How to write a script for a movie: screenwriting tips

There is no more satisfying (or possibly more lucrative) form of writing than screenwriting. It’s one of the most technical areas, one of the hardest to get right. You need a powerful story, but using the grammar of the screen. You have to write with pictures, not words.

Nearly all screenwriters should look up, at least, a foundation course in screenwriting (like this one).

Basics of screenwriting

In the meantime, though, there are some important (often neglected) rules worth following.

1. Read scripts

It’s not enough to watch movies, you need to read them. Get scripts and read them page by page. Then watch the movie. Then read the script again. This is the way you will grasp the rhythm and feel of a script. You can download hundreds of scripts for free online.

2. Read widely

You needn’t restrict yourself to newer scripts or scripts you love (though do read what inspires). Just remember to read broadly. Read the scripts with accolades, letting your knowledge and versatility expand with each you read.

3. Learn how to format

Film scripts need to be written in the right format, so learn this. There are software packages helping with formatting, giving useful story tools, Celtx being one. Fewer people now need MovieMagic or FinalDraft. Learn more on the importance of formatting.

The next stages of screenwriting

You also need to:

1. Understand structure

This is the heart of scriptwriting. Read books from writers like Robert McKee or John Truby. Then absorb story structure into your film writing.

2. Understand the scene

Nearly all new screenwriters use too many words. Let your looks, scenes, silences do the talking, too. Read more tips on film scenes.

3. Understand dialogue

Dialogue is best when it’s fractured and oblique. If dialogue sounds too formal or fluent, your words are likely to sound stilted and awkward on screen. Read more tips on film dialogue.

4. Understand character

Novelists can spend 100,000 words exploring a character. You have about a quarter of that amount with which to write a movie, nut novelists don’t have actors. You do. You need to provide a framework that actors fill out, so stick to your job. Use action lines as cue in screenwriting. Read more tips on characters in films.

5. Thinking with pictures

Although camera angles are the director’s province, you need to see the movie you’re writing, and your script can do a huge amount to nudge a professional reader into sharing your vision. If you do this well, you may not just have a good script. You could have a great one.

Selling your film script

Writing a good script is hard, but selling it is harder.

Unknown novelists with no prior training are picked up every day by literary agents, and many go on to be successfully published. The film industry does tend to draw new screenwriters in from conventional routes: film schools, TV soaps, production company insiders, actors, and the professional theatre.

It doesn’t mean securing an agent is impossible if this doesn’t apply to you – and if your script is strong enough, we’ll help it get read by a film agent anxious to find new talent.

Meanwhile, peruse our guide to selling a film script and learn more about our script feedback.

Good luck – and we’re rooting for you.