Writing in general can be a difficult task let alone creating a short screenplay. It is a tedious journey that requires dedication as well as patience. There are infinite ways one can start the writing process and more steps than you can walk to do so. We want to offer some information on how to take the daunting task of writing and turn it into something as easy as taking a morning shower.
With writing it’s important to remember that the story is the steak to the 7-course meal, meaning there are many steps to filmmaking but without a good story you are without a good film. For example a film student explained to me once, “you can’t polish a turd.” That is to say that you cannot cover up a bad story with the newest camera, special effects, and good acting. We need look no further than the countless examples Hollywood craps out every month such as the latest flicks, Battleship, Jack the Giant Slayer, Grownups 2 just to name a few. All of them employed some real star power, more than decent directing, and the latest and greatest that special effects/camera work has to offer. Yet the critics verbally destroyed all of them because of their horrible writing. For more trash talk, check out www.rottentomatoes.com.
So lets get started and be sure to make the writing more interesting than Grownups 3 is going to be. It’s as simple as taking a shower:
Get naked (Outline):
Essentially everyone starts a shower the same way, by getting naked and exposing themselves. Like the beginning of our writing we need to strip down all the elements of the story. So assuming you have already spent a long time gathering your ideas and thoughts about your story its time to write a basic outline. This outline should be straightforward and embody the essentials such as the characters, the beginning, middle, and end.
Turning The Water On (Treatment):
The next obvious step to start a shower is to turn the water on, and thus get your creativity flowing, which is by writing a treatment for your story. Treatments can be used in a variety of ways including pitching your story to executives, investors, filmmakers, classes, etc. I find them most useful for going into more detail than the outline and acting as a final step of preparation before the first draft.
Treatments read in the present tense and encompass the whole story without dialogue. For a short film this should be completed in only a couple of pages. If you’re stuck on writing your treatment check out this helpful article.
Water Temperature (Characters):
Finding the right water temperature is similar to finding the right characters for your story. Too hot and you’ll burn yourself like that of a over-complicated or cliche character, too cold and you find yourself with bland one dimensional personalities, but when you get the temp just right you can then engage the audience with deliciously interesting characters that will make for the ultimate shower experience.
The characters are what can make or break a story. When writing the people that will be brought to life on screen it’s extremely important to make them unique yet believable. A great way is to take something from everyday people you know and add it to your character, whether it’s a nervous tick your brother has, or a hilarious sense of dry humor your friend possesses. Painting characters with real attributes and quirks make for a more thought-provoking and believable story.
Body Wash (Character Bibles):
In order to know where your characters are going you need to know where they came from. That’s why every time you write a script it’s key to make up a Character Bible for each one. Like taking a loofah and scrubbing every detail of your body, this is the time to cover all of the bases of the characters identities and create their personalities.
Character bibles are 1-2 page bio’s of the character’s background as well as what makes them unique and why they act the way they do. These are not only helpful in writing better characters but also essential for the actor/actress to study, in order to bring out the best performance they can. Start by writing their relationships with friends and family, their personalities, and the things they’ve done to get them to the character they are in the script. For a bigger glance on Character bibles check out the San Diego Writer’s Group.
Shampoo (1st Draft):
We all know its not a shower unless you shampoo your hair, and we all know you can’t have a script without having a 1st draft. So now that your body is clean it’s time to focus on washing your hair and getting your story written down. It’s often a good idea just to “throw up on paper” with the first draft, in other words don’t worry too much about specific details or making the dialogue just perfect on the first go around or you will never finish writing. Instead focus on scrubbing out a first copy with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Once you’ve finished the initial draft and you’ve taken a moment to celebrate the real cleansing begins.
(If you don’t already have a proper script writing application it’s time to do so. There are several good ones out there but we recommend Celtx: it’s free, it works great, and can be used across a laptop, tablet, or phone (you can purchase Celtx Plus for $14.99 for some extra bells and whistles.)
Finally your head is clean and you have your first initial draft of your script. But now it’s time to make it slick, shiny and smooth which can only be done with the conditioners help.
Now is the time to fine tune your script and take it from good to great. This can include adding/subtracting scenes, writing better dialogue, perfecting grammar and format and so forth.
The next step is to get another pair of eyes to read your script. Try to get as many friends and even people you don’t know to read your work. The more people you can have read, edit and offer suggestions the better. This is also a great time to see if others understand and enjoy the story as much as you do.
Rinse and Repeat
This is a lengthy and tedious part of the writing process but essential. Once you’ve had someone edit, critique and suggest changes, go back and implement them, then offer the script up to someone else for the same process. After all you want your hair to be shinier and smoother than the competition right?
Drying Off (Writing Methods/ Workflow)
You’ve done it, you are officially clean and have written a short screenplay. As we take our towels to dry off it’s time to talk about finding the best writing methods that suit you. Finding a good workflow is crucial if you want to become a writer. Comfort is key when you are sitting down looking at a screen for hours on end so some pay prefer a nice coffee shop, outside in the shade, or at a desk at night with a glass of wine. Consider accompanying writing with music from film scores that not only act as inspiration but also don’t distract you. Writing is also a tiring sport so it’s important to take breaks and check your social media or the score to the game for 10 minutes every couple of hours. Of course everyone has a different routine when it comes to writing, so you will need to find one that works well and stick to it.
No matter how clean you are after your shower today, you still need to take one tomorrow, so keep working on your writing and don’t forget to scrub hard. For a list of the greatest screenplays according to the Writers Guild of America, check out this link.