your work, but we cannot stress enough the importance of getting your mind going by being more active in your environment. Let's face it, most of our "brilliant" ideas are inspired by other people or events around us. Also, do not underestimate the value of a good run or walk. Exercise often loosens the clogged or convoluted brain passages.
Having trouble with your story?
Try placing your scenes on index cards, one card for each scene. Then, lay the cards out on the floor in front of you, and organize the scenes from beginning to end. It's an old screenwriting trick, but it does help many writers work out their story lines.
Fighting through the pain
Being a writer can be discouraging, as there always seems to be more work to do. There are also those days when you believe that everything you've written is a disaster, and you don't know why you started writing in the first place. Patience is a virtue for a reason. You just have to wait it out and keep writing as much as possible. If it's any consolation, we all go through it.
One important character tip
Sometimes, when we're writing a script, we forget that our characters are real people with REAL FLAWS. It's easy to fall into that trap, especially if your main character has to stand for something or fight for a cause. Don't make them goody-goody, or you'll lose the reader. Giving your characters, especially heroes, real flaws in one sure way to make them more human, and thus, people will more readily identify with them.
It sounds elementary, but it's not. Throughout history, many people have had great ideas, but how many people follow through with them. Make sure you don't let the pitfalls and occasional writer's block stop you from creating your masterpiece.