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Story Structure

There's no doubt about it, breaking into Hollywood as a scriptwriter is tough. Thousands of
scripts are sent each year, some don't get read, most get rejected and a few make it.
If you want your script to become a viable commodity it has to have the following.
A main character who is driven towards achieving a goal
An opposition to your main character who will hold your main character back from
achieving their goal
A fight (literal or metaphorical) between your main character and their opposition
An ending which answers the questions "Can the main character achieve his goal?"
If your script can present such a story, along with a well thought out main character who the
audience can relate to then you will all ready have the jump on most scriptwriters.
Remember that once you have sold your script how it is presented and portrayed is all in
the hands of the director and the actors. If you want the story in your script to shine then
your structure must be solid. Think of the story structure as the framework and foundation
of your scipt, from which you can create a wonderful piece of architecture. It doesn't matter
how good the story idea, if your structure is weak then the story will fall flat.

The Three Act Structure

Here is the story structure timeline that nearly every scriptwriter follows. It’s a simple
formula, Act I is the beginning, Act II is the middle, and Act III is the end.

Scripts are generally 100 to 120 pages. Each page, on average, equates to 1 minute of
screen time. Of course some action-filled pages may take 5 minutes a piece while some
pages loaded with dialogue only 20 seconds but it all evens out.

One of the first things that producers check when reading the script is the length. If it is
under 100 pages then it appears that the scriptwriter doesn’t have enough material to tell a
feature length story. Go the other way, over 120 pages, and the script is automatically
thought of as cumbersome. Once you have a solid reputation as a scriptwriter you can get
away with going over 120 pages but you should stick to these guidelines if this is your first
spec script.

The easiest way of keeping to this unwritten rule is to break your story into three acts. In a
120 page script the first act would take up one quarter (30 pages) of the script. Act II takes
up half (60 pages) of your script. Act III takes the final quarter (30 pages) of your script.

For more on how to structure each individual act, visit the pages below.

Act I - The Beginning

In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth. He did this in the dark, which
makes it even more impressive. As a scriptwriter you need to make an equally impressive
start to your writing project if you want to create a masterpiece.

In Act I you begin with a main character whose life is about to be turned upside down, and
who’s going to be pushed harder than ever before. Pushed so hard that his outlook on life
will change forever.

The Ten Most Important Pages of Your Script

The first ten pages you write in your script are without doubt the most important. You need
to grab the reader there and then or else they will put your script down and move onto the
next script in the pile.

Elements of the First Ten Pages

In the first ten pages you will want to setup the following:

The Main Character

Exactly who is your main character? What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses?
Does he live a jet setting lifestyle or does he life revolve around his desk job? Whatever
sense of normality your main character has is about to be torn apart.

Location and Mood

Where does your character reside and how are the conditions? Does he live on the peaceful
beaches of Hawaii or the cold, dingy streets of Philadelphia? Imagine if Rocky had been set
in Hawaii, the movie just wouldn’t have worked on the same level.

By the end of the first ten pages it should be clear if your movie is an action flick, a
romantic comedy, horror or other.

The Premise
The premise is the basic story. For example you could describe Rocky as the ultimate
underdog getting his one shot at glory against the boxing world heavyweight champion.

After the first 10 pages there are two more important plot points in Act I:

The Inciting Incident

So far the first ten pages have told the viewer of the main character’s life. Well now is the
time his world is going to be thrown into chaos. A major problem occurs which the main
character will have to resolve for their life to return back to normal. Your main character
should have the motivation and will to achieve this goal by doing anything imaginable.

Plot Point I
Nearing the end of Act I, around page 25, another huge event happens - Plot Point I. Thus
far the story has been driving along and now is the time a tyre blows and sends the car
careering off in another direction. The event will test your main character and challenge
them to answer “how far will you go to achieve your goal?”

Act II - The Middle

Act II is the longest act in the script and you should make it seem as long as possible for
your main character yet as short as possible for the reader. Your main character will come
face to face with a whole variety of obstacles, the obstacles steadily growing bigger and
tougher. Every time he takes a step on the path to reach his goal some force (inner or outer)
will block his path, forcing the main character to think quicker and grow stronger if he
wants to succeed.

For this reason it is a good idea to have only one or two main characters in a movie.
Anymore and you risk having characters become undeveloped and the audience not really
caring about them since they don’t appear to be in any big danger.

This act is all about conflict and confrontation, nothing should come easy to your main

The Midpoint

Act II can be the hardest act to write as a scriptwriter. When you begin a writing project
you often have a clear mental picture of the beginning and end of the script, but it’s how
you get there that proves difficult. Fortunately the midpoint of the script offers a lifeline to
the scriptwriter. Here we have another turning point, often the introduction or death of a
character which sharpens the focus of the main character on achieving his goal.

In Rocky II Rocky has been looking for a white collar job but has been unable to due to his
lack of education. Going against Adrian’s wishes Rocky accepts a challenge to a rematch
from Apollo Creed.

Plot Point II

Towards the end of Act II and the beginning of Act III we come to a crisis point, Plot Point
II. Right now the main character in your script has had enough. They’re sick and tired of all
the obstacles being thrown in their way. Their world is a dark place with only a small beam
of light left. Plot Point II should:

1. Force the main character to take action in attempt to solve the problem created by the
inciting incident.

2. Make the character (and audience) fully aware of the “ticking clock”. Time is running
out for your main character to finish the job.
3. Focus the main character on their ultimate goal.
Think of Rocky II when Adrian emerges from her coma to tell Rocky to win the fight. He
re-focuses on his training and becomes faster, tougher, and stronger.

Act III - The End

The clock has run out, it’s now or never for your main character. By now your main
character sees the goal in front of them, but even closer to him are several more obstacles.
These will be the biggest obstacles of all but your main character has come too far to turn
around and head for home now.

Your character has to want to achieve to achieve their goal so badly that nothing will stop
them. That does not mean to say that your story has to have a happy ending. Just a glimmer
of hope or a torch being passed is equally satisfying, especially if you are expecting to write
a sequel to this script.

Scriptwriting is all about solving your characters’ problems and resolving their story.
However always be careful not to give your story the “yellow ribbon ending”. This is where
all the loose threads in the story are tied up neatly, so neatly the ending seems false.

The Climax

The climax is the biggest scene in the movie, the final battle between right and wrong, good
and evil. Your main character will save the day and resolve their problems in dramatic
fashion. You have to make sure that it’s the main character who saves the day and not some
Johnny Come Lately bailing him out, then your main character has achieved nothing.

In Dodgeball the Average Joes team beat the team from Globo-Gym only for White
Goodman to reveal that Peter La Fleur had already sold him the gym, so the victory was all
for nothing. La Fleur counters with the revelation that he placed all the money White had
given him and bet on Average Joes to win. This leaves Peter La Fleur with another money
to buy a controlling stake in Globo-Gym and take back ownership of Average Joes gym.

I hope this section on the three act structure of film scriptwriting has helped you greatly.
Now go forth and get writing!

Perfect Plot Structure

It doesn’t matter how good of an idea you have if you can’t find a way to tell the story. As a
scriptwriter proper structure will give you the ability to convert your idea into a captivating

The Initial Idea

Your initial idea should be able to be explained in only one or two sentences. Talladega
Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was sold purely on the idea “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR
driver”, it can be that simple. You need to get your basic concept over with the Hollywood
executives, and make it easy enough for them to remember so they can discuss it quickly
with anyone they talk to. Eventually the right person will hear the concept and green light
the project.


The backstory is the character’s past which allows the audience to understand what the
characters and story is all about. Much like character’s thoughts, this information should be
delivered through the characters’ action and dialogue. You can also use narration or
flashbacks but some people believe this to be lazy scriptwriting. You want to deliver the
backstory in snippets all throughout the script rather than in a couple of lumps. Blocks of
backstory slow the script down and stick out poorly.


Exposition is the information in the main story thread with the audience need to understand
completely. Think of The Truman Show where Jim Carrey’s character tries to take a boat
out of the city but can’t because of his fear of water. The fear came from his childhood
when his Dad died sailing with him. Try to deliver exposition dramatically, through
conflict. Remember the adage, show don’t tell.


Read any script and you will see that the action intensifies the further the story goes. This is
pace. Think of your story as a roller coaster, which the ups getting higher and downs going
lower. A story is just that, an emotional roller coaster. The tougher the obstacles the shorter
the scenes should be until the story becomes almost claustrophobically tight.

Turning Points

The turning points are key points in a script that move the story along greatly. They will
grab the story and characters to turn them to a new direction. Every time the action seems
to be settling down you need to throw that curveball to add a breeze of fresh air to the story.


The obstacles are the inner or outer forces that block your character from achieving their
ultimate goal. You can liken the obstacles in a story to a snowball rolling down a hill. The
snowball grows larger and picks up more speed until it comes crashing down to the bottom
of the hill.

Dramatic Irony

This is when, as a scriptwriter, you allow the audience to know something important that
the character does not. It could be your main character proposing to his girlfriend after
you’ve just seen her romping with her lover or selling their most beloved possession to pay
for a debt that has already been paid off for them.

This is the biggest scene in the film. Good vs. Evil comes to a head and all the loose ends in
the story are tied up. Your main character must fight their last battle, whether it be
physically or emotionally.


The final scene of the movie. Everything is right in the story world, your main character has
a grown as a person and now “rides off into the sunset” to live a rich, fulfilling life.

While the plot drives the story, it’s the subplot that carries the theme of your script. In The
Crow the plot is of a young man coming back from the dead to kill those who killed him
and his wife. The subplot was The Crow giving Eric Draven the power and guidance to act
out his revenge.

The subplot often involves a relationship of some kind, the theme being love, loss or
staying strong. This gives the characters in the script a chance to be “human”, to show them
as real people with relationships and feelings.

Many films contains several subplots but this can either cause or be because of a weak plot.
The genre of the script you’re writing will have a big impact on the number of subplots you
need. An all-out action movie will only need one or two, the focus being on the main plot.
Just like the main plot the subplots will have a beginning, middle and end and will
interweave with the plot in some way. Subplots should be looked at as the sizzle added to
the steak of the plot.

How To Work Your Subplot Correctly

1. Your subplot will be a big part of the story - In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, the
developing relationship between Harold Crick and Ana Pascal takes up a significant portion
of Act II and Act III.
2. Weave your subplot into the main plot - The subplot has to intersect with the plot at
sometime or else it has no purpose. This is extremely poor story structure. One of the best
examples of a poor subplot would be in the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore. When
Happy’s Grandma is taking into a home she is looked after by a mean, slave driving
orderly. By the end of the movie she is by Happy’s side, away from the orderly, and with no
action having been taken against him.

3. Some subplots start a film and are done before the plot begins - You’ll watch some
movies and note that the plot doesn’t really kick in until Act II. This is often because the
scriptwriter has either done a poor job of weaving the subplot and plot together or has fallen
in love with the dynamic and forgotten the focus of the film.

4. Set your subplot apart from your plot - Your subplot should have a beginning, middle and
end and flow along nicely. The subplot should weave into the plot at crucial moments in the
script. If they don’t then they are subplots, they’re know as parallel plots. Parallel plots are
TV devices, used because of limited time. Shows like The Simpsons often have both
parallel plots and subplots running at the same time.

5. The main story and subplot show two different perspectives - The subplot gives you a
chance you show the reader events from a different point of view. In Rocky, Apollo Creed’s
trainer was worried that Rocky might prove to be a tougher opponent than originally

6. Never let the subplot steal the main story’s focus - The main story should be the main
focus, with subplots adding flavor to the story.

It may help you to write out a few bullet points on your plot and each subplot. Stick them
on the adjacent wall in order of importance. Your plot would be first, then you need to
assign each subplot to “B” story, “C” story, etc.

Storytelling In Scriptwriting
As a scriptwriter it is the story in your script that really gets you noticed. A strong story will
hook the agents and producers of the world into reading your script, while the characters
will keep them into it. You need a compelling story to allow your characters to develop and
keep the reader (and eventually the viewer) emotionally involved.

By taking into account the four essential components of storytelling while writing your
script you will be able to construct a vivid story that will certainly get you noticed by
Hollywood executives.

Give Your Character a Goal

Everyone has one major goal in life. Right now yours could be to become a professional
scriptwriter, and you’re trying to achieve that goal by constantly writing, reading
www.filmscriptwriting.com, taking a scriptwriting class, etc. However this type of goal
wouldn’t be very interesting to watch someone obtain. Instead give your character a goal
which requires him to practically put his life on the line. Make it nigh on impossible for
them to achieve their goal and see how they react.

There should be a point in the story where it seems the character will never be able to
achieve their goal but then they pull out that little bit more and get the job done.

Constantly Challenge Your Character

Your story should be set at the most crucial point of your character’s life. Maybe he’s just
been diagnosed with AIDS or his life is crumbling around him, he’s lost his wife, kids and
job. Whatever the challenge your main character should be going through emotional and/or
physical hell.

Always keep your main character on his toes. Just when things seem to be settling down
throw a bigger obstacle at him. Put him in the line of fire. By constantly challenging your
character you give them the opportunity to develop and improve their self by the end of the
Focus On How Your Character Deals With These Challenges

Which challenges does your character deal well with? Which ones does he struggle with?
How does he learn from these obstacles?

Every scene in your script should be written around the journey of your main character.
While you might have sub-plots the script should always be focused on your main
character’s journey. This is the spine of the story, if you ignore the spine then your script
won’t move.

Outer and Inner Forces

A story moves forward by conflict. Conflict is represented by two forces, inner forces and
outer forces. The outer forces are often the “bad guys” but they can also be natural
disasters, complicated relationships or something else. These are the physical obstacles
holding your main character back. They need to make the reader wish that they could step
into the script and help your character fight against them.

However it’s the internal forces that really hold back your main character. All those
emotional hang-ups and neurosis that cause them to sabotage themselves. These
behavioural patterns/internal forces have plagued your main character’s life and during this
story they will hit him hard. So hard it hurts. But it is in beating these internal patterns that
your main character derives true glory. Maybe he will learn how to accept himself or how
to share his emotions. One he is free from this emotional baggage your main character can
finally walk off into the sunset and lead a happy, fulfilling life.

The Opening Scene

So you’re sat down to write the opening scene it your script. You know your story but
aren’t sure of the best way to start it. You want to setup the rest of your script, capture the
mood of the story and hook the reader right away.

Here are several types of opening that you can use to start your film. None of these are
mutually exclusive, you can choose to mix and match certain elements from each type.

The Blatant Opening - Within a few moments you know exactly who the hero is and what
the movie will be about. The James Bond series are a great example of this type of opening.
In this first ten pages of your script you will introduce the hero, the villain and exactly why
they oppose each other. The blatant opening works particular well for action films, a fast,
intense opening will hook the reader and keep them flicking through the script.

A Regular Day - In this opening you will put over the pace of life in a regular day for your
main character. Then an event will happen which breaks the normality of your character’s
life, one which they will need to rectify for their life to return to the way it was.

True Beginning - The script starts right along with the start of the story for the main
character. They might have just been given a million dollars, or landed in a new country.

Dramatic Irony - This is the only beginning that won’t contain your main character. Instead
you give the audience some information that your main character won’t know and will soon
affect his/her life greatly. Dramatic irony allows the audience to be in a superior position
and sets up both tension and anticipation.

Foreshadowing - This opening takes place before your main story begins and anticipates
what is going to happen later in the story. Like the dramatic irony opening the audience is
placed in a position to predict what is going to happen. This is often used for doomsday and
horror movies.

Narrator - The narrator can be the hero, a secondary character or just a stand alone narrator.
The narrator tells the story of the events which happened to the main character at a
important time in their life.
Flash forward - The flash forward has two stories running side by side simultaneously. The
B story has a narrator who tells the main story, which has already happened. At certain
points in the story there’s a flash forward to the narrator who continues with his tail. The A
story is the main story, the B story is of the narrator looking back.

Montage - This is a great type of opening if you have a lot of information to get across
before the main story begins. Also known as a shotgun, a collection of short clips accelerate
through the information until the story proper begins. Then the speed of the story can slow
down to a regular pace. In a matter of minutes you can explain years of your main
characters life.

Conflict In Scriptwriting
At the very core of every piece of film or television is conflict. If everyone just got along it
would make for a very boring movie. As a scriptwriter you have to inject conflict into your
script to keep the action moving along so the audience will remain interested.

The most important piece of conflict is always the conflict between the main character's
success versus the failure of acheiving their ultimate goal. You need to think of each scene
as a mini-story where your main character has a goal, it doesn't have to be their ultimate
goal, where obstacles are pushed into their path to stop them acheiving their goal. In most
scenes the character will be able to overcome these obstacles and achieve their goal with a
few exceptions.

Brought down to the basics there are two types of conflict.

• Inner Conflict
• Outer Conflict

Inner Conflict

Inner conflict are the emotion hang-ups and neurosis that we all have. Whether it's
something obvious such as a person refusing to ever swim because their Dad drowned
when they were a child, or something more subtle, inner conflict is often the deeper, darker
side of a character. Inner conflict often hinders the character from developing as a person
and acheiving their goal in less obvious way than a physical force.

Outer Conflict
Outer conflict are the obstacles which confront your character and attempt to stop them
acheiving their goal. These can range from the character's relationships to freakish zombie

As much as I have just harped on about the importance of conflict you shouldn't make
every scene in your script a desperate fight to save the world from some impending force of
doom. If you do this then the audience's emotions will be drained by the climax and then
they simple won't care, they've seen it all already. The truly great scriptwriter will take the
audience on an emotional rollercoaster, complete with ups, downs, and maybe a few loop-

If you ever get to a point in your script where, with the end still 40 pages in sight, the
conflict and tension seems almost impossible to top you need to ever re-write the scene to
lower the stakes or provide a little relief from the conflict maybe with a moment of comedy
or romance. Then just when the audience has settled down - BAM! - hit them again with
more conflict.

Remember that life is an eternal struggle and that is exactly what your main character's life
needs to be to create an interesting script.

Create A Captivating Scene

I will teach you how to create a captivating scene for your script by following ten steps.

The more you know about scriptwriting, the easier it is to break a screenplay down. A full
screenplay breaks down into three acts. Those acts break down into sequences, sequences
into scenes and scenes into moments.

A scene consists of camera placement (INTERIOR or EXTERIOR), location and time of

day. When anyone one of those three elements change then the scene changes too. A scene
is a dramatic unit and should be treated as such, that means that something has to happen in
each scene to create some drama.
Here are the ten steps to follow to create a captivating scene.

1. Every scene should have a purpose and move the story forward.

You should be looking to achieve something with every scene. Whether it be to setup a
stumbling block for later on or introducing a new character you should look at every scene
you write and think “what’s the purpose?”.

Every scene should also move the story forward in terms of both the plot and character. In a
good screenplay you will notice that each scene connects and develops to the last scene,
while leaving a thread or two for the following scenes to pick up.

You should also look to have your main character involved in every scene in some way. By
making sure your main character is involved there’s a good chance the scene will move the
script forward in someway. Every scene in your screenplay should work the story into the
frenzied final showdown.

Look at the scene you’re writing and ask yourself:

• What is the purpose of this scene?

• Why do I need this scene?
• Does this scene reveal anything new about a character or the story?
• What is the payoff?

2. Don’t tell when you can show.

When you write your screenplay remember that movies are a visual medium, so be as
visual as possible. Don’t have two characters discuss something they did recently, if it’s
backstory that’s important enough to bring up directly then it’s important enough to show.

There are times when it is more appropriate to tell. If you’re reaching the climax of an
action packed scene then telling the reader makes events seem more sudden and gives them
an instant impact.

3. Walk and talk.

Avoid having two characters just idly chatting while nothing happens. Wherever you have
dialogue the characters should also be thrust into action. Even if they’re just walking
towards where the next scene is happening. You only have 90 to 120 minutes to tell your
story, during which you need to keep the audience’s attention. Don’t let your story lull by
having 5 minutes of expositional dialogue with no action.

4. A scene should have a beginning, middle and end.

A good scene should stand alone as a dramatic using while tying into the previous scene
and leading to the next. Think of each scene you write as a mini screenplay. Have a
character with a goal, setback and some sort of conclusion while leaving a loose end for the
next scene to take up.

5. Cut the crap.

Don’t have dialogue just for the sake of dialogue and don’t have any unnecessary action
scenes. A screenplay is a potentially real life situation condensed into a short period of time
with all the dull parts cut out.

The best way to achieve this is to start each scene as close to the end as possible. If you
have a character leaving work, driving home and walking into his home only to find that his
house is being burgled then you’re showing too much. You create a lot more impact by
cutting the first two parts and just having the character walking into his house and being
confronted by the burglar(s).

6. Pace your scenes.

While I studied scriptwriting (a process which is never ending) I was given a piece of
advice which stuck with me.

“Never blow the world up in the beginning of the scene or you’ll have nowhere to go.”

While it’s perfectly acceptable and even advisable to start a scene with a big event to grip
the reader/viewer you want to save the biggest and best ‘til last. The pace of a scene should
also fluctuate depending on its position in the story. The closer to the story climax the
quicker the pace should be. Keep throwing obstacle after obstacle at your main character.
7. Finish the scene dramatically.

When you reach the end of the scene you should always aim to leave the main character
with some sort of decision or imminent decision. Make the viewer lust after the knowledge
of what is going to happen next. Throw them a cliff-hanger, a reversal or a revelation to
raise their interest level. This is how you add the twists and turns in a story that make it

8. Transition smoothly between scenes.

Here I’m not talking about adding cuts, dissolves and other editing techniques to your
script, that’s the job of the director. Perhaps the best way of creating a smooth transition
between scenes is to finish on a certain image and then start the new scene with a similar
image. For example, you could end one scene with the image of a clock at one location and
begin the next scene with the image of a clock at the next location. This example would
also help the audience understand any passage of time that has lapsed.

You don’t have to shoe horn in a transition between every scene but if they come naturally,
by all means add them. A good transition allows the story to flow smoothly and can add a
certain level of cohesion.

9. Define an emotion or mood.

In a screenplay every main character should have some sort of ultimate goal. Each scene
should work towards that character achieving their goal in baby steps. That means that
every scene should contain some sort of action in which the character attempts to achieve
their goal. Sometimes the attempt will fail or not work as planned, leaving your character
frustrated and angry. Other times they will succeed and be driven on to push towards their
goal even harder.

Humans are emotional creatures so treat your characters as such.

10. Have a motivated conflict.

No matter how big or small it is conflict which drives a story forward. Even small, less
exciting, scenes should contain some level of conflict. Even the best of friends have small
disagreements and you’ll find that even when two people have the same goal in mind they
both have different ways to go about achieving it. In contrast the conflict between two
enemies will be much greater, with both characters willing to do anything to defeat the

If you follow the ten steps above I am confident that even a beginning scriptwriter can
create a truly memorable scene. Try keeping this article open on your monitor as you write
a scene and keep referring back to make sure you’re on course.

Building Your Story

After you’ve drummed up an initial story idea with a strong main character it is time to
really build the story of your screenplay.

The first thing you need to be sure of is that your story idea and main character are both
strong enough to carry a two hour movie. The way to do this is to ask yourself if the story
and main character interest you. If you’ve done very little background research then the
answer is probably no. An interesting story and main character require a lot of work and
research before they become marketable.

Try to avoid writing a script about a current big news event unless you have an interesting
twist or a unique angle on it. Hollywood producers don’t like making movies about current
news affairs. This is because by the time a movie is written, produced and then post-
produced the event is already at least a year or two old. Yesterday’s news doesn’t sell at the
box office.

You’ll want to be sure that your story is a visual one, and action driven. If you want to write
about a character where a lot of the story is told through their thoughts then the medium for
that is a novel. If you want to write a story that is driven then dialogue then the correct
medium is a play. Always remember that film scripts are visual pieces which are action

The Story Itself

Just like I discussed in my “Create A Captivating Scene” article you want to start your story
at the latest possible point. Thrust the audience straight into the action. If your story starts
off with a character leaving their home, popping into a friends, then going to the bank only
for a couple of criminals to hold the joint up then the audience will quickly grow bored.
You can cut a lot of that out and start the movie straight at the bank robbery. The audience
will instantly sit up and take notice.

You should also aim to set the story in a recognisable location. Even if you’re writing a sci-
fi screenplay there are ways of doing this. You could have recognisable buildings “updated”
for the future, or load cities up with adverts for the latest popular media. Of course the
easiest way to get the audience to identify with the setting of your story is to set it in an
iconic city. This is why so many movies are set in New York.

It is very important that you have passion for the story you are telling. This is why there’s
the old adage of “write what you know”. If your main hobbies are playing hockey and
watching comedy movies then it’s a lot easier to write a comedy movie about hockey than a
period drama. There will be times when it becomes real work to write the next page of your
script, that’s when the passion you have for the subject carries you through.

The biggest thing to think about though is the plausibility of your story. You need to iron
out any plausibility flaws in your screenplay otherwise the story will be hard to believe, and
impossible to “get into”. If anything in your movie seems unbelievable to you then it will
probably seem ridiculous to the audience.

How The Characters Relate To The Story

A great character is one that the audience can root for and empathize with. You achieve this
by having horrible events and huge obstacles thrown at the character. The character’s life
should be so tough that the audience feel bad for them and desperately want them to
achieve their goal.
Because the character has to go through so much there better be a big pot of gold for them
at the end of the story. If they go through absolute hell just to find that $5 bill they lost then
the character is an idiot. If you feel your character’s goal might be too small then there are
two things you can do. You can either give them a bigger goal, or put them in a position
where they have to achieve that goal.

One thing is sure, at the end of your screenplay your character will have changed.
Everything they have been through will have changed them for the better. They’ll have
achieved their goal and improved in many ways. They could improve emotionally,
financially, mentally, physically and/or spiritually.
Consider The Budget

If you’re a first time scriptwriter it is a lot harder to get a big budget screenplay produced.
After you have finished your first draft try to trim any money eating scenes. The easiest
way to do this is cut down on exotic locations. A character probably doesn’t need to jet
around the world, they can probably find what they’re looking for in their home town. If
you need to use SFX then use them, but try to do so sparingly. A forty million dollar movie
is a lot more likely to get picked up than a one hundred dollar movie.

Build your story up carefully, it is the foundation of your screenplay.

Parallel Storylines
If you would like to write a script that will stand out from the crowd then using parallel
storylines is a great way of doing so. When parallel storylines are done right they can be
extremely creative and very memorable. It is a technique Quentin Tarantino and Roger
Avery used to great effect in the hit movie Pulp Fiction. The basic premise behind the
parallel storyline principle is to have multiple protagonists and/or antagonists who each go
through their own story with some common thread between each of them.

While parallel storytelling can afford a scriptwriter to write a number of stories with less
detail than the usual single plot and subplot structure there are several things to consider
before you use the parallel storytelling method.
• What exactly is the purpose of using the multiple storyline method? Don’t try to
separate a single story into three or four just to use a new technique.

• Each storyline should be separate but have some common thread or event that bring
them together.

• Once you have created several stories it is a good idea to write out the scenes of
each story in bullet points onto 3”x5” cards. This way you can easily find the best
places for each story to intersect and the timeline in which each story is told.

• The last point helps with this. You need to come with a smooth transition between
stories which doesn’t distract the audience from the overall story. The smoother the
transition the easier it is for the audience to keep in the flow of the film. One way of
doing this is to having one protagonist meet the protagonist of the next story and
then simply follow them after the meeting.

• Pay attention to character development. Using parallel storylines will mean that
each main character will generally get less screen time than in a typical screenplay.
This doesn’t mean you can get lazy when it comes to character development. Each
character still needs motivation, room to grow, a backstory, an attitude, etc. For
more seeBuilding A Great Character.

• Just as you need to make sure each character is fully developed you have to take the
same care with each individual story. Each story needs a protagonist with a problem
to overcome and restore the equilibrium in their world while gaining a new attitude.

• The overall story should have a theme, a message to the audience. This is yet
another way to bind each story together. It can be a lot easier to show the audience
what the theme of the movie is when you use parallel storylines as the theme is seen
from a number of different perspectives. In Pulp Fiction the theme is redemption.

• After Jules and Vincent escape a barrage of gunfire Jules believes that God has a
divine purpose for him and decides to give up the goon business to help others
suffering under tyranny. Butch decides not to throw a fight he had agreed to with
Marsellus. Marsellus puts a hit out on Butch and only calls it off after Butch saves
him from two sexual deviants. Having not learnt from his experiences Vincent
winds up dead after waiting in Butch’s house to kill him.

• The final point is to assign a number of pages to each story and stick to it. If you are
telling three stories then they can each have about forty pages each. While you don’t
have to be precise, each story should also get a similar amount of pages. This
provides a good balance in the overall script.

If you plan to write a script with parallel storylines then it is a good idea to read scripts and
watch movies that use this method. Good examples of such movies are Pulp Fiction, Sin
City, Magnolia, Crash and The Hours.

Embracing Structural Limitations

When you look at the three act structure it appears to be quite limiting to your writing.
While that is true, those same limitations can be a great help to you, especially if you are
new to scriptwriting.

These limitations basically hold your hand through the storytelling process and provide
great structure even for those who have never written before in their life. The three act
structure is like a paint-by-numbers kit for scriptwriters. The difference is that even though
you’re following a set structure you still have plenty of room to stamp your own mark on
your story. Writing is obviously a highly creative process but those limitations, which some
scriptwriters complain about, help reign you in and turn out at least a solid story which
viewers can understand.

What Limits?

If you wish to use limitations to your advantage then you first need to understand exactly
what those limits are. The first limit is also the most important, time. A feature length film
generally lasts between 90 and 120 minutes. Each page of a script equates to roughly 1
minutes. Therefore you have between 90 and 120 pages to work with.

Breaking Up Time
Lets say you’re planning to write a 90 minute comedy movie. To keep your story ticking
along you want to keep scenes between 1 and 3 minutes long. On average that means your
scenes will be 2 minutes long. A simple bit of division shows that means you will have
around 45 scenes in your story.

In the planning stage of scriptwriting a lot of writers like to write out a brief description of
each scene onto 3x5 cards. This really helps with keeping track of your story and character

Character Limitations

Even experienced script readers can have troubled keeping track of multiple main
characters. That is why it’s a good idea to never have more that four main characters.
Anymore than that and it’s really hard to fit in enough development to make them a
worthwhile character.

A common way of making this work is to have one protagonist and one antagonist, each
with a close friend or sidekick. Your main protagonist should appear in the vast majority of
scenes, this limitation helps you from going off on too many side stories and subplots with
minor characters.

Layout Limitations

If you’ve ever read a script before then you’ll know just how much empty “white space”
there is. That’s because the best scriptwriters use words sparingly. Remember you’re not
writing a novel, there’s no need for huge block of overly descriptive narrative or long
winded monologues.

To make use of this, you might wish to follow the “Rule of 3”.

The Rule of 3

The “Rule of 3” is a simple limitation that you can put on yourself which will help keep
your writing short and snappy. Basically you keep all blocks of dialogue to 3 lines or less,
have no more than 3 characters in a scene, and a maximum of 3 subplots.
Now you know your limitations and how to use them your scriptwriting will improve
immensely. I find there are four stages to learning anything with an element on creativity
involved. When you start a new craft you try to do it by the book, it’s the only reference
you really have after all. After you’ve gained a little experience you start getting frustrated
by the restrictions and try to rewrite the book yourself. This experiment tends to lead to
failure and a realisation that the book’s there for a reason, it works. Finally you learn what
rules you should stick to stringently and which ones you can push the boundaries of.

Simply put: The more you write, the better you get.

Writing Specific Genres: Comedy

Comedy is a great genre to write for. It is one of the few genres that is in constant demand
from producers, along with action movies. Comedy films tend to be cheap to make, do at
least moderately well at the box office and are enjoyable projects for actors to participate

The are 5 key considerations to make when planning and scriptwriting your comedy movie.
If you follow them you’ll have covered the basics needed to create a good comedy

1. Write Comedy That Makes You Laugh

Scriptwriters tend to be their own biggest critics. That is why you should always make sure
that your screenplay makes you laugh, in the appropriate way of course. It is helpful, after
finishing the first draft, to take a week off and avoid thinking about your screenplay at all.
It then becomes a lot easier to read through your screenplay subjectively after leaving this
“breathing period”.

Although writing is often hard work writing comedy tends to be a lot lighter experience. If
you find yourself laughing as you write then you know you’re on the right track. Comedy
writing also becomes a whole lot easier if you write a movie with a comedy style most like
your own. If you have a dry sense of humor don’t try writing a gross-out comedy, and vice
2. Turn The TV Off…And Keep It Off!

When you’re looking for ideas try to avoid plucking them from TV shows. You tend to find,
about halfway through the project, that the idea simply hasn’t got the legs to make a feature
length film. Deriving ideas from TV also hinders your progression in developing your inner
vision, a very important attribute for a scriptwriter.

Don’t try to become the writer of a feature length Friends-esque movie. That’s not your
own unique vision. Don’t be a second rate imitator, be a first rate you.

3. Forget The Jokes

That might seem a totally absurd point for a comedy writer but it’s probably the most
important of these five. Even if the basic idea for your story came from a joke remember
that you very rarely hear jokes in movies. Jokes slow the story down and should be used
very sparingly. Instead your comedy should come from…

4. Character And Timing

Instead of coming up with a hundred jokes to cram into your screenplay (most of which
won’t fit with the story) think of a dozen or so situations that would be funny to put your
main character in. If they’re a control freak put them in a situation where they’re bottom of
the ladder, and surrounded by idiots.

Timing is very important too. You need to build up to the punchline of a scene carefully,
otherwise it won’t get the big laugh the situation deserves. Tease a few different punchlines
and then hit the audience with a punchline they weren’t expecting, or an expected
punchline delivered in an unexpected manner.

5. Make A Step Sheet

A step sheet can be used when writing any script, but is perhaps most useful in writing
comedy. Write down what happens in every scene in just a few sentences. The step sheet
should act like a condensed version of your script. Keep the sentences brief, they’re not to
tell or explain the jokes, they’re for story points and character points.
Each scene should advance both the story and character in a humorous way. If it doesn’t
either get rid of the scene or rework it.


Comedy works best when you keep the audience in the mood. While it can be necessary to
have an emotional scene try to keep it short and light or the comedy will get bogged down.

Keep it snappy, keep it funny.

Writing Specific Genres: Sci-Fi

Science-Fiction movies account for some of the most memorable films of all time. Why is
this? It’s because the genre of sci-fi allows you to transport the audience into a weird and
wonderful world with a colourful cast of characters, the type of which you can’t see
anywhere else.

Sci-Fi has a strong cult following, and when it captures the imagination a franchise (ala Star
Wars) can make literally billions of dollars. That is why Sci-Fi scripts are often in mind for
a big summer blockbuster.

Like all genres there are some specific guides you need to follow and things you need to
research. Before planning to write a sci-fi screenplay read through the following points and
you’ll have a strong idea of the work you have in front of you.

1. Good vs. Evil

No other genre allows for such a black and white view of battle between Good vs. Evil. At
the centre of most sci-fi scripts is the concept of good vs. evil and that good will always

This is often focused in on as an evil government, empire or organisation which is lead by

an evil tyrant who wants to mould the world in his own image. To combat this force there is
always a group of rebels with a leader who is honest and true.
These “total opposites” are often bonded together by a shared characteristic or belief. It
could be that they both wish to save the world, they just have a different idea of how to go
about it.

2. A Brave New World

To write a good sci-fi screenplay you have to have a strong ability to “world build”. It’s
most likely that the world in which your story is quite different from the world we live in
today. There could be space travel, alien beings, matter transporters and worldwide unity.
On the other hand it could be a gloomy post nuclear holocaust future with little food,
mutant people and a corrupt government.

There’s so many directions you can take this in and details to think about. Who’s in power?
What is the political system? How is law and order kept? What’s the economy and
currency? Where are we, Earth, an alien planet or in a starship?

3. Aliens Are People Too!

If you’re going to have various races of aliens within your story world then remember that
not only do they possess certain characteristics intrinsic of their race but they have
individual personalities too.

You might have a race of ignorant, violent and untrustworthy aliens but it can be an
interesting twist to have a member of this race be an intelligent thinker who is extremely
loyal and a friend of your main protagonist. This can lead to conflict between the leaders of
the alien race who see this outsider as an abomination of the species who must be dealt with
while the main protagonist might lose confidence in their loyalty after a failed mission.

4. Strange Bedfellows

One of my favorite aspects of science-fiction is the ability to make friends and companions
out of types of people/beings that you wouldn’t normally see together. Take Data and Worf
from the Star Trek universe. Data is a robot who wishes to develop the ability to have
emotions and become more human. Worf a Klingon; an aggressive, emotion breed, which
means he often has to quell his temperament to be acceptable crew member.
Worf and Data are often put together as part of the “away team” who explore strange
planets and vessels. It’s fun to watch too opposites interact, the differences of opinion they
have and the type of conflict this can create.

5. Even Sci-Fi Has a Budget

A lot of the appeal of sci-fi is the explosions and the wild and wacky scenery but try to take
into consideration that if you want to sell this screenplay then someone has to pay for it.
You can help trim the potential budget of turning your screenplay into a feature length film
by using locations more than once, keeping the number of main characters down and not
cramming in scene after scene of expensive CGI.


Of course you still need to follow the tried and tested guidelines of structure. Hopefully
these ideas and concepts will help you in writing your sci-fi script and maybe, just maybe,
you’ll come up with the next blockbuster franchise.

Remember me when you do, eh?

Writing Specific Genres: Action

Action movies are thought to be the “bread and butter” of the movie industry. Every
summer there’s a fresh wave of action movies and for good reason, they’re consistently
popular at the box office. Give a man a little violence and a lot of explosions and they’re
sold. Also with the increasing popularity of home-theatre systems, action movies DVDs
sales have increased greatly, adding to their profitability.

There are a certain amount of conventions that, once you know, makes it a lot easier to
write an action-based screenplay. Follow the tips below and you won’t go far wrong.

Start Fast

Begin your script with a big action scene, but not so big that it can’t be topped later on. This
immediately grabs the attention of the audience and helps keep them gripped when you set-
up the story of the film after the opening scene.
This initial scene often takes the form of a chase or shows the hero of the story bringing in
a low-level criminal before the introduction of the main villain.

Reversals of Fortune

In the Scriptwriters Network Newsletter, William Martel wrote:

“The key to good action scenes is reversals…It’s like a good news/bad news joke. The bad
news is that you get thrown out of an airplane. The good news is you’re wearing your
parachute. The bad news is the rip cord breaks. The good news is you have a backup chute.
The bad news is you can’t reach the cord. Back and forth like that until the character
reaches the ground.”

What this does is add suspense to the scenes which is a key element of action films. This
also shows the resolve and will of the character. When nothing quite goes to plan it takes a
lot of heart to stick to something.

Keep It Simple Stupid

People don’t go to action movies to think, so don’t make the plot so intricate that it
becomes hard to follow for the average movie goer. This is a simple one to gauge as, once
you have finished your screenplay, you can hand it out for a test read to a bunch of trusted
friends. If they can follow the story then you’ve done your job.

Personal Motivation

Give your main character a reason to be as deeply entrenched in the action as they are. You
can’t get much more personal than threatening the lives of members of your main
characters family. This is the type of motivation required to push an ordinary person to do
something extraordinary.

In the original Die Hard movie, John McClane’s wife is amongst the hostages being held at
gunpoint. That is the situation it takes to turn McClane from a regular cop into an action

Love Interest
This one isn’t a must-have, however a love interest help humanize your main character, be
used as the personal motivation (see above), and help keep the interest of female viewers.

An excellent quality for an action hero is they’re not actually that good with women. This
can either be through shyness, insecurities, lack of understanding of the opposite sex or
something else similar. What this does is make the action hero like nearly every man in the
movie theatre, well meaning but with the flaws of a human. No-one is more dislikeable to
the male audience than the “perfect” man.

Constant Danger

In a good action screenplay your main character should never be able to relax, because
they’re in constant danger from the villains. This even includes going to the toilet, as we
saw in Lethal Weapon. Even the most humdrum of activities can have an element of danger
added to them some how. Your main character shouldn’t be able to relax for one moment
throughout the film until they’ve put an end to the villains of the movie.


As always I hope the third in the Writing Specific Genres series has helped you. If it has,
the please spread the word. If it hasn’t, lets just keep that between us, eh?

Script Formatting
If there’s one thing that seems to put off prospective scriptwriters more than anything else
it’s not knowing how to correctly format a script. There are basically two ways to do this.
Either buy a piece of scriptwriting software which does the bulk of the work for you (I
recommend Final Draft) or you learn how to do it yourself and use a typewriter or
programme like Microsoft Word.

If a Hollywood executive comes across a script with poor formatting then he will instantly
dismiss it as the work of an amateur and not bother reading it. The script could be a sure
fire box office smash but without correct format it will probably never even be read.

The script that you are trying to sell is known as a spec script. This is because it’s written
under the speculation it will be optioned later. At this stage it is important to avoid adding
camera angles, editing directions, or anything technical unless absolutely necessary. You
might have read a Tarantino or Kubrick script littered with these but that’s because they are
writer/directors. If you’re selling your first script it is a lot easier to do purely as a
scriptwriter rather than writer/director. Production companies are a lot more likely to take a
risk on an unknown writer than an unknown writer-director.

Basic Script Formatting

There are three bodies of a script: Headings, narrative and dialogue. Each of these has three
points to remember.

1. Master scene headings which include:
a) Camera location - EXT. (exterior or outside) or INT. (interior or inside)
b) Scene location (LOCAL RACE TRACK)
c) Time (DAY or NIGHT)
2. Secondary scene heading
3. “Special headings” for things such as montages, dream sequences, flashbacks, flash
forwards, etc.

Narrative Description:
1. Action
2. Character and settings (visual)
3. Sounds

1. The name of the person speaking appears at the top, in CAPS.
2. The actors direction (AKA parenthetical or wryly). Try to avoid these as much as
possible. Both the director and actor will appreciate it.
3. The speech.

Putting all this together you should come up with something that looks like this:
Script Presentation
If you want to ensure that your script is taking seriously when dishing it out to agents and producers you need

to make sure the presentation of your script is up to snuff.

A finished script should contain a front cover, a title page, the script itself and a back cover.

The front and back covers should be a piece of solid-color index stock of the 110 pound variety, try to keep the

color light. Do not write anything on the cover. When an agent or producer receives your script they will be

added into a pile of scripts to be read. An assistant will go through these and write the title of the script on the

side of the binding.

The title page consists of the name of the script, in CAPS and quotation marks, in the middle of the page. Then

miss a line, and put “by”, miss another line and include your name. Your contact details in the centre of the

page and copyright details in the bottom right corner.

The script should be printed on A4 paper, using only one side of each sheet.

These are all to be three hole punched and bound together using a fastener such as those produced by Acco.
Make sure the fastener is strong and secure, this makes it easier for producers and agents to photocopy the

script to pass around which they will do if they are interested in the script.

The Script Itself

If you are using scriptwriting software such as Final Draft then you can ignore this section since Final Draft will

automatically do all this for you.

The industry standard font is Courier or Courier New at font size 12.

Your left margin should be 1.5 inches while your right margin can be between 0.5 inches to 1.25 inches, which

is down to your personal preference. Both the top and bottom margins should be 1 inch.
Dialogue should be 2.5 inches (10 spaces) away from the left margin and should not go past 6.0 inches (60

spaces) from the left margin. Actor’s instructions at 3.1 inches (16 spaces) from the left margin and no longer

than two inches. The character’s name should be 3.7 inches (22 spaces) from the left margin.

Keep the right margin ragged rather than justified.

Each page of the script should contain about 55 lines. This is not including the page number and blank line

after the page number. Page numbers appear in the top right corner, 0.5 inches from the top edge. No page

number is required for the first page of your script.

Beginning and End

If you choose you can add the title of your script, in CAPS and underscored, to the top of the first page. Your

script will probably begin with:



You don’t have to add a point to insert the opening or closing credits in a spec script. But if you have a moment

that you think perfect for the opening credits then put:



When the credits have finished:


Treat credits as headings.

When you have come to the end of your script you can finish it of by either putting THE END or one of the


Note that these endings appear all the way over to the right margin.

Formatting Directions
While you should never add too many directions to a spec script, there are times as a scriptwriter that you do

need to add a few flourishes to the action. For example, if you’re writing a fight scene that you want to

emphasis the sounds then you can write:

A right hook SMASHES into Bill’s face.

The capitalization draws attention to the sound. Be careful not to overuse this technique though as it can be

Off Screen

If there is a scene in your script in which a character is talking, but you do not want him to be onscreen then

you would format that like this:


Voice Over

A voice over is used when you want a character in your script to narrate or verbalize their thoughts. This is

often used to open a film or stitch scenes together. You would also use a voice over for a telephone

conversation when just one character is on camera. The voice over format is much the same as the off screen



Actor Directions/Wrylys

I mentioned in another article on the site that these are to be avoided as much as possible. If you use this

technique too much it will anger both directors and actors who will see it as a writer telling them how to do their

job. If you write your dialogue well these should not be needed at all often as the surrounding dialogue and

action should make it clear how the line should be said. If you do need to use this technique then format it as

Flashbacks and Dream Sequences

A lot of scriptwriting books will tell you that flashbacks and dream sequences as shoddy writing, and the sign of

a poor script. However if you use these well and sparingly they can add a new dimension to a character and

the story.

There are a few different ways to write these into a script, but the most common way is to add them to the
scene heading. E.G:

And then go back to present times with:

Camera Directions

Much like actor directions, camera directions be avoided as much as possible. You are a scriptwriter, not a

director. Instead of adding directions like ZOOM IN and CLOSEUP try to subtly work these into your action


This almost dictates that there has to be a close up on Jennifer’s eyes without you telling the director how to do

his job. Remember the old scriptwriter’s adage, show don’t tell.

Formatting Scene Headings (Includes montages and flashbacks)

This section of www.filmscriptwriting.com deals with how to format scene headings. Remember from our

lesson on basic formatting that headings should always be in CAPS. There are three different types of

heading, the first being the master scene heading.

Master Scene Heading

Usually the master scene heading consists of three parts, although there is occasionally a fourth.

1. Camera Location - This one is simple, is the scene taking indoors or outdoors. You denote indoors with INT.

and outdoors with ENT. Sometimes a scene will quickly move between outdoors and indoors. In this case you

can denote it as INT./ENT.

2. Scene Location - The scene location is the place in which the action is happening. You don’t have to be

overly descriptive. Rather than a long description all you need is SMALL PARK, no more. Be short and specific.

3. Time of day - For the most part you just want to use DAY or NIGHT. You don’t need to use more specific

terms like EVENING, DAWN or specific time. If you want to denote that a scene is taking place immediately

after the last, with no passage of time, then you can use SAME or CONTINUOUS for the time of day heading.

4. Special notations - If the scene takes place in a flashback, dream, or different time period then you can add

a fourth part to the master scene heading. You can also use this forth part to note if the scenes aren’t in

chronological order to keep the reader orientated.

Scene Changes and Spacing

You must start a new master scene heading if any of the three (or four) parts of the master scene heading

change between scenes. Always double space both before and after any scene headings. Try to avoid ending

a page on a heading.

Secondary Scene Headings

If you need to move between shots in a scene then you can use a secondary scene heading. These can also

be used for locations connected to the original or any special instant that needs highlighting. Much like master

scene headings these should also be written in CAPS and kept short and specific. You might start a heading



Then want to move to a specific part of the house or denote that time has passed. Then you could just put:



You can also use secondary scene headings to focus the shot on a character without using directorial terms.


pulls a .45 Magnum out of his jacket pocket.

It’s also perfectly acceptable to lump this together as one line of direction.

Jake pull a .45 Magnum out of his jacket pocket.

Special Headings

Special headings all follow the same basic format, with a few minor differences. They include the MONTAGE,


If you happen to be a writing a movie about a fat boxer with a training MONTAGE then you could write it like



-- -- INT. RICKIE’S TRAINING CAMP - Stocky attempts to execute a sit-up. His

trainer helps by holding a cream cake in front of Stocky’s mouth.

-- -- INT. STOCKY’S HOUSE - Stocky waddles up a flight of stairs and collapses,


-- -- INT. FEMALE ONLY GYM - Stocky struggles to lift a weight. He slips, with

the weight falling across his gut.


This is also how you would format a SERIES OF SHOTS or QUICK FLASHES. Bear in mind that a MONTAGE

is usually accompanied by a song. However you should not suggest a piece of music.
If you would like to add a FLASHBACK, (DAY)DREAM or PERIOD CHANGE then you can add them to the end

of the master scene headline like so:


Formatting Dialogue In A Foreign Language

There will be occasions in a script where you might have a character who speaks in a foreign tongue. For

example you may have a French waiter mutter something under his breath, in his own language, under his

tongue. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak French yourself or are a regular Gerard Depardieu because writing

script dialogue in a foreign language is as easy as pie. Put simply you should not write dialogue in a foreign

Since the person eventually reading your script will probably not be French and may not speak the language,

they still need to be able to understand what is going on.

To add a flavor of the foreign language you could sprinkle in a few French words amongst the dialogue like so:

If you positively have to have a character speak a foreign language in a realistic way then you have a number

of options.

1. If it doesn’t matter or not whether the audience understand the language spoken by the character or you feel

the audience will understand what is going on then you can write out the dialogue in the relevant foreign

language. If you yourself can’t speak that language then you can use the wryly/parenthesis to let the reader

know what language should be spoken and then write in English, like the first example above.

2. If a character is going to speak a foreign language through a whole scene or even the full movie then you

can note it in the narrative description when the character is introduced. This way you can write in English and

leave it for someone else to translate later on in the movie making process.
There’s a problem with both these methods though. While these are easy to both read and write they aren’t

going to be easy to understand to anyone watching the movie unless they actually speak that foreign

language. The answer to this problem is to include subtitles in English.

3. Like the second option you can make note in the narrative description that the character speaks a foreign

language which is subtitled in English. It should looks something like this:

You can write a full scene in a foreign language with a similar note and a second note when the subtitles end.

4. You can also use the wryly/parenthesis to note that the dialogue is in a foreign language and subtitles in


5. This is the last option for subtitling. Use his option if the sound of the words in the foreign language is

important, in this example the sound of the language has an amusing quality.

Whenever possible though you should try to use English as much as possible. Subtitles and foreign languages

can distract from the action on screen. You can always give a sense of a foreign language by mixing in a few

foreign words with a hint of the relevant accent.

Formatting Character Details

The following article is going to focus on formatting everything to do with characters in the narrative of your

screenplay. This will help your scriptwriting look more professional, improve the flow of your story and create a

stronger visual of each character.

First Character Appearance

When your character makes their first appearance in your screenplay then take care to write their name in

CAPS. This makes the character name standout and draws attention to them allowing you to then follow up

with a description (see next sub-headline). So when a character makes their first appearance it should look

something like this:

You don’t have to put a character’s name in CAPS if they are not important in the story, for example, “man

serving slurpees”. You also shouldn’t put a group of people in CAPS, just individual characters. You should
also note that when a name is followed by a possessive, then the s should be typed in lowercase. Like below:

To keep your screenplay easy to read it is best if you name your character as soon as they appear. This makes

it easier for anyone who reads your script to follow the characters, which keeps them into the flow of the story.

If you wish to have a “mystery character” then you could refer to them as SHADOWY MAN and then reveal

their identity in the narrative.

Character Descriptions

When your character makes their first appearance is the perfect time to write out a description of them. You

should focus more on the nature of the character as opposed to physical appearance unless there are a few

physical traits which are very important to the character or story.

Never pin an actors name on a character. Imagine Brad Pitt reading through your script, absolutely loving it,

only the find out that the main character is based on, or written for Tom Cruise. The love will quickly dissipate.

Like most narrative you should keep it short but descriptive. For example:

Only write description that can be used on screen. You don’t want to be writing about the character’s backstory

as part of their description. Save that for dialogue and action.

It can be very helpful to the reader to give some small visual piece of information that helps them visual the

character. Rather than comment on the facial/body features of a character try to think of something more like a

piece of clothing, an odd tic, a certain way of walking, etc. You don’t have to do this for every character, just the

more important ones.

Minor Characters Names

I’m sure that you already have names for your important characters, or least know that they should have one.

Your important minor characters should also names. However your really minor characters are better served

with a descriptive name so the reader knows not to focus on them, while giving the character a small amount of

If you name a character DRUNKEN HOBO then it lets the reader know their character and function without

having to write a description. If they don’t have any lines of dialogue then this is how you should name them,

and even if they have a line or two stick with this method.

If you have a group of characters, maybe who have the same occupation, then try to give each of them a

unique descriptive name. Rather than STRIPPER 1, STRIPPER 2, STRIPPER 3 give them a functional name,

this will help the reader and the actor. Instead you might have, DITZY STRIPPER, INTELLIGENT STRIPPER,


Now you know a little something about each character and how they may act and speak. If a character is not

seen or heard then you can simply describe them in the narrative as an unseen character.

Formatting Electronic Dialogue (Television, radio, telephone, computers)

There may be times in your script that you wish you write scenes in which characters interact with each other

via an electronic medium, such as a television, radio, telephone or computer. In an age where electronic

communication is taking over one-to-one interaction this can help add an important touch of realism to your


You should be careful not to overdo electronic communication in your script though as it can slow the pace of

the story down and feel rather action-less. Instead it should be used sparingly when it furthers the story or

makes sense that the characters should communicate in an electronic fashion.

Both television and radio communication is formatted in the same way. In essence you format the television or

radio as if it were a character. If you just want a few lines coming from the television in the background then

just use television as the character name and write the dialogue you wish, and the same for radio.

If you want a specific character to be on the television/radio then there are two different ways to format it. The

first method is to mention the character in the narrative description as being on tv/radio and then use the

character’s name as the character caption or cue. A clearer, and simpler, way is to add a parenthetical: (on

tv/radio). E.G:


With the invention of the Bluetooth headsets it’s becoming easier to make telephone phone conversations

more exciting. As two characters are talking they can be moving around with action happening all around them.

Telephone conversations are a little more flexible in formatting, as there are four widely accepted methods of

formatting them.

Method 1 - If you only want one character to be shown and heard then this is the method to use. This is

formatted like regular dialogue.

You do not need to tell the actor to add pauses, they will know how to act out a telephone conversation this


Method 2 - The second method is for when you want both characters to be heard but only one to be heard.

This is a variation of a voice-over.

Method 3 - When you want both characters to be seen and heard then you can use an INTERCUT. There are

two ways of doing this. The simple way is as follows:

Then you would write the dialogue as normal. When the telephone conversation ends, so does the INTERCUT

unless you state otherwise.

The other way of using the INTERCUT method is as follows:

When you use the INTERCUT method you are giving the director free reign on when to cut between the two


Method 4 - If you have a clear image in your head about how you want the scene to play out, including

character actions and cuts then this is the more hands on method. While it takes a little more work you allow

yourself more control over the scene.


Character’s can interact on computer in a few ways. Via email/instant message or web cam. In the case of a

web cam then you can treat that like a television. If they’re using email or instant message then remember that

only words spoken out loud should be shown as dialogue. You need to find a way of showing the audience all

the information they need to glean from the conversation. There are a number of ways to do this, as follows:
Of course you could also adapt the INTERCUT method if you want to cut between two characters typing to

each other.

Learning how to format electronic communication is another tool in your belt as a scriptwriter. Used well they

can add unique elements of drama and comedy to a screenplay. Try writing out a conversation between two of

your characters, practice really does make perfect.

Writing And Formatting Effective Description

Along with dialogue it is the narrative description which takes up the bulk of your script. The narrative

description describes the story within your screenplay which includes, the action, settings and characters, and

the sounds.

The first thing you need to know about writing the narrative description is that it is always written in the present

tense. Even if you’re writing a flashback or other sequence regarding past events you should always write in

the present tense. The reason behind this is that you view a movie in present time. In terms of formatting you

shouldn’t indent paragraphs of narrative description but you should double-space between paragraphs.
It is important to keep your narrative short and sweet. Only provide information that is completely necessary to

progress the story, while focusing on significant actions and moments. To keep paragraphs short try to keep

them down to a maximum of four lines, although one or two lines is always preferable.

If you wish to use a dash during a paragraph then it should be formatted with a space, then two hyphens, and

another space before continuing the action.

Creating The Visual

You should try and capture every beat of action or image within one paragraph. Following this guideline will
help you keep your narrative description short while relaying any information you need to give the reader. Each

paragraph should help the reader “see” and “hear” what would be happening on-screen.

Some visual images may only need the briefest of descriptions. Most locations should be kept relatively simple,

it is not your job to describe every item in a room or the exact layout of a building. If a scene is to be set in an

untidy character’s bedroom you can describe it simply as “A very unkempt bedroom”.

The only time you need to mention specific items is when they will come into play later during the scene. If your

character happens to trip up over a pile of dirty clothing then you can mention that during your short description

of the room. The earlier description may now be changed to “A very unkempt bedroom. A big pile of unwashed

clothes stagnates in the middle of the room.”

Dramatize The Drama

If you’re writing a scene in your script which you intend to add drama to the story then make sure it’s dramatic!

It seems like obvious advice but I’ve ready many scripts for friends where “dramatic” scenes have been

extraordinarily dull.

To write a dramatic scene you should use short paragraphs (as mentioned above) and put emphasis on the

actions, emotions and any specific visuals you feel will enhance the scene. A good guideline to keep a smooth

flow is to write one paragraph for every beat of action or visual images.

See how Sylvester Stallone heightens the drama before Rocky’s first fight with Apollo Creed.
Keep Details And Descriptions Trim
It can be easy, when scriptwriting, to add in a lot of detail, far more than is required. I remember the first time I

tried my hand at scriptwriting, before I’d done any studying at all. I described my main character’s house is

such detail that it took nearly three full pages. That’s probably too much description for a novel, let alone a


It wasn’t until I’d finished that script that I even read another script. When I did I was amazed at how short and

to the point it was…and how it held my interest a lot better than the script I had written.

You have to pick and choose which details to write about. If a character is drinking while in a scene, you

shouldn’t write every time they take a sip, or touch the glass. Leave that to the actor or actress to decide. If
you’re on the fence whether to cut a snippet of detail or not you should probably cut it.

Similarly you should also remember to only write what the audience what see or hear on-screen. Avoid writing

the character’s thoughts unless the audience can hear them in a voice over or other device.

Specify The Action

Specifying actions helps add color to your screenplay. Some writers like to leave this until the rewrite, focusing

on the actual story during the first draft. It is quite simple to do though, especially with a little practice. What I

mean by specifying action is that rather than using words such as “looks”, “enters”, “walks”, etc use a much

more specific word. Instead of “looks” try “stares intensely” or “glances”.

Soon a paragraph that was:


Which has a lot more spark and gives the reader an idea about Zed’s thoughts and feelings at that moment.

He is determined to scale that mountain.

To can use this technique to add depth to both action and characters. Specifying action allows you to paint a

much better portrait of a character and their motivation. A cocky character wouldn’t shuffle, they’d stride. A

character who’s disobeyed his wife’s orders and come home later wouldn’t just enter the house, they’d try and

sneak in silently.

If you use the techniques I have illustrated above you will soon find your narrative description becoming fast

paced and gripping which is exactly what it needs to be. Your characters will also find new levels to work in.

Now you know how to do all this, your job as a scriptwriter should have just become a whole lot easier!

Character Development
It’s been said that a truly great character can save an otherwise poor script. In a perfect world every script

would tell a great story and be chock full of interesting characters, however this isn’t a perfect world.

Some people are great storytellers who provide a fantastical narrative to their script but the characters feel

lifeless and more like props to tell the story when, in fact, in should be a cast of scintillating character moving

the script along.

In this section of the site www.filmscriptwriting.com will offer techniques, guides, and quizzes to help the

aspiring scriptwriter develop intriguing characters with more layers then an Eskimo.

Character Research
You’ve got a great idea for a script. Your main character is a hotel manager who, with sheer will and

determination, wants to become the owner of the biggest chain of hotels in the world. Okay, so that’s not a

great idea but you get my point.

Every script needs a main character to drive the story along. The main character should be, in general, the

deepest and most interesting character. When you finally get to sitting down and starting the scriptwriting

process you realise that you don’t know the first thing about running a hotel. Bit of a stumbling block, don’t you

think? This is where character research comes in.

You need to find what drives these characters, what their concerns are, how they keep going, what their goals

are. It is only in getting to grips with your character that they will light up your script rather than dragging it

along with them.

General Character Research

The one great thing about general character research is that you’ve always got something to fall back on.

Remember how your grandma would always say goodbye to her cat before leaving her house? Or how your

friend would always sit on certain seat on the bus if it was available? These are all general character traits

which can be noticed while people watching.

Most writers are people watchers. Every little quirk you see in people you know, or people you don’t, can’t be

used to flesh out the characters in your script. I assume that more or less everyone who’s reading this went to

a school of some sort. If you’re writing a script with a couple of schoolchildren in then you can draw on your

personal experience and memories and create a couple of solid characters with fun tails of pranks and

Everything you experience in life can be taken as general character research for scriptwriting. Every emotion

you’ve felt, every relationship, every job provides with a broad background of character knowledge you can

draw upon.

Specific Character Research

I’ve heard a few times that you should “write what you know” and while there is merit in that, part of the fun for

many scriptwriters is immersing themselves in a new environment.

Using my opening idea of a hotel manager I’ll highlight what specific character research is. I don’t personally

know any hotel managers but that does not need be a stumbling block.

Information is easier than ever to access. I’m sure if you were to search the internet they’d be a blog of a hotel

manager, a myspace or facebook page or maybe even a forum full of hotel managers…which is a scary

thought. You could strike up an online rapport with one of these hotel managers and have a wealth of

information at your fingertips.

Go down to you local library (if you want to be a scriptwriter try to avoid ever paying for anything!) and read a

book on business management. Depending on how good the library is they may even have one specifically on

hotel management.

My favorite approach though is the personal one. Treat yourself to a short break and stop in a small hotel. Get

talking to the manager and let him know you’re a scriptwriter, you’d be surprised how open people will be with

you especially if you offer to take them for a meal or a coffee. When people hear you’re a writing a script and
they can help you the lure of their having some portion of their life on the big screen is just too much for most

people to resist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece on character research. Stay tuned because there’ll be more to come.

Character Background
When you are developing a character for your script you need to be aware that they do not live in a vacuum.

Their environment and upbringing will shape them greatly. A 40 year old man from 18th century England will be

vastly different from a 40 year old man from present day England. If you want to understand a character you

need to understand the context of the character. Think of context as the jug and the character as water. As the
water is poured into the jug the shape it takes depends on the shape of the jug.

Cultural Background

There are many cultural influences you have to consider when planning out your character.

Ethnic - How would Irish American differ from an Italian American? Think about their speech, how they express

themselves, mannerisms, attitudes and life philosophy.

Social - Is your character from an well-to-do Washington family or a dirt poor Detroit family? How would this

affect them?

Religious - Your character will have a religious philosophy. They could be Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian,

Agnostic or Atheist? How would this change their attitudes to people of other religions? Or how they deal with

moral situations?

Education - How long did your character go to school? Did they enjoy it? Were they popular? What did they


The Time Period

Most scriptwriters choose to write in the current period. This is because the audience of the time can relate to

cultural references and a lot less research is required.

Setting a script in the future is no problem as you can choose to take the world in any direction you wish but

the past is a lot more tricky. You need to take into account that the way characters talk will be quite different.
The vocabulary, rhythm, obscenities and meanings of words will not be the same as today’s speech pattern.

Similarly the clothes, amenities and buildings were vastly different. This all needs to be researched thoroughly

if you want the world your script is in to be realistic.


A script set in New York will undoubtedly have a much different flavor to one set in Rhode Island. It is a lot

easier to write about the place you live than somewhere you have never even seen before. This cuts down on

the amount of research needed as you know a lot more about the area you’ve lived in for the last 20 years than

somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit but never got round to.

It is unwise to write about a location that you’ve never been to before but it can be done. It just requires a lot of

specific research. The location affects clothing, attitudes, pace of life, accents, etc.


The occupation of a character and how it affects them is often overlooked in film and can be downright ignored

in a TV series. A farmer is going to have a much different pace of life than a stockbroker. A model is going to

dress more stylishly than a postal worker. Depending on the occupation the character may have a unique set

of skills. A negotiator is going to be very good at working people around to his way of thinking. Also the

occupation and cultural background can prove to be closely related. That well-to-do Washington man is a

much more likely to be the CEO of a company than the dirt-poor Detroit man.

Interview Your Character

You might find it helpful to write out an interview with your character to find out their background. Imagine they

are someone you’ve just met for the first time and you want to find out more about them.

Perhaps the best question you can ever ask a character is “what would you do if…?”

Naming Your Characters

Giving your character the “right” name can often be a big piece in the puzzle of making your character feel like

a real person. For example, if you have a one man war machine who is killing people left and right don’t call

him Bob Smith. No offence to anyone called Bob Smith but it’s not a name with brings to mind an unstoppable

Whenever you create a character you should have a strong feeling on what he/she is all about. What qualities

and characteristics do they possess. I’d like to step outside the media of film and look at the world of video

games. The naming of characters is often given a lot more thought in video games (especially RPG’s) than

movies or TV. In particular I’d like to look at a series of games called Final Fantasy.

Not only are the stories rich and focused but the characters are deep and interesting. Part of this is in the

naming of the characters. Final Fantasy VII was lead by Cloud Strife. He was physically strong, yet mentally

weak with a brooding nature. He had a whole cast of allies who fought against the main antagonist Sephiroth.

Sephiroth was a genetically enhanced soldier who believed himself to be the son of an alien God, and
therefore in line to take over the world. The name Sephiroth is based on the teachings of Kabbalah. In

Kabbalah there are ten Sephiroth, which are ideas, attributes and concepts one must realise to reach their

inner Christ. This of course relates to how Sephiroth wants to become the next God.

Of course all these names are all well and good but rather outlandish. While that may be fine for the

fantasy/sci-fi genre the names would seem overly odd in a more realistic setting. The idea is good but needs

toning down.

If you have a female character who is quiet and full of dignity the name Emily Lincoln immediately pops into me

head. This is down to personal experience (general character research), every woman called Emily I know has

these personality traits. Lincoln of course comes from Abraham Lincoln, the very picture of dignity.

One thing to consider in naming a character is their ethnic background. If you have a character that is Irish-

American then surnames like Mahon, McMahon, Flaherty and O’Neill spring forward.

Also you want to be careful is having too many characters with the same first letter of their first name. You don’t

want a cast of characters called Adam, Alice, Anita, Allan and Aretha. Try and mix it up instead. Unless both

names seem perfect for the character don’t have any character sharing the same first letter in their name. This

sets them all apart and make them seem more individual.

Finally the internet is a great tool in naming characters. There are plenty of baby naming sites out there where

you can put in character keywords such as “fighter” and “strong” and come out with a list of appropriate names

and their meanings.

Try http://www.babynamesworld.com/meaning-search.html
The Main Character
Your main character is the crown jewel in your story. Every scene in your script should reinforce what the

character’s ultimate goal is and the lengths they will go to achieve it. They should be put in peril and constantly

tested to bring out their strengths and weaknesses. As your script progresses your main character will steadily

turn those weaknesses around. But it will take them a lot of work and effort.

The main character needs to be put in such intense situations that he is broken down, only to be built back up

in a stronger form.

Make sure that:

Your Main Character Is Imperfect

Your main character should have plenty of vulnerabilities and imperfections, otherwise you have no where to

go with them. If you start your script with a main character who is already complete and ideal then they will be

able to overcome any problem you throw at them too easily.

The Character’s Goal Is Clear

If you’ve started the scriptwriting process with a firm idea of the story then this one should come naturally. You

already know the basic story arc and where the lead character is going. However if you’re trying to build a story

around a character then you need to make sure they have a well defined goal. Your main character will go to

any lengths to reach their goal, throwing themselves into more and more dangerous situations as a result.

The Main Character Re-Acts and Acts

Never have a main character just stand and watch as an event unfolds. They need to re-act and then act.

Imagine for a moment that your family has been kidnapped and you have been left a few clues on how to find

them. Your immediate re-action would be to feel upset and angry, although possibly relieved that you have a

window of opportunity to get them back. You would then act by looking into the clues and trying to find out

exactly where your family are and how you can get them back. That is you re-acting and then acting on a

situation. Your main character needs to have this “think and do” mentality to every situation, even if the “do”

often overshadows the “think”.

No Character Is More Dynamic Than Your Main Character

Your main character needs to be the richest, deepest character in your script. Otherwise why aren’t we

following the story of this side character? If you find yourself halfway through a script and a side character is

emerging as more interesting than a main character then there are a few different actions you can take. You

could simply replace this character with a less interesting creation, and keep the character in mind for another

script. Another option is to reduce the role of the side character, giving them less time to shine. Or you could kill

off this side character as another obstacle or an inciting incident for the main character.

Then again you could always change the story up a little and turn the script into more of a buddy movie.

You Realise Less Is More

Keep your story focused on no more than two or three characters. There is a reason ensemble (four or more

main characters) movies rarely work. In the space of two hours it is hard enough to flesh out and keep one

character focused, let alone a handful. It is also very hard to get four or five big Hollywood stars to work

together at the same time while receiving equal billing. If you have a story with half a dozen main characters

then you might want to consider condensing their characteristics into two or three main characters and one

side character.

You Build Sympathy In Your Main Character

Look at any western movie, especially a John Wayne film. John Wayne’s house would be destroyed, his land

ruined, his wife raped, his family killed or any other number of horrific events would happen. You can imagine

how awful you’d feel if any of these things happened to you. It gives John Wayne a green light to do anything

he wants while seemingly perfectly justified in his actions.

Your main character will have something taken away from them in such a way that they will still seem the

“good guy” no matter how far they go to improve the situation they are in.

Your Main Character Controls Your Writing

The main character will occasionally start to lead you in direction you didn’t expect. Don’t worry, that’s good.

This means that your character has a life of their own rather than borrowing off yours. If they start going too far,

turning the story on its head then you might need to reign them back a bit. Remember that the character is a

player in your created world and when they start going in their own direction it’s a good indication that your

character is growing into a “real person”, or at least as close as you can get in a script.
Your main character will make or break your script. Keep them focused, driven and goal orientated and they’ll

stand out as a cut above the rest.

The Villain
For every Luke Skywalker there is a Darth Vader, for every Sherlock Holmes a Professor Moriarty. Every

protagonist needs an antagonist to play off because without evil, goodness means nothing. Suffice to say that

everything your main character stands for, the villain will oppose and vice versa.

At this point it is important to note that not every antagonist is a villain. Often there will be several antagonists

in a script who don’t have that evil edge required to be classified as a villain. Rather they are simply doing their
job which results in them opposing the antagonist. For example your main character might desire a bank loan

yet be refused because of a poor credit background. The bank manager is not doing anything evil, simply

carrying out his duty as a good bank manager yet he is directly opposing the protagonist.

The villain will oppose the protagonist but in a more sinister fashion. While the protagonist may believe in

freedom of speech the antagonist may be suppressing that right in people in an active manner. Indeed villains

are often the most active characters in a good versus evil story. They’ll lie, cheat, steal, maim, murder, bribe

and betray, anything to achieve their goal.

There is a tendency in Hollywood movies for the villains to have little to no motivation for their attitude and

goals, serving only as a shadow to the good force of the main character. However the truly iconic villain will be

every bit as motivated as the good guy. Remember that no-one in life considers themselves the bad guy,

everyone has a rational and justified reason for their actions…even if only they understand that rationale.

Hitler’s name is often brought up as one of the most evil men in history. His motivation was to obtain the space

and resources needed for the Aryan race to spread and rule the world. Thus humanity would be in a superior

position, smarter and stronger, in his opinion. Many other people have shared similar beliefs about various

races throughout history but it is the way that Hitler set about achieving his goal, killing millions of people in a

tyrannical rampage that sets him apart as one of the most evil figures in history.

As a scriptwriter you need to explain the why the villains acts in the way they do. The two main reasons

characters become villains tend to be through their own victimization at an early age, or a self-serving attitude

leaving the villain with little to no empathy. The “victim villain” tends to be a re-actor, with a backstory to explain

his evil traits. The “self-serving villain” tends to have a number of unconscious factors which have resulted in

their maladjusted world view, just like Adolph Hitler as looked into above.
Recognise that no-one is 100% evil. Instead they will have a few positive traits littered amongst a black cloud

of negativity. Remember Blofeld from James Bond movies, while he had an obsession with killing James Bond

(in highly convoluted manners) and world domination, his Persian cat certainly wouldn’t have seen him as evil.

He thought the world of his cat and treated it with love.

One thing that bonds all villains is a certain form of narcissism. A set of beliefs where they feel that there world

view, their thoughts and their feelings are correct and more important than anyone else’s. As far as they are

concerned they are the only human while everyone around them is a mindless robot taking human form,

therefore they are “perfectly justified” in sacrificing such pawns to achieve their goal.

Everyone’s always wrong…except me!

An Overview Of Dialogue
Dialogue is an excellent tool in developing a character. It should be used to gradually grow and evolve your

characters and expound on the character arc. A lot of would-be scriptwriters worry about their ability to write

dialogue but a great screenplay needs strong characters and a captivating story first and foremost. A great

example of this would be the early episodes of Star Wars.

Effective dialogue should achieve five things:

1. Move The Story Forward

When you write dialogue you want to make sure that it keeps the story flowing. If your script comes skidding to

a halt during a conversation between two characters then you need to edit how the information is given out.

Break it up, show it through action or whatever else you can think of to keep your story moving along at a good


2. Reveal The Emotional Stakes

During every conversation your characters should go through a range of emotions and display them

accordingly. Remember that different characters will display the same emotion differently. While one character

may go into a destructive rage when they are angry, another might try to mask their anger behind a fake smile.

3. Reveal Your Character’s Background

Every character has a different background which affects how they speak. An intelligent character might use a

myriad of colourful phrases to describe things while a street punk will use a few monosyllabic words to explain

4. Reveal Conflict

There are many types of conflict which will effectively show they type of relationship between two characters. A

light hearted couple of jibes about a character’s choice of pants shows that both characters are close and

friendly. An all out fist fight indicates a poor relationship with a certain amount of backstory to it. In movies

dialogue tends to replace the inner thought you’d find in a novel. Any conflict must be verbalized and explored.

If there are two characters in a scene and they both want the same thing then the scene feels flat, everything

moves along too smoothly. Nothing goes smoothly in real life and your script should be much the same.

5. Create Tension

Every character has an agenda, some are out in the open and some are hidden. Clashing agendas result in
tension either on the surface or in the subtext. When you’re in a scene remember that each character wants

something to happen, often in opposition of the character they are playing off. How does your character react

to these situations? Be aware that each different situation will result in your character reacting in a different

way. As the script progresses and your characters grow the reaction becomes more focused and explosive.

Realistic Dialogue

Critics often focus on the realism of dialogue. The truth is though that good dialogue is not at all like a real life

conversation. Dialogue is much more sharp and to the point. Movies are action orientated, if you want to write

a dialogue loaded piece then a play is the medium for that.

You want to think of dialogue as edited speech, like two friends talking with all the extraneous and unnecessary

parts taken out. No umm-ing and ahh-ing, and no rambling. Dialogue should be like a good conversation,

everyone makes their point quickly and succinctly and then allows others to put in their two cents. Avoid having

characters going off on long rants or monologues, instead try and keep any dialogue to a couple of lines.

Occasionally a long speech is needed but you need a really good reason and message behind the monologue

otherwise the audience will get bored quickly.

There are ways you can keep dialogue “realistic” without it being dull and long winded. Allow your characters to

interrupt each other from time to time, have them overlap. They can lie and exaggerate to each other. Also you

want to avoid having characters referring to the name of the person they are talking to.

When you are writing the first draft of your script you shouldn’t worry too much about writing dialogue. Don’t

over think it. Just let it flow and come from the heart and it will seem a lot more natural. You can always go over
it in the rewrite to tweak and improve it. Some writers put barely any effort into the dialogue in the first draft,

leaving basic phrases they can change later.

As you write down the dialogue be thinking to yourself, “is there a shorter, snappier way of saying this?”. You’ll

eventually get the hang of saying the most in as few words as possible. Once you get inside the head of the

character you’re writing for it makes it much easier. This is why some scriptwriters like to write out a character

biography and backstory for their main characters before they begin writing the dialogue.

A character voice consists of eight things:

1. The text/words

2. The subtext/meaning behind the words

3. Grammar

4. Vocabulary

5. Accent and/or cultural influences

6. Slang

7. Professional jargon

8. Style, rhythm and structure

A Simple Exercise To Improve Your Understanding Of Dialogue

If you’re serious about being a scriptwriter then you should invest in a digital Dictaphone. You might want to

ask permission first but use the Dictaphone whenever you can and record conversations with as wide a variety

of people as you can. Listen back to it and note the details. You’ll begin to develop a feeling of when people

interrupt each other, when the topic gets changed, when there are lulls or uncomfortable moments.

Subtext: The Meaning Behind The Words

Most of the time it’s not what you say but how you say it. A few complimentary words, with the right tone of

voice, can become a sarcastic insult. Of the eight elements of dialogue the subtext is probably the most

important yet can be the hardest to pin down.

Subtext is the meaning behind the words, the emotions within the speech. As the prefix suggests the subtext is

hidden below the text. Think of an iceberg with the tip being the visible tip, with the deeper meaning

underneath, out of view. Just like in real life a character should rarely say what they really mean, instead it

should be subtly hidden amongst the text and in the actions of the character. If you watch any “behind the
scenes” documentary about a movie and see an actor or actress asking the director about their character

motivation they are referring to the subtext within the dialogue.

In the Woody Allen film Annie Hall there is a scene where Annie and Alvy are talking to each other on a

balcony. While they chat the subtext of the conversation is displayed in subtitles.
This is perhaps the best example of the underlying subtext behind conversation in film.
When you have a grasp of subtext it helps immensely in writing dialogue. You will find that your characters will

speak with a more human voice, and in a way that is more conducive to effective dialogue. That is to say it will

have more snap and less directness. How often do you hear someone directly say “I’m angry”? You’re much

likely to hear their exasperation through phrases such as “What the hell?” or “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!”.

As you write any dialogue you should remember to consider the character’s attitude, their perspective on the

situation, their thoughts and feelings and what they are looking to achieve in the particular scene as well the

story in general.

Subtext also has another meaning. In every screenplay the main character has some sort of outside goal (the
story text) as well as an inner need (the story subtext). For a character whose goal is to be able to purchase a

Ferrari Testarossa they probably have an inner need to be seen as important and successful. Therefore the

text of story should send the character on a path in which achieves a certain level of importance and success.

This way he has triumphed even if he fails to achieve his outside goal. Without achieving his goal he may feel

like a loser in the short term but the disappointment will soon lift when he realises his enhanced status. Often

this realisation doesn’t even occur within the script but the audience is left with a feeling of how the character’s

life will change for the better.

Practise makes perfect.

(Write as much as you can, as often as you can.)

Exposition Through Dialogue

One purpose of dialogue is to communicate the backstory, background information and any facts that are

necessary to the story. This is known as exposition. It is all too easy to lump the majority of the exposition in

the first few pages of your script but this gets the story off to a slow start from which it may not recover. It also

lessens the opportunity for shocking revelations and plot twists towards the end of your screenplay.

This means that you need to spread your exposition evenly throughout your screenplay. One of the best ways

to do this is to include all the exposition necessary for the audience to understand the story…but no more.

Anything that isn’t required to understand the story right away you can save for later on down the line.

One of the biggest strengths of the X-Files franchise was it’s ability to give enough information to the viewer to

understand the story, while keeping them in the dark about things they didn’t need to know. This allowed the

audience to emphasise with Mulder and Scully as the story progressed and more dark secrets were revealed.
Saving exposition until crucial moments is a fantastic way to keep the story exciting. It keeps the audience

guessing and doesn’t allow the script to become predictable.

It can be hard to keep exposition natural. That is, keeping the dialogue sounding like a real conversation. You

want to avoid dialogue that just gives the game away while standing out like a sore thumb.

Not too convincing is it?

People don’t talk like that and neither should your characters. This is where you can use the scriptwriters tool

of conflict to add realism. Have your characters argue over backstory. Every character has their own point of

view, his extends to the past as well as the present.

It is also possible to add exposition in scenes without using dialogue. You can pass information over visually.

Throughout a movie you character could wear a wedding ring and have pictures of himself with a woman and
child in his wallet and in his house. Yet you never see this family in person. The audience will surmise that the

character has been through a divorce but still think of their ex-wife and child with fondness.

Using Flashback For Exposition

Flashbacks are often used in poor scripts as a cheap and easy way of introducing exposition. Rather that

spoon feeding the information to the audience, flashbacks tend to scoop the exposition out in big dollops,

failing to hold the interest of the audience and failing to move the story forward.

If you do choose to use a flashback then you have to be careful about the way you use it otherwise it may

appear amateurish. When thinking of using a flashback you need to make sure it’ll meet this checklist:
• It’ll move the story forward.
• It motivates the character.
• The audience already cares about what happens in the future.
• It’s short and to the point.
• It transitions well.

If the flashback doesn’t contain an event which currently motivates the character in the present then there is no

point in showing it. Similarly there’s no point in a flashback if the audience hasn’t been given enough to care

about what will happen in the future, the flashback will merely serve as an interruption to this goal.

Flashbacks are a lot more effective when they are transitioned well from the present story. Something about

the scene should trigger a character’s flashback otherwise there’s no reason a flashback should happen. It

could be a sound, visual image, a place, a name, anything that could conceivably make a character think about

the past.

As a rule exposition is best told through natural dialogue but a flashback, when handled correctly, can also be

highly effective.

Using Adversity To Develop Characters

There’s a secret in Hollywood. Luckily it’s not very well kept. The secret is that few stories are happy ones,

albeit they often have happy endings. Insiders know that if you want to have a captivating story with well

developed characters then you need a whole heap of adversity.

Imagine a screenplay telling the story of a couple of shopkeepers on an average day, with nothing going

wrong. It’d make for a poor movie, wouldn’t it? That’s because any good movie is steeped in conflict and

adversity. It is how the characters deal with the conflict and adversity that creates drama, action, comedy,

romance and so on as well as the boatload of emotions associated with them. Adversity creates the story that

you are trying to tell in your screenplay.

There are a number of different types of adversity you could use to create your story:

Physical adversity is illness, injury, death and the threat of each driving your character. Physical adversity is

particularly prevalent in action and adventure movies. There is no greater adversity than being faced with your

own death, or the death of a loved one.


All characters have wants and needs that are unfulfilled. Some desires are obvious and in plain sight, others

are more hidden and subconscious. It is the unfulfilled desire that often drives the character throughout the


Miscommunication and deception

Favored adversity of the screwball comedy is miscommunication and deception. Typically a character will

either misunderstand or be lied to by another character, altering his world view into an incorrect one.


Whenever a character is placed in an unfamiliar location or situation they are facing displacement adversity.

The best example of a movie dealing with displacement would be Lost In Translation. Displacement can be big

or small. It can be as big sending a character to a future time or as a small as a new friend being injected into a

character’s clique.


Relationships are everywhere. Every relationship you have probably has an interesting story to tell whether it

be a family member, friend, work colleague or pet. Relationships are forged by characters going through

adversity together. When there is adversity within the relationship a character must either change the

relationship status, be changed by the relationship, accept the relationship or fight against the relationship.

While conflict drives the story forward the adversity drives the character development. However it is not the

adversity that is so important, it’s how the character reacts deals with the adversity. If you create a character

who has no worries, no stress and no problems then the reader will have no interest. And no interest means no


Using adversity to develop a character means exploring the character you’ve created. As the scriptwriter and

creator you must find the way a character would react to a situation, and what it would take for that reaction to
change. If a character makes the same decision, in the same situation, twice and it doesn’t work then your

character hasn’t learned. For a character to develop they have to learn and improve themselves.

It’s natural for a viewer to imagine themselves dealing with adversity in a different way, but you need to

convince them that you’ve captured exactly how that character would deal with that specific adversity.

To truly develop a character through adversity you need to:

Know your characters inside and out.

The more time you’ve spent creating your character and analyzing them the more you will know about them.
The more you know about them the easier it becomes to work out their thought process. Once you know the

character’s thought process you can work out exactly how they deal with whatever adversity comes there way.

Bear in mind that a character will deal with relationship adversity differently than displacement adversity.

Choose how your characters will change and how they’ll stay the same.

As your story develops so will your character. You’ll want a few elements of their personality to change while

others stay the same. You need to decide how your characters change and then come up with a reason why

they change. This has an added bonus of allowing scenes in your screenplay to almost write themselves.

Mix and change things up.

As balanced as a person may be they will always have some contradictions within their personality. Blofeld

was an evil villain hell bent on world domination and killing James Bond, yet he showed great love and

affection towards his cat. Similarly you may have a character who appears calculating and ruthless becomes a

softy at the sight of a baby. These contradictions add a whole new dimension to a character.

As a character grows you may find that you need to change events and situations in your screenplay so both

the character and plot can develop further. Don’t worry. This is a very good sign, it shows that the main

character has taken on a life of its own.

Finally I want you to remember that character growth and plot growth should be finely balanced, like the yin

and yang of the screenplay. This way the audience will leave the movie having seen a memorable story with an

unforgettable cast of characters.

Making A Memorable Character
It is important as a scriptwriter to come up with characters that are not only realistic and gripping but also fit the

story you are trying to tell. The most important of these two considerations is that the character fit in with the

plot. You need to create a character that will deeply care and react to whatever event is happening around

them. If your character cares about what happens around them it makes it so much easier to get the audience

to care about them.

When to begin to create a character, especially a major one, you normally begin with a couple of personality

traits and a vague idea of what they look like. The more visual and audio media you listen to the easier it is to

have that spark of an idea to make a memorable character. You just need the right voice, line of dialogue, look
or goal to get that initial idea. Once you have that initial idea you need to grab it by the throat and shake as

much detail as you can out of it.

Try to draw out this initial idea now and create an image of this character in your head.

• Are they male or female?

• How old are they?
• What type of clothes do they wear?
• How do they style their hair?
• Do they wear glasses?

Now you have a visual image of your character you need to explore the background of the character.

• What was their childhood like?

• Do they have a family now?
• What kind of people do they befriend?
• What is their profession?
• Do they carry anything around with them?
• Where is their home?
• What do they own?

Once you have figured all this out you have a nice skeleton of a character. You have all the information you

need of this character to write about them. However if you delve a little deeper you can create a truly

memorable character for your screenplay.

Think about what it is that makes this character unique from other characters which might share similarities.

Come up with a single sentence description of the character which captures their essence and personality.

This sentence should capture the character in such a way that the reader will instantly understand them.

Columbo is the scruffy, bumbling detective with a sharp mind.

While you come up with this sentence you may also want to name your character. By now you should have a

good idea who the character is and what they stand for. Try to create a name which represents the character

without sounding cliché. Lt. Columbo is a great name for the character. Straight away you know his rank within

the police force, while Columbo is a step away from Columbus, a man famed for the discovery of America.

You might also note that Columbo never gave a first name, adding to his mystery.

You can still delve even deeper into your character. Take the role of interviewer for a lifestyle magazine. Ask

your character interesting questions, sometimes the answers might surprise you. Whenever you come across

a surprising answer or loose thread question them further on it. Let the character speak for themselves, let the

words flow through your fingers. Take everything you know about the character and take the role yourself.

Once you get into the head of a character this way it becomes a lot easier to develop them to the point where

they become completely real in your mind. This is a great thing. Now you can imagine how they act and react

to their everyday activities. Think about them at their job, going shopping, amongst family, amongst friends and

partaking in their hobbies. You will soon see the small personality changes that naturally happen depending on

the situation the character is in.

You’ve created a great thing here, a character who is an individual. If you’re scriptwriting and come to a part of

the plot where the character needs to do something which defies their core then you need to re-evaluate the

plot or re-create the character. The best way of getting around this issue is to have an event earlier on in the

screenplay which explains why the character might react in such a way that goes against what they stand for


Whether the character you’ve created is likeable or not you have to learn to respect them. Treat them as the

individuals they are. Respect their quirks and contradictions. Remember that the characters feelings and what

happens around them means absolutely everything to them.

Giving Your Character A Unique Voice

An important part of creating a character is allowing them to have a unique voice. This means that anyone

reading your screenplay would instantly recognise which character is talking, without even looking at the

character tag!

Having a unique voice is another piece of the puzzle in putting together a realistic character. A character

should have their own vocabularies, accent, speech rhythms, mannerisms and world views. A lot of these

things will depend on a character’s background. A character from Quebec might speak broken English, using

French phrases as exclamation. Another character might use only the words absolutely necessary to explain

what they’re saying.

Or they might ramble around their point.

Of course when you are writing dialogue for a screenplay you want to keep it as concise as possible. If you

have a character that rambles it might be best for them to do so in the background or have another character

constantly cut into them. This way the action isn’t slowed down to a snail’s pace.

Characters all have a personality which should have an impact on how they talk. If you have a character who is

shy they should probably rarely talk, and when they do it should be short, soft and non-confrontational. On the

other hand your character may be an extreme extrovert, willing to give their life story to anyone who will listen.

Age also has a big part to play in a character’s voice. You should aim to have a wide range of ages amongst

the cast of characters in your screenplay. This helps you create personalities that stand out more. If you write a

script containing nothing but 21 year olds then a lot of the characters are going to blend together. Age also has

a big part to play in the character’s world view. Take these two examples.
Guess who’s the 16 year old girl and who’s the 72 year old woman. Pretty easy to tell from their attitudes to a

boy band and the language and references they use.

The best way to get a handle of writing unique voices for characters is to widen your social spectrum. Talk to

as many people as you can in your everyday life. You’ll soon pick up a bunch of stuff you can use to improve

the your dialogue writing skills and use to flesh out your characters. Look for vocabulary, accents, slang, points

of view, rhythms, openness and enthusiasm.

Before you start your scriptwriting it can be very helpful to write down a list of the characters in your screenplay

and think of a few unique things about each character’s voice, to differentiate them.

Oli: Uses a lot of slang and aggressive language.

Wendy: Well educated with a strong vocabulary. Loves the chance to show off.

Sylvan: Speaks with a French accent, occasionally expresses himself using French phrases.

If you do this then you will soon notice the different flavor in each of your characters’ voices. Anyone who reads

the script will too. As a result your script will look a lot more interesting a prospect to producers.

Keep yourself in check though, you don’t want every character to have some zany quirk or else it will distract

from the story. If you stay subtle and realistic you’ll be on solid ground.

Even a simple goodbye can be said in a multitude of ways.

Signing off.



Goodbye readers, your loyalty is much appreciated.

Building Up A Great Character
A good story needs a great cast of characters to be memorable. When you start your screenplay you need to

think about the characters you are going to write about. There are ten things a character needs to be great.

These all apply to main characters, villains, supporting characters and even minor characters. The ten keys to

building a great character are:

• A Goal And An Opposition

• Motivation
• A Backstory
• A Point Of View And Attitude
• Revealing Action
• Growing Room
• Plausibility
• Details
• Research
• A Strong Supporting Cast

Lets look at each of these in detail.

A Goal And An Opposition

There is something that your character wants. The character’s goal should be specific and measurable.

Seeking inner peace is not a measurable goal. Seeking the Presidency is a goal, you know when it has or has

not been accomplished.

A good goal should be hard to achieve and worth fighting for. Nobody wants to watch a movie about a woman

trying to find her spare set of keys. Whatever goal you choose for your character there also needs to be an

opposition, an individual force trying to stop the character achieving the goal. That individual force should make

the character sweat and work to achieve the goal, and face an inner fear.


Now your character has a goal you need to ask yourself a question, why does the character want to achieve

this goal? What is his motivation? The more personal the motivation the better. This is why there are so many

movies where a character has their family kidnapped. There’s nothing more personal and motivating than that.
A deeply personal motivation will allow the audience to relate to the character in your screenplay. This is how

you create a relationship between the character and he audience.

A Backstory

The backstory is what happened to the characters before the movie began. Having a detailed backstory helps

bring the characters to life rather than being instruments of telling the story. A character’s past should influence

how they act and react to things. If their parents were involved in a messy divorce when they were young then

they may be very wary of getting married themselves.

Backstory is a great example of the “show don’t tell” adage. Rather than have a dozen flashbacks try to bring

out the backstory through the way the character acts, what they say and how they say it.

A Point Of View And An Attitude

Everyone has their own world view, attitude and thoughts and feelings. So should your character. These things

are normally closely related to the character’s backstory. The backstory is the reason for the particular point of

view and attitude the character has. A woman who has been cheated on by her last few boyfriends is likely,

and acceptably, going to have a dim point of view towards men. Use the character’s backstory to create their

point of view and attitudes.

Revealing Actions

Actions speak louder than words. You judge a character on the way they act, not on what they say or think.

Imagine a character who dreams of committing murder every night, and is constantly thinking of ways to kill

people…yet never does so because he realises it is wrong. Now imagine the opposite, a character who thinks

and dreams of “normal things” yet one day, for no reason, goes out and knifes an innocent person to death.

Who is the evil character?

Your characters (especially your main one) should always be willing to act, even if they don’t act in the way

they directly think.

Growing Room

A “perfect” character is a boring character. They have everything they want and need so there’s no story to tell.

Everyone knows someone whose life seems to go great beat for beat, you find yourself envious of them and
willing them to fail. Instantly you should see from this that a good character should be imperfect. They have to

be willing to try and change themselves for the better. Often they will try too hard and end up realising they

were fine as they were, even if still aren’t perfect.


There’s a major difference between a character in a screenplay and a real life person. A character is single

focused solely on attaining their goal while a real life person often have a lot of balls to juggle at once, causing

a lack of focus. However you can make your character more plausible in a number of ways.

A character should have human emotions. If they stand there stone faced as the world is destroyed then they

aren’t human, they’re a robotic character. Let them recoil in terror, or scream in anger. Let them react to

situations the way a real human would. Remember though that humans often fight their emotions or try to hide

them, but they still seep through.

They also need to have human traits and values. Your character could be a mean old grouch amongst those

he works with yet have a heart of gold when with his family. This doesn’t mean the character is schizophrenic,

just that he hates work and loves spending time with his family. Every character has a dark side and a good

side. Even the “bad guy” has a glimmer of hope inside, even if its just the way he treats his plants. Plausibility

means shades of grey, not blank and white.


Details are the little things that make up life. They are the mannerisms, quirks, habits, idiosyncrasies and

imperfections that make a character human. Along your way through life you pick up some very unusual traits.

If you’ve seen Stranger Than Fiction you might remember that Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) brushed each of his

thirty-two teeth seventy-six times. Everyone has something peculiar about them, you need to bring out those

small details in your character.


To create a great character for your screenplay you need to put time and care into them. This means a lot of

research. There are two types of research. One is general research, the other is specific research.

A Strong Supporting Cast

One great character does not make a strong cast. You can have the most interesting character in the ever

thought up but if they have no-one else with any depth to play off then they’re dead in the water. You need to

put just as much care into every character you create as your main one. Whenever you start a screenplay you

want to create at least four rich characters so you have plenty of room for interplay. This makes writing

dialogue so much easier.

Your characters should share similarities as well as contrasts that bind them together. Remember that every

major character must have their own unique function that moves the story forward.

Build that character up, one brick at a time.

Character Consistency And When To Break It

A realistic character should be consistent. If you were to put them in the same situation, while they were in the

same mood, everyday they should react in more or less the same way. However this does not mean that

characters have to be predictable and dull. There are times when a character will realistically act or react in a

way that is not usually normal for them, and that is where the intriguing nature of a character comes from.

For a break in character consistency to mean anything first you need to set up the core personality of the

character, this is their nature under normal circumstances, and gives the audience an expectation about how

they will act.

The core personality of a character is made up from their world view, attitudes and ethics. You can illustrate

their core personality to the audience with the way the character interacts with their surroundings. If you have

created a liberal, caring character then write them as characters who speak to others with respect and joins in

with local fundraising efforts. Put them in a number of situations and they should still act in a liberal, caring


Familiarity may breed contempt but consistency breeds comfort. Allow your audiences to grow comfortable

with your characters. Keep them at a certain level of consistency. Unless you’re writing for a bipolar character

there should be no wild mood swings, at least until the situation warrants it.

Having an idea about a character’s consistencies also helps when trying to flesh out the character. You know

your character is a liberal, caring type - what type of job would you expect them to hold? Perhaps they’re a

nurse or a social worker. How did they pick up these character traits, was it through their upbringing, a jarring
event or something else? Liberal is often associated with creativity, maybe your character plays guitar, enjoys

painting or writing poetry.

See how a certain set of characteristics also implies other qualities. A serial killer often has some kind of sexual

malfunction. A woman who grew up in the country might be a very proficient horse rider. A bodybuilder could

have an excellent knowledge of human biology.

One of the best ways to create a character is to come up with a few consistencies about their nature and the

brainstorm around them. In the space of ten minutes you can go from a blank sheet of paper to having dozens

of interesting and yet consistent qualities that character may have.

Breaking The Consistency

Having a consistent character in your screenplay already puts you ahead of the curve. If you can add a few

paradoxes and let the character break certain consistencies at certain times then you have a fascinating, true

to life character. It’s my belief that even the nicest, sweetest person could murder if the situation is right. You

need to find the right sequence of events to justify this sort of character evolution though.

“Insanity is a perfectly natural reaction to an unreasonable situation.”

Insanity takes many forms. Sometimes is can be wild and reckless, other times calm and calculating. It can last

seconds or a lifetime. Going back to the nice, sweet character for a moment, it can be extraordinarily easy to

turn them into a killer. If they were to walk into their home and find their partner shot on the floor, their children

tied up with the unaware perpetrator’s back turned and a gun nearby then it would be a perfectly natural

reaction to shoot them.

Breaking character consistency is a lot to do with putting them in that unreasonable situation. Paradoxes are

different. When you first meet someone you quickly draw a picture of them and their background. However

when you get to know them better they’ll throw the book out the window and reveal something you’d never

imagined about them.

I worked with a man in an administrative job who seemed a perfect fit with everything you’d expect of someone

in that role. But as I got to know him better I discovered he’d led quite the wild life. He’d been a heavy partier,

been married had a child and then divorced, moved to the other end of the country, and operated a music

theatre. He turned out to be a fascinating character.

Paradoxes don’t have to make sense but it helps if there’s some element of logic to them. Remember that one

of the keys to writing is conflict, try and create that conflict within the character. That same liberal, caring

character we talked about earlier could be pro death penalty. The reason? They’ve been a victim of crime a

number of times throughout their life.

By adding paradoxes and breaking the consistency in a consistent character you can create a true to life

person the audience can relate to and emphasis with. And that’s always the main goal in creating any


Character Relationships
Rarely does a character exist in their world alone. Even films with the central premise of lonliness have some

form of relationships, such as “I, Legend” where Will Smith has his canine companion by his side. This is

because it’s an awful lot easier to write a script containing lots of character interaction, it helps progress the

story, develop characters and create conflict.

As the years have gone one relationships have become increasingly important in films. It seems like every

other movie produced is heavily entrenched in the story of a friendship, sexual relationship or family dynamics.

The reason for this is simple, we all know how relationships work, or perhaps more accurately, how they don’t

work. The majority of the research is already done.

One of the most interesting insights character relationships offer is how character act differently around

different characters. A character who appears to be highly successful and confident may turn into a tongue-

tied, blithering idiot around the partner of their dreams. Sometimes the chemistry between two characters can

strengthen one while weakening the other, sometimes it weakens both character while others both characters

will be stronger for the relationship.

There are four basic elements that any relationship can have. If you are writing a script based on a relationship

story you might want to create the foundation for the relationship first and then fit the individual character

qualities around the relationship. Keep the following character relationship elements in mind:

• 1. The characters have a common bond that both brings and keeps them together. This is most

commonly seen in “cop movies” such as Lethal Weapon. While the characters may not like each other

to begin with their occupation bond keeps them together until they grow to be friends. This is an
example of character attraction, there has to be some reason the characters are together and stay

together, especially if they don’t like each other to begin with.

• 2. There is conflict between the characters. Perfect relationships don’t exist, at least not as featured in

movies. While sweet it means there is no room in the story for progression in the relationship. Just as

there is a bond that keeps characters together there should be some sort of conflict which threatens

to pull the characters apart. This could be anything from a minor difference of opinion to an extra-

marital affair. The conflict in relationships provides the drama, and possibly the comedy, of a


• 3. The characters have contrasting qualities. They can be total opposites which creates conflict yet

strengthens the individual characters through challenges since they have a partner with different

qualities to fall back on. Going back to “cop movies” how many times have we seen the uptight

policeman who does things by the book with a renegade partner who goes by gut instincts? A lot.

That’s because the two characters compliment each other well, they become a complete crime

fighting machine while being seeped in conflict.

• 4. The relationship could transform both characters - for better or worse. Towards the end of a movie

you’ll find both characters in the relationship tend to morph, and become more like each other. Soon

the renegade cop becomes a little more focus and less wild while the uptight cop loosens up and is

willing to break a few rules.

Those four elements have to be there in a relationship to make it work and keep it interesting for story

purposes. The attraction and conflict has to be balanced otherwise the relationship would become dull and

stale or the conflict would push the characters completely apart.

One of the best ways to start writing strong relationships is to think of your own relationships. Pick one to start

off with, maybe the relationship between you and your closest friend. Look at the four elements above and see

what it is that keeps you close and what stops you being even closer. What qualities do you share and what

qualities are contrasting? How have you both changed since you’ve become friends?

Do this for a few different relationships and you’ll soon see a pattern emerging. That’s when you start to get an

“inside eye” for relationships which will help your scriptwriting greatly.
Now you know how relationships work try creating a new relationship with two fresh characters. This could be

the basis for a million dollar script!

Initial Character Creation

In the past I’ve written a number of articles on the finer points of creating a character. This piece will be cover

how to start the initial process of character creation. Think of the following loose guidelines as the skeleton of

the character, while such issues as background, psychology and relationships flesh out the character and help

them become unique and memorable.

Kick Start My Heart

There are plenty of media and artistic outlets these days which can help greatly when looking for inspiration for

a character. This is why you should make it a mission to take in as much of this as you possibly can. Watch

movies, read scripts, read books, listen to music, view art and go out and meet new people. All of these things

can spark off an idea for a character. You might watch a movie and find a character you like that can be

amalgamated with a person you know to make a great character for your script.

Once you’ve found the basic premise for your character (the heartbeat) then you might like to write out a

character sheet.

Character Sheet

A character sheet is a rudimentary list of physical and background traits that your character has. At this stage

you don’t have to be too in depth, you just want an idea of who the character is. While I advise that you write

down physical traits in a character sheet you should avoid describing a character’s appearance in your

screenplay unless there is a particularly unusual physical feature. Instead you should use your written physical

description so you have a visual image in your head of the character.

Below you will find a sample character sheet -

Close family:

Close friends:


Social status:




Place of birth:

Current location:



Biggest accomplishment/failure:

Hopes and fears:

Other notes:


If you can fill a character sheet like this you have everything you need to know about a character to make them

a viable commodity. You might notice that I’ve put the choice of name last. This is because I like to know about

the character before choosing a name that I think fits them. It can be the very last thing I do when creating a

character. For more on choosing acharacter name click here.

Finding The Character Concept

A character means nothing if they have nothing to do. Now that you know quite a lot about your character you

have to find a reasoning behind them. You don’t need to write a lot, just a sentence or two about who the

character is and what they’re trying to do.

“Pike Herring refused to work at the family fishing tackle shop. He left home at a young age and turned to a life

of crime. With the police hot on his heels Pike is determined to avoid the net closing in on him.”

As jokey as this particular character concept is you should be able to see the potential for character growth

and potential storylines and subplots.

Side note: FilmScriptWriting does not endorse bad fish pun based movies. They are cod awful.

Character Introduction

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That is why it is important to spend a

good amount of time on introducing your character into your script. In films characters are generally introduced
either in their own short scenes or by meeting a pre-existing character. This means that the first scene of your

movie should usually introduce your main character and do so in a dynamic way so the person reading your

script is instantly hooked. You could also include a friend of the main character which gives you more leeway in

introducing future characters.


The most important thing in character creation is to take your time with it and enjoy it. A rushed character is all

too easy to spot. Make it your goal over the next couple of weeks to put together one character and see how

rich and deep you can make them. This character could be the one starring in a future blockbuster!

Have fun.

Character Psychology
The psychology of a character is the inner workings of their mind which define them and the way the think and

act. Once you understand the psychology of your characters you should know exactly what they’d do in any

situation you choose to put them in. Your job as a scriptwriter becomes so much easier because the character

begins to write itself. To get to this stage though you need to put a lot of work into finding out what makes the

character tick.

The Past Dictates The Future

Your character had a life before your story began. They had parental figures, they went to school and they

interacted with the world around them. Along the way they will have gone through a series of events that

shaped their character and attitudes. This is the backstory of the character.

If a character felt unloved as a child they may be driven by a desire to prove their worth and also find it hard to

trust or love others. Sometimes an event in the past can lead to a serious phobia. In The Truman Show the

creators of the show manufactured a phobia of water in Truman by having his father die at sea, this kept

Truman in the pre-planned environment.

A lot of films have an underlying story of a character having to put their past demons to rest to overcome an

external conflict.
You do not need to shoehorn in a great deal of information about your character’s past within your screenplay

but it may be helpful to write a character biography to reference as you write.

The Unconscious (The Dark Side)

The vast majority of what drives and motivates us is not in the conscious, but the unconscious. We tend to

repress a lot of our past events, experiences, thoughts and feelings that we consider unpleasant. This ball of

negativity is carried around by our unconscious which drives us a lot more than our conscious.

It is no coincidence that the word conscious and conscience are so similar, they are both connected to one
another. They are the moral side to our personality (the light) to the more cruel unconscious (the dark).

Applied to a character the unconscious manifests itself through their reactions, mannerisms and dialogue.

There is a constant fight within a character between the conscious and unconscious. Upon hearing some bad

news a character might react by wrecking an object, that is an impulsive unconscious reaction.

The unconscious has a long-term effect too, it may push a character into the same professional as their father

in the hope of receiving more affection or to prove to themselves that they are better than their father.


There are basically two different kinds of personality when you cut it down to it’s bare bones - introverts and

extroverts. Introverts prefer to be alone, spending their time focusing on self-improvement and finding their

calling. They look within for the center of their life. Extroverts are the opposite, loving the company of others

they are often very relationship driven.

The majority of movies focus on extroverts as they move the story along and tend to be more dynamic.

However an intriguing play on this concept is to have a character outwardly appear to be either an extrovert or

introvert but actually be the other. This can lead to complex characters, such as one who outwardly shuns

companionship but internally craves it, possibly due to trust issue.

To expand on the introvert/extrovert personality types there are also four types - sensation, thinking, feeling

and intuitive.
Sensation: Sensation types live through their senses and they live in the now. They are tuned into the colors,

smells, shapes, and tastes around them. Occupation wise they tend to be good at any job that is physical or

sensory. This could be gardening, cooking, painting, etc. They are driven most of all by visual appeal.

Intuitive: The intuitive type is a dreamer, and very creative. They have a strong idea of what the future holds

for them. Intuitive characters will act with future consequences in mind. They are well suited for jobs as artists,

writers and entrepreneurs. Intuitive types are never found without a plan.

Thinking: As the name suggests thinking types like to use logic and deduction to solve problems. They base

their thoughts on facts rather than faith or instincts. Thinking types make good businessmen/women,
mechanics, detectives, etc. Inquisitiveness is a common trait amongst thinking types.

Feeling: Feeling types are emotional, empathetic and get on well with others. They don’t hide their emotions

and are very upfront with others. Suited occupations include teachers, social workers, carers, etc. Feeling

types often have many strong relationships.

Characters tend to have two of the above types which dominate their personality while the other two may still

be apparent but take a backseat. Characters gain information through their sensations or intuition and then it is

processed by their thoughts or feelings.

Strange Behaviour Makes For Interesting Characters

The line between sanity and insanity is not as clear cut as most people would like. While society would prefer

that it was black and white, with the insane clearly marked by a rubber stamp, that isn’t the case. Like most

things there are subtle shades of grey. While a phobia of snakes in an Englishman who’s never been in contact

with them is nonsensical it is also quite common. The key difference between this and a man who believes that

God is talking to them is that the second case can be a danger to others.

There are six basic types of abnormal behavioural patterns. Each pattern has a partner. There are manics,

depressives, paranoids, schizophrenics, psycho/sociopaths and neurotics. To illustrate the relationships please

see the diagram below.

Just like the personality types (sensation, intuitive, thinking and feeling) a character won’t fall completely into

one abnormal type. Manic-depressives vary between the two, as do paranoid-schizophrenics and


Manics: Manics have total self-belief, they believe they can achieve absolutely anything they set their mind to.

The majority of comic book style villains are manics. Manics are very excitable and sociable, and like to be

active. They aren’t happy with sitting back and letting things happen.

Depressives: Depressives are the opposite, they feel like their life is worthless and they can’t achieve anything.

They withdraw themselves from social situations and appear emotionally flat.

Schizophrenics: Schizophrenics are very self aware. They are highly sensitive, easily embarrassed and shy

around others. Because of this they try and avoid conflict, instead they retreat to a safe place and brood. In

extreme cases schizophrenics can hear voices instructing them on what they should do or develop multiple

personalities to defend the character’s ego.

Paranoids: Paranoids are very self-centred, thinking that everyone is out to destroy them. Because of this

paranoids types tend to be aggressive and defensive. Their beliefs drive them to become leaders and gain

power, thus putting themselves in a safer position. They are bull-headed individuals who don’t take well to

criticism and hold long-standing grudges for the smallest of reasons.

Anxiety neurotics: See Allen, Woody. Anxiety neurotics fear everything and put a great deal of thought and

grief into the smallest of things. They spend their lives trying to avoid anxiety yet actually cause the majority of

anxiety for themselves. Anxiety neurotics can also harbor obsessive/compulsive characteristics. This leads to
ridiculous seeming habits like only getting out of bed at an exact time or brushing their hair an exact amount of


Psycho/Sociopaths: While I have grouped this pair together there is a difference between the two. Sociopaths

are antisocial characters, often holding a disdain for humanity. Psychopaths are similar but with a mental

unbalance, this leads them to become cold blooded killers. Each have little to no empathy for people or

creatures. They make excellent villains. Psychopaths and sociopaths are particularly interesting because they

do no transform. They will never become well-rounded, normal characters.


Hopefully this article has given you a deeper understanding of character psychology. It is important to realise

that the above points should not be the focus of your character, treat them as the underlying features of a


Thinking of characters in this way is particularly useful when creating character relationships. You can pick and

choose traits in a character which will make them contrast from others, creating more complex relationships.

The characters themselves will also be richer for taking their psychology into account while creating them.

Avoiding Stereotypes In Minor Characters

In an effort to make minor and bit-piece characters stand out it can be all too easy to fall back on stereotypes.

While trying to make every character somewhat unique is commendable the use of stereotypes is not. There

are a few problems with using stereotypes for minor characters and they are as follows.

#1: They’re not unique. You might think you’re fleshing out the world of your screenplay by having a grumpy

old man or an Italian pizza boy but you’re doing the exact opposite. Everyone’s seen these stereotypes before

so they completely fail in being unique.

#2: They can be offensive. Lets say you have a couple of Jewish characters in your script, they are not

friends or relatives and appear in separate parts of your screenplay. Imagine they both have the same

stereotypical male Jewish traits of being obsessed with saving money and good business men. In this

politically correct age you can bet that anyone who reads your script will notice that and probably discard your

work as a result.
#3: They’re distracting. You can do all the work you like in building up the drama of your story but it’s no good

if audiences get distracted by “the funny little Indian man running the 7/11”.

#4: They’re restrictive. Stereotypical characters are only of any use as comedy fodder, and even then it’s not

good comedy.

The above reasons are why it’s so important to understand the different between the stereotype and the

character type. A stereotype is a (usually) negative portrayal of a particular race, sex, class, etc. A character

type could be a nervous first-time parent or an overly confident intern. The difference being that the character

type doesn’t try to suggest that groups of people all have the same characteristics while the stereotype does.

Keeping It Real

While it’s a bad idea to include stereotypical characters in your screenplay it is fantastic if you can make the

world of your screenplay a diverse one without them. Obviously you may not want your characters to be very

different if you’re writing a story set in Lancashire in the early 1800’s but otherwise diversity is a great thing.

There’s a tendency in TV and film for having a predominantly white world which is totally unrealistic. Actually

towns and cities are usually culturally mixed and you can use your minor characters to reflect this if you find

that your main characters are all white males. If that is the case then it might also be wise to turn one of these

“white males” into something different so the main faces of your cast are more unique, and more memorable.

Diversifying the world in which your screenplay takes places can be very easy. Give your main character a

friendly neighbour who happens to be Asian, have his social circle be full of different types of people. This is a

great way of adding realism and color to your story world.

In parting I would like to note that writing a minor character is not much different to writing a major one. You

might not have to come up with as much detail but it is important that you don’t make minor characters one

dimensional. If you do you’ll have a bland cast of characters that also drag down your main characters in any

interactions they have.

Hard Hitting Violence

If you’re writing an action movie then there is a good chance that there will be some element of violence in

certain scenes. With violence comes injuries. It is important that your characters feel the ramifications of
violence in subsequence scenes because this allows the audience to sympathize with them. Pain and injuries

show your character to be human and give your story a gritty, realistic edge.

Imagine you’re watching a movie and the main character gets in a huge fight with a bunch of goons, taking

plenty of blows in the process. In the next scene the hero appears to be fine, their clothes are straight and their

hair is perfectly styled. The James Bond character has often suffered (or not as the case may be) in the past

from this “violence with no consequences” writing which is why the series took a big hit in popularity. Only now

is the James Bond franchise becoming more gritty and realistic while maintaining the flair you expect from the


If your main character takes a punch to the ribs then they should be holding them in the next scene. Make the

violence hurt the characters or else there is no point to it whatsoever other than to “look cool”. You should

always go for style over substance.

Violence Causing Common Injuries

While gun fights and the like can be exciting most people (thankfully) don’t know what it feels like to be shot.

That makes the situation hard to relate to and therefore hard to sympathise with. Violence is a great tool to

make the bad guys look wicked and cruel while making the good guys look brave and heroic. I feel this is

achieved much better with violence that results in “common injuries”.

Common injuries are those which the average person has a good chance of having had during their life, or at

least know of someone who has had a similar injury. Broken bones are a great example of this. Anyone who

has broken a bone, seen someone break a bone or even just known someone who has broken a bone will

know that sickening snap and feeling as soon as they see it on the screen. It will make them wince, they will

know exactly what the character is going through and be able to relate to them.

One movie that made great use of this was the original Die Hard. John McClane was the ordinary man who

had to push himself to do extraordinary things. There is one scene in the film that I will always remember.

McClane is covered in a computer room, involved in a gunfight with three other men. It is most important to

note that John McClane was barefoot. The bolded part is the common injury.
I’m someone who walks around barefoot quite a lot and because of that I have stood of many painful things,

glass, sharp stones, nails, etc. I know exactly how that feels and every time I watch this scene I relive my own

similar experiences. I can relate to John McClane’s pain, and I’m sure you probably can as well.

Letting The Imagination Rule

This is a technique not used too often but was perhaps most famously used in Reservoir Dogs, written and

directed by Quentin Tarantino. In one memorable scene Mr. Blonde dances to “Stuck in the Middle With You”

around his hostage, an LAPD cop. With a straight razor Mr. Blonde slashes the cop’s face. Then the camera

pans to the left, as Mr. Blonde cuts the cop’s ear off. We hear muffled screams and a fruitless struggle but we

don’t see a thing. To watch this scene play the video below.

This moment was shot like this for a reason. Tarantino reasoned that the audience’s imagination would paint a

more gruesome visual than he ever could on film. He was dead right. Rather than having the visual given to
you, Tarantino forces you to think exactly what it would have been like. In this case it is an extremely effective

and memorable method.

Most of you reading this have probably received some sort of cut before which helps you imagine what it would

be like to feel your ear being hacked off. This makes it an extension of a common injury.

Final Thought

I hope you now see how violence is best used in a way that is as easy as possible to relate. You get the

audience involved and you make them care about what is and what will happen to your characters. If you can
do that in the rest of your screenplay then you have a script that is bound to sell.

The Idea Factory

A lot of people come to me complaining that they're good scriptwriters but they can never come up with ideas.

The fact of the matter is that everybody can come up with ideas if you devote the time and effort to it.

Brainstorming seems to be a lost art today, when people should be devoting time to drumming up these ideas

you will instead find them reading their emails, playing games and many other forms of procrastination.

I know because I do it myself. It can be very mentally challenging to just sit down, with no distractions and


Without an idea a script cannot come to be. If you were to just sit down and attempt to write a script from

whatever was in your head at the time you'd probably get about 10 pages in, lose steam and develop "writers


If you want to succeed as a scriptwriter than you really need to put in the thinking time when it comes to your

initial script idea.

It would be no good for me to come up with a specific schedule for you to keep because everyone is creatively

different. Personally I feel most creative around midnight, your best time could be when you've just got home

from work and feel ready to vent your spleen.

What this section of the site is for is to help provide a loose structure and guide for how to create ideas with the

potential to be developed into a script. Some ideas will be tried and tested (brainstorming, walking on your

idea, etc) while others might be considered a little wilder (my own secret method, hypnosis, etc).
There will also be writing concepts and theories within this section.

Write A Movie In A Month

So you’ve got your basic premise for a script, well now it’s time to write that script out! When a lot of people

think about scriptwriting they imagine a dusty old writer sat in a lonesome place with a cup of coffee and

typewriter for years before they’ve finished their work.

That doesn’t have to be the case though. Sylvester Stallone finished his script for Rocky in just three days after

being inspired by seeing unknown Chuck Wepner push Muhammed Ali to fifteenth round before finally being

bested. Rocky went on to win 3 Oscars and spawn an entire franchise. Not bad for just three days of
scriptwriting, eh?

Of course not every one can do this but I truly believe that by following this guide nearly anyone can produce a

script in a month. The key to this method is to be very loose, you don’t have to get everything down perfect first

time, that’s what the second script draft is for!

Scriptwriting Day 1 and 2: The First 10 Pages

The opening is probably the most important part of any script. If it’s dull then any agent or producer reading

your script will toss it in the trash, whether the next 110 pages are pure genius or not. Think of this first 10

pages as a chance to show your skills and ability to create interest and intrigue. I believe this is why Quentin

Tarantino edits his movies the way he does. You are immediately thrust into hard hitting, fast paced action

which keeps you hooked right to the end.

In your first 10 pages you should be answering these questions:

What’s the story?

Who’s the hero?

What does the hero want and what does he/she need?

Scriptwriting Day 3 and 4: Finish Act 1 - 20 Pages

Now you’ve written the first 10 pages of your script it’s time to work on the next 20. You should have already

done a great deal of “set-up” work on your script, letting the viewer know who your hero is and their goals. With

these twenty pages you should now be aiming to advance the story and enhance your characters and send

your main character on a journey towards the turning point of the script.
Scriptwriting Day 5: Read your script so far

At this point you don’t want to go back and edit anything yet. You should use this day as a chance to immerse

yourself in your script as it stands so far. Try to develop a better understanding of your characters and the

world they live in.

Scriptwriting Day 6: Page 30-45

Today’s the day. Today something BIG happens. You decide what it is but some big event or action will send

your main character on a path towards what they want and need. I like to do this part in one day as I feel it
improves the flow of the event and by now you‘re into the swing of scriptwriting. At this point you need to

decide what has happened to your character, how it will affect them and what they will do about it.

Scriptwriting Day 7: Pages 45-60

Enough is enough, it’s time for a change…sort of. You’re reaching the middle of your script now and this is

where your main character should be slowly changing, wanting to change but resisting it at the same time.

Obstacles and conflict are starting to become tougher for your protagonist but as they do your character is

starting to deal with them more convincingly. This is also where your main character becomes more focused on

achieving their goals.

Scriptwriting Day 8: Pages 60-75

Nothing can stop your main character now. They’ve stated their goal and by God are they going to achieve it!

The obstacles and conflict keep coming, hard and faster and your main character is struggling once more. Your

main character might have to enter foreign territory in your script now, go a place they thought they’d never go

either literally or metaphorically. The going is getting tough, so tough that by the end of today’s work your

character may be broken, beaten and almost ready to give up.

Scriptwriting Day 9: Pages 75-90

Your main character needs to regroup. Times are hard, so hard that they’d have destroyed your main character

earlier in your script. But now they’ve changed for the better. It may be an unexpected change but now this

character is moving fast and hitting hard. Maybe they have found a friend or romantic partner who is helping

them out a great deal. Offering words of encouragement or even helping in the action. You might like to include

some small twists or turns here because you’re quickly careering towards the solution of your script.
Scriptwriting Day 10 and 11: Pages 90-120 (The End!)

For some people this can be the easiest part of scriptwriting, for others it’s by far the hardest. Your entire script

should have been working up to this final act. It’s time to put it to bed. All those problems, obstacles and

conflicts you’ve thrown at your main character need to be resolved. Normally there will be a very warm,

heartfelt scene between two or more characters. If you’re writing an action movie this is where the good guy

finally overcomes the bad guy and the equilibrium in your world is restored.

Congratulations! You’ve finished your script!

Scriptwriting Day 12, 13 and 14: Rest and Relax

This can be harder than writing the script. Have a long weekend and try and completely forget your script.

Don’t look at it, don’t think about it…don’t even think about your script. Reward yourself in some way. Go for a

drink with friends, buy yourself some new clothes, play a round of golf, get a haircut, whatever it is give

yourself a treat.

Scriptwriting Day 15: Read ‘til Your Eyes Bleed!

Read through your written script as many times as you can. Take in all the information you have written down.

Try to think back to your original plans for the script, are you on course? What you don’t want to do at this point

is negatively judge your scriptwriting abilities. You’re only halfway through the month after all!

Scriptwriting Day 16-29: Rewrite, Tweak and Shriek

Thirteen is unlucky for some and it’s going to feel that way for you because this can be a long, painful process.

Thirteen days of working your script into a sellable commodity can make you want to scream but the personal

satisfaction and (hopefully) financial reward will more than make up for it.

You might want to follow a similar pattern to when you were writing the script. Do one block (Page 0-10, 45-60,

etc) every two days. Use the first day to do the bulk of the work. Correct any spelling errors, tighten dialogue

and remove any scenes which you now deem unnecessary. Then use the second day to clean it up a little.

Scriptwriting Day 30: Start Taking The Next Step

It’s been quite a journey. You’ve written your script and re-drafted it. No matter what you can consider yourself

a scriptwriter now, you’ll always have proof of that in the form of a (roughly) 120 page bundle. Now you’re on

the next step of your journey, find two or three friends you trust and give them a copy each. Once they’ve read

through your script ask them to critique it. Don’t take it personally, it’s much better to have shortcomings

pointed out now than after sending the script to an agent or producer.

You might need to do another re-draft before your script is ready to be sold. Maybe even two or three but it is

well worth the time because it is only in the struggle that success has any meaning.

The Think Tank #1

Before you even think about scriptwriting, you need an initial idea. Rather than coming up with something

incredibly detailed from the get-go (which few scriptwriters can do) I find it is a lot easier to look at the following

questions and mould an idea around them.

Who is the main character?

What is their goal?

What is the script about?

What is the underlying message or theme of the script?

For example your main character could be Brian Goodman, incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. His goal

being to prove his innocence by escaping prison and finding the evidence necessary to prove his innocence

thus redeeming himself.

When you’re coming up with ideas always try to ask the question “what if?…”. What Brian Goodman was

framed by someone he considered a friend? What if Goodman was framed as an act of revenge? And so on.

By both asking and answering “what if?…” questions you can provide the depth required to allow your story

and characters to stand out as real, complex worlds and people rather than being flat and flavorless.

Keep it Real Not Commercial

Don’t worry about whether your idea is commercially viable. Everyone has at least one script in them that

comes from the heart. If you are determined to make sure that script is a commercial success you will end up

diluting the idea until it is just another cookie-cutter action movie.

As a scriptwriter you have a choice. You can be a second-rate imitation or a first-rate individual.
How Your Background Affects Your Ideas

Simply put your personal background will make a great deal of difference to the ideas you have and the scripts

you write. If you were raised in a dirt poor area your mind will naturally be more focused on violence, trying to

climb the social ladder, struggling to make money and so on because those will probably be the actions and

influences that surrounded you growing up.

Think of it this way. If two people happened to meet in the middle of the road with a dying bird between them

(not a daily occurrence hopefully) and one of them was a farmer, the other a housewife they would want to

deal with the situation in a different way. The farmer would put the bird out of it’s misery by wringing it’s neck

while the housewife may try and nurture the bird back to health or take it to an animal hospital.

We all have our own perspective on things and it is important to realise what this is in order to create an idea

with a unique spin on it.

The Think Tank #2: Tap Into Your Writing Genius

As the world becomes more authority driven it becomes harder to consider yourself a genius. Let me tell you

right now though you are a genius! You might think I’m joking but I’m absolutely serious.

From a young age we are brought up to be normal and conform to the image the media presents us. However

when you think of geniuses you think of the likes of Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein and Van Gogh. None of these

people were conformists. Would a conformist cut off his own ear? Having said that would you describe

someone who mutilated themselves a genius?

Please recognise that describing anyone as a genius is somewhat incorrect. Rather a person displays “genius”

qualities. As intelligent a man as Einstein was when it came to physics yet if you would have asked him to

create a sculptural masterpiece he’d have been unable to do so.

How Do I Tap Into My Writing Genius Then?

For starters you’ve found www.filmscriptwriting.com and are taking in every scrap of information provided to

better yourself. That’s exactly what geniuses do, they try to take in as much information as possible and

channel it into something creative. So you’ve already taken perhaps the biggest step to tap into your writing

To really tap into your writing genius though you need to do a few things. First of all you need to empty your

mind of all thoughts. To do this you need to be alone in a quite area. Try going for a walk in a peaceful area or


Clear all the clutter out of your mind. Visualize a black empty space of nothingness in front of you. This is your

world. Your world in which you are happy, relaxed and content. You can feel the gentle warmth of relaxation

filling your body. When you are ready, slowly and calmly say to yourself:

I am a genius.

Over and over the words become meaningless and lose sense. Repeat this process between three and five

times a day for a week. You will find that your inner confidence levels rise and your mind will allow all the

creativity inside you to flow with ease, words will flow straight from your mind to the paper or computer in front

of you.

As a creative exercise I want you to create a character or situation that is 100 percent real. It does not need to

be real or have really happened in this world, but it will be real in your world. Mould your creation from a

smudge into an image of crystal clarity. Write down the character or situation you see in your world and read it

over. Notice how real it appears. Make small, tiny edits until every word cannot be argued against.

This is your vision, the essence of your genius. If you write something that is real to you then it will become real

for the reader. Believe in yourself because you are every bit as much a genius as Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein or

Van Gogh.

You are a genius.

The Think Tank #3 - Ten Tips On Writing And Selling A

I’m going to take you right to the action today. Here are ten great tips on writing and selling a script.

1. Read more scripts.

That’s what the sample script section of the site is for. We’ve also got a link to a site that is chock full of scripts

in the use resources section.

There are many advantages to reading scripts. First is it allows you to become very knowledgeable when it

comes to formatting. When you read an original draft of a screenplay that you’ve already seen then you get to

see what was changed from the initial script. You will also get a better idea how to layout and transition

between scenes.

Read a couple of scripts over the weekend and write down everything you’ve learned. Keep it blue tacked to

the wall behind your monitor to remind you until it is ingrained in your brain.

2. Create a writing routine.

Until you’ve established a good routine it can be absolute torture to sit down and write. Do whatever it is you

need to do to get yourself in the mood to write your script. Go for a jog, make yourself a cup of coffee, listen to

a hypnosis session, etc.

Once you’ve got your head in the game then you need to work out what is the optimum time for your writing

sessions as well as the length. Some people can write 12 hours straight, others like to break sessions into 30

minute chunks. Experiment and find what works best for you.

3. Make something happen.

Always keep your screenplay ticking along. If you’re writing a scene, or reading one back, and notice that

you’ve got two ‘talking heads’ (characters stood around doing nothing) then get them into action. Even if

they’re just walking to the next scene, get the story moving along!

4. Keep dialogue punchy.

This means no monologues, or lengthy exchanges. Dialogue should be short and snappy, try to keep any

dialogue between one and two lines. A screenplay is action orientated, not dialogue driven.

5. Play to your strengths.

When you start the initial planning stage for writing your screenplay then you should play to your strengths,

especially if this is your first script. If you’re a naturally funny person that it’d probably be a good idea to write a

comedy. If you eat up costume dramas then write one of those.

6. Use your best idea now.

In talking to some prospective scriptwriters I’ve come across a common negative. They struggle for ideas…yet

they have one which sounds great. When I ask them why they don’t just write that they say that they don’t want

to write that idea until they’re a better scriptwriter!

It’s a lot easier to write a selling script first time using your best idea than it is your second best idea.

Remember that most scripts are bought purely for their concept rather than their content.

7. Redundant words and -ings.

There’s certain words in your narrative that you should avoid or delete if they’re already there. ‘And’, ‘then’, ‘we
see’, can go as well as ‘look’ or ‘listen’ at the start of dialogue.

Also, when you’re writing the narrative, you shouldn’t be using -ing words:

Matt walks…


Matt is walking…

8. Jab before the knockout punch.

Ten earth shaking explosions aren’t as effective as one. A boxer who throws only huge haymakers is

predictable and will quickly tire himself out. The same will happen to your screenplay. Jab the story along with

smaller events leading to “the big one”.

9. Learn how to write hypnotically.

I’m going to go into this one in a lot of depth in a future article. When you write your query letter or any sort of

general introduction you should do so in a hypnotic manner, make the reader need to buy whatever you’re

trying to sell.

Don’t be general. Refer to the reader directly, either by name or “you”. Keep paragraphs small. Ask the reader

questions. Offer them something.

10. Give your script to as many people as possible.

This applies to two periods when you’ve finished your script. After you’ve finished your first draft give it to as

many trust friends and family members as you can. The more opinions you can get the better, it gives you

more ideas on how to improve your script.

When you’re actually trying to sell your script there’s no rule saying you can’t send it to absolutely everyone in

Hollywood. The only thing you should hold back on is sending your script to multiple agents in the same

company. You may also like to send your screenplay to six or so people at the time, making it easier for you to

keep track of who should be reading your script at that time.

Keep on scriptwriting!

The Think Tank #4 - Writing Exercises

The only way to get better at anything is to practice. With that in mind I’ve found a few writing exercises which

should really get your creative juices flowing. These exercises are designed to help you with character building,

story structure and writing action sequences.

People You Know

This simple exercise will help your understanding in creating realistic characters. Even seemingly dull people

can be highly interesting or funny when placed in certain situations.

For this exercise write out a list of ten people you know. Try to pick a broad spectrum of people from your

family, friends, work place and neighbours…you don’t necessarily have to like the people you pick!

For each person on your list write out a single paragraph character description. Come up with one

characteristic for each person that makes them unique. Who knows, somewhere within the list of people you

know, you might just find a gem of a character to write about!

It’s Not Paranoia If They’re Really After You!

They’re after you! You don’t know why, but you’re being chased down relentlessly. Write out a chase scene

where you are the only being chased. Imagine the panic and fear you’d be feeling as well as the confusion.

Really get into the frame of mind of someone being chased, and fearful for their life. To make it even more

interesting write out three different scenes, each with a different method of travel.

• On foot.
• In a car.
• In a helicopter, being chased by a UFO!

This exercise helps you learn how to empathise with characters and feel what they’re going through. This will

allow you to write your characters with a lot of emotional depth. If the danger doesn’t feel real to the character

then it won’t seem real to the audience.

Scene List Practice

A scene list is a set of one sentence descriptions of each scenes in a movie. Scene lists are done to keep track
of story and character development. If a scene achieves nothing to develop either the story or a character then

it’s probably a good idea to either rewrite the scene or lose it all together.

Writing a scene list before you start writing your script proper is an excellent way to make sure you don’t get

halfway through your screenplay and end up lost with no place to go.

To practice writing a scene list, try this little exercise using the following steps:

• Chose a movie from your home collection.

• Download a copy of the screenplay, preferably a txt file. You can use either FSW Scripts or

• Get yourself a pen and a pack of note cards. If you can’t find any note cards then you can up some

paper into 3”x5” pieces. It’s much easier to buy them though as you’ll need a hundred or so to be on

the safe side.

• Watch the movie closely. Keep pausing the movie after every scene and write a one-sentence

description of the last scene on a note card.

• Once the movie is finished, put your notes to one side.
• Pull up the screenplay you’ve downloaded. Copy and paste every scene heading into a notepad file

or any other similar program.

• Compare your note cards to your list of scene headings. Did you miss any scenes?
• Write out a page-long report on what you’ve learnt from this exercise. Things you might notice include

how the story is kept going in every scene, the pacing of the movie, use of subplots and how

characters are developed.

I hope you enjoy these exercises. Just as you can’t expect to run a marathon with discipline and training the

very same can be said for writing a script.

Keep on trying!

Beating Writer's Block

Writer’s block is a scriptwriter’s worst nightmare. As a scriptwriter there is nothing worse than sitting down with

the intention of completing 10 pages of your script only to achieve absolutely nothing. You leave the writing

session feeling depressed and angry at yourself. This can snowball next day when you realise you are 10

pages behind schedule.

There are many causes of writer’s block. Some people get it because they subconsciously fear finishing their

script because they won’t know what to do next, others seemingly lose the ability to transfer the thoughts in

their head onto the page. Others believe that writer’s block is caused by the relationship between the

conscious and subconscious. Because scriptwriting is a creative process the subconscious mind is constantly

solving problems while the conscious (slower and with a worse memory) mind is trying to play catch up.

As many causes as there are of writer’s block, there are probably even more cures. Everyone of them is a

perfectly viable option for a scriptwriter, different cures work for different people. You just need to try each one,

see what works for you and above all stick to scriptwriting. Although if you find yourself turning into Jack

Nicholson in The Shining maybe it would be a good idea to take a little break!

• Go for a walk

Forget your problems and go for a walk. While you’re relaxing your subconscious mind will be feeding

your conscious mind the information it needs to catch up.

• Mind writing

Get a pen and piece of paper and just write whatever comes to mind. You could write about what you

had for breakfast that morning or why you need to try a new laundry service. This keeps you in the

swing of writing and allows your ideas to flow onto the page without you needing to critique them for

content since no-one else will ever read them.

• Look for inspiration in other scripts

If you can’t write than you can always read. Again this keeps the mind “in the game” of scriptwriting

without unduly taxing it.

• Hypnosis or meditation

I’m a great proponent in hypnosis and meditation. Doing these mental exercises can relieve stress

and pressure and allow the creativity of the brain to flow freely again. I personally recommend a

hypnosis session from HypnoBusters called Writer's Block Hypnosis. It's available in MP3 format

so you can download it nearly instantly.

• Get out of your rut

As a scriptwriter you need to be constantly challenging your brain. The minute you develop into a

routine the mind starts getting lazy. If you listen to the radio while you write your script, change the

station. If you have the inclination go sky diving, anything that’s different and fresh will help spark the

creative process. You might even meet an interesting character or two!

• Take a break

I normally prefer to write my way through writer’s block but sometimes this is the only option. Put your

scriptwriting on hold for a few days and get some R n’ R then return to your writing.

Above all, don’t give up! That script won't write itself!

Making Time To Write

If you’re a beginning scriptwriter it probably means you’re either working a full-time job, going to school or

looking after your family. It always seems you never have enough time to write. So after it’s been a few days

since you did any scriptwriting you start to feel guilty and get out of the swing of writing. This can lead to writers

block or just giving up writing altogether.

Here are a few tips that will help you have more time to continue your scriptwriting.

1. If you do your scriptwriting on your PC, keep it on whenever you’re in the house. If you write freehand keep

a pad a pen nearby at all times. Then whenever you get a spare moment, even if it’s only five minutes, you can

get your head down and get some work done straight away.
2. Learn to multitask. If you’re a housewife or househusband then work your writing into your everyday chores.

While you’re cooking there’s usually a gap where you’re waiting for something to boil or cool down, use that

time to write. If you work or study then you can write in your lunch break or (if you’re daring) when you’re

meant to be doing your job.

3. Write at night. This one is especially for prospective scriptwriters with families. Some of the most successful

people only sleep a handful of hours a night. Cut into your sleeping time by an hour and get some scriptwriting

done. This is how a lot of scriptwriters have to work before they are able to turn professional.

4. Write on the go. If you travel to work or school on the bus/train you have a small window of time where you
have nothing to do. Instead of listening to music or just staring out the window use the time to think about

certain scenes or characters and what you can do with them.

5. Create more free time by suggesting your partner go out more often with their friends. This gives you time to

yourself, in house, to get some writing done without feeling guilty for leaving your partner on their own.

6. Write a list of the things you need to do next and keep them on your bedroom door. Every night before you

go to bed you must cross off at least one thing before you can go to sleep.

7. The average person spends three years on the toilet! You could write at least three well thought-out scripts

in that time. Next time you go to the toilet take a pen and pad. Also the air freshener.

8. Spend five minutes before you go to sleep going over your plans and script. This will keep the ideas fresh in

your mind and allow your subconscious work on them while you sleep.

Bit by bit you can always find time to write a script. You just have to be dedicated and focused enough. Think of

yourself as the main character and a finished script as the goal. There may be obstacles in your path but if you

want to grow and develop you need to beat these blocks, no matter how challenging that may be, and achieve

your goal.

High Concept
A high concept film script can equal big bucks. In this article I will outline how to put together a million dollar

idea that you can take to the bank.

While you should never set out to be a scriptwriter purely for the money everyone likes to have financial

security. Unfortunately movies chock full of character development but low on action tend to do poorly at the
box office. If you want to write that one big smash-hit that will set you up for life then you need to be thinking

about writing a high concept screenplay.

Typically a high concept script is easy to sum up in a few words and will be easy for even children to

understand. Character development is kept to a minimum, instead A-list actors are used to capture the

audiences attention. High concept movies also tend to be full of special effects with a lot of attention paid

during the post production process.

A big idea, captivating title and intriguing logline is what you need to create a high concept movie.

Think Big

If you can come up with a great concept then you’re already made. Even if the execution is mediocre your

chances of selling your script is high. Producers have been known to purchase scripts without even reading

them, based purely on the concept outlines in the story summary. So many movies have a good plot and

characters that grow but the initial idea is not all that good. This is why you need to put so much time and effort

into the initial idea for a high concept script.

Remember that a true high concept idea has to:

• Be easily understood
• Ably summarized in a sentence or two
• Intrigue the audience
• Be full of conflict
• Have a big event
• Leave room for a sequel
• Attract an A-list star
• Be fresh and marketable
• Have a unique take on an known idea or genre

Think of movies like Jaws, Star Wars and Independence Day and run down the list with them in mind. You will

see how each of them tick off more or less every point on the list. As I write this I’ve just taken a look at the

page for Independence Day on IMDB. It has a mediocre user rating of 6.3 out of 10, yet is has grossed over a

billion dollars worldwide! Proof that a movie doesn’t have to necessarily be good to make a lot of money.
One of the best ways to create a high concept movie is to ask “what if…?”.

What if aliens invaded Earth? - Independence Day

What if dinosaurs were brought back to life? - Jurassic Park

What if there was a family of superheroes in hiding? - The Incredibles

Take in all the media you can. Watch movies, read novels, take in the news especially the more incredulous

stories. Think of the various concepts within and think how it could have been different if something else had

happened, or an event had gone a different way.

Title and Logline

A great title and logline have three positive affects. They will help inspire you as you write your script, they’ll

cause an agent, producer or actor to sit up and take notice of your work, and it’ll make the finished movie

easier to market to the public.

The title should be short enough to fit on the marquee of the cinema yet give a good idea to the public of the

theme and nature of the film. Star Wars is one of the best examples of a simple yet provocative title and


Star Wars - A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

Right away you get the idea that this movie will be about an battle between good and evil in an outlandish part

of space. The title and logline of your scrip should be a one-two punch that encapsulate your movie. Within the

title and logline you should try to answer these questions:

• What’s the story?

• What are the stakes?
• What does the hero want and need?

High concept movies are often looked down upon by film critics but there’s no reason why you can’t take a

great concept and turn it into a flashy yet deep movie.

Or you could write Snakes On A Plane II, it’s your call.

Finding Stories To Turn Into A Screenplay
If you want to write a script then you’re going to need a story. Indeed a scriptwriter without a story is like a body

without a soul. First and foremost a scriptwriter has to actively seek story ideas. You can’t sit back and go

about your life expecting a thunderbolt of inspiration. It simply won’t happen.

There’s a few traits which people let hold them back from thinking up ideas and developing them into stories.

Laziness, fear and perfectionism. As you read those words you will probably recognise at least one or more of

them that is part of your character. These can all be defeated though by creating a routine or period of time

each day that you devote to creating ideas and/or writing. Just an hour or two a day, say 7pm to 9pm, will

result in a lot of productive work being done. Don’t think about thinking, just think!

Two of the best sources for story ideas are newspapers and magazines, particularly the human interest

articles. I recently read a small piece in a newspaper about a woman who suffered through a terrible

depression she hadn’t been allowed into brother’s funeral after he had died from a kidney illness. The twist

being that she was the only person they’d found as a suitable kidney donor but she had backed out because

she was a single mother and afraid of what would happen to her children if she’d died during the procedure.

The above article was only given a couple of columns in the newspaper but it provides a terrific skeleton for a

great screenplay. A scriptwriter needs to be able to sift through the turgid pieces to find the nuggets of gold

scattered throughout. It’s well documented that David Bowie used to take clippings of headlines or phrases he

found interesting in newspapers and turn them into ideas for songs.

People go to the movies to see characters they can relate to accomplish things that they can only dream

about. Rocky Balboa was the stumblebum with a heart of gold who went on to challenge for (and in the second

sequel successfully win) the boxing heavyweight championship. With it came the fame, fortune and glory we all

wish for ourselves.

Scriptwriters need to find a story core and a main character that the common person can relate to. Think about

what drives you, what you fear and how you deal with pressure. It is your goal as a scriptwriter to take the

audience on a journey through the character’s emotions and make them feel what the character feels. A good

script/movie shares elements with a good rollercoaster. There are ups and downs and simulated emotions (you

feel momentary fear on a rollercoaster but you know realistically you are perfectly safe).

Two of the key elements for any story are conflict and crisis. In the example I provided in the third paragraph

the crisis is the illness and eventual death of the man with the kidney illness. Think about the conflict, big and
small, this would create. This man was well within his right to be in a foul mood with just about everyone, being

at death’s door, yet at the same time he was probably glad to have the opportunity to say and do the all the

important things he wanted to do before he died.

At the same time his sister had an extremely tough decision. She had to choose whether or not to have an

operation to remove a kidney which would shorten her life expectancy, potentially leave her in discomfort for

the rest of her life and at worst kill her or watch as her brother died. In between these two were the woman’s

children who faced losing an uncle and/or mother and the man’s wife who was watching and nursing her dying

husband. If that isn’t an incredible family conflict I don’t know what is, and it makes for great drama.

When you find a story like this it is normally advisable to change a few elements for a couple of reasons. One

being that you don’t have to purchase rights for the story and another being that you can change details to

heighten drama and suspense and “tighten up” the story.

I read the newspaper each day and everyday I find a story or two I think could be worked into a good script. Of

course as you research, plot and plan some stories fall apart but others stand out as strong, believable and

truly fascinating.

Forgetting the outside world you can look closer to home for your scriptwriting inspiration. Think about your

family, friends, neighbours or even yourself. There’s a good chance that some sort of tragedy or incredulous

event has happened within that circle. While you certainly never wish these things on someone you know there

is an advantage of finding a story this way over newspapers or magazines. You will have seen first hand how

the crisis effected people and how they dealt with it. As long as you do so in a tactful manner these people will

be more than happy to open up their hearts to you if you mention that you’d like to write a screenplay based on

the situation.

That’s exactly what good scriptwriting is original stories, based on real life situations told from a particular point

of view.

Express Yourself
If you want to become a successful scriptwriter then you need to be able to express yourself. Here I will outline

a couple of methods that will take you just a few minutes a day and make you a much more expressive

It’s perfectly understandable that people are becoming more introverted and unable to express themselves.

You are under siege from the mainstream media who exaggerate, embellish and sensationalize the truth to

make news stories seem more horrific in their quest for ratings and readers. Coupled with a society wide view

to conform to the set standards it can be very hard to express yourself.

When you express yourself in any form it can make you feel weak and vulnerable. This is especially true of a

scriptwriter when their goal is to create a selling screenplay. Suddenly a part of your world view can be seen by

millions of people who will judge you and your work. Any trace of negative thoughts or actions from the main

character get erased. This results in a lot of generic, politically correct movies straight from the cookie cutter

factory of film production.

It is the expression of honesty that makes scriptwriting such an interesting art form and adds an important

element of realism in screenplays. You can’t expect anyone to be perfect, that includes your characters and

most importantly yourself.

You need to learn how to open your heart. All those negative things you think and feel but would never say.

There’s a place for all that negative emotion and its in your scriptwriting. This is especially true in the very first

draft of your screenplay when the story is raw and coming straight from the heart.

You don’t need to worry if you go too dark with a character or situation because you can edit it later. If you

express yourself truthfully you will literally feel an emotional weight lifted from your shoulders. You will feel

much better about yourself. It’s akin to the spiritual concept of “finding yourself”.

Keep A Dark Diary

If you already keep a diary that’s great because it keeps you into the flow of writing. Be truthful, do you really

write down your darkest thoughts and feelings or do you skirt around them? If you avoid your dark/shadow side

in your normal diary then you should purchase a diary with a lock and key.

In this “dark diary” only write down your negative emotions. If someone pissed you off at work today then write

down what they did, how it made you feel, and what you wished you could do to them if you didn’t have to

suffer the consequences. This is one of the most liberating things you can do. After you’ve finished writing in

your “dark diary” for the day you will feel lighter, more positive and more creative.

Write A Dark Passage

I’m sure there’s probably been a time in your life where things have seemed dark and gloomy. It could have

been the death of a loved one, a rejection or a period of poor health. Whatever was the catalyst for this dark

period of your life you should write it down. Write down:

• What happened
• Why it happened
• How it made you feel
• How you dealt with it
• How you wish you dealt with it
• How people around you dealt with you and the situation
• How other people made you feel

Be as dark and cruel as you felt at the time. Pour your heart out onto to paper and unload all that emotional

baggage. This has two effects, it trains you to express yourself and it may unclog the negativity from your

creative process.

After you’ve done you can either keep the work under lock and key and look back it occasionally to draw

inspiration or you can burn it. I say burn over other ways of disposing of your dark passage because it is

symbolic of burning away your worries.

Whether you write a dark passage or dark diary remember that you can go as far as you want because you’ll

be the only one who will see it.

You will be amazed at the results.

Improve Your Creativity Hypnosis Session

This recording has been especially recorded by the professional hypnotherapist and musician Jon Rhodes

ofHypnoBusters.Com. He has used both his areas of expertise to produce the ultimate hypnosis audio. His

soothing voice and mellow music is guaranteed to relax you into a deep and comforting trance, calming both

your body and mind.

This particular audio aims to enhance your powers of creativity. This is useful for writers, musicians, painters,

marketers, indeed anyone who wishes to enhance their creative flow. It is well known that creativity is greatly

enhanced when you have a relaxed and ‘quiet’ mind. This probably explains why Archimedes cried “eureka”

when relaxing in the bath!

Hypnotherapy is great for relaxing the conscious mind, allowing the more powerful and creative subconscious

mind to flow freely. Having the right creative idea could massively enhance the success of your chosen career.

Can you really afford to miss out?

This is a ten minute version of a thirty minute full recording. The full recording is of a much higher quality.

Show Don't Tell

There’s a number of times that I’ve referred to the phrase “show don’t tell” here on FilmScriptWriting.Com.

You’ve probably heard it before too. It sounds simple on paper but it can difficult for a beginner scriptwriter to

master. However once you know the basics and give it some practice it soon becomes natural. Your writing will
improve immensely just by getting to grips with the “show don’t tell” principle.

Lets cover the difference between telling and showing. Telling is using base description such as “Jon walks into

the room. He is a fat man.”. Showing is using suggestive description which allows the reader of your

screenplay to form their own mental image. For example: “Jon waddles into the office. His belly jiggles with

every strenuous step.”.

Both examples get the fact across the Jon is a fat man, but the showing example gives the character a lot

more flavor. It allows the reader to come up with a much more vivid picture of the character and how he moves.

This makes the screenplay interact for the reader, getting them to use their imagination. This is a form of

hypnotic writing.

Dialogue plays an important part in the “show don’t tell” principle. Rather than write an introductory piece for a

character you can illustrate a lot of that information in the way they talk. You don’t need to tell the producer

reading your script that a character is militaristic in the running of his family if she talks to her family like this:

There are of course exceptions to this rule. Sometimes telling is better than showing. If there’s a fact that’s

trivial to your story then it’s perfectly acceptable to tell it without dwelling. If the scene is set outside and you

feel it will heighten the mood to have it be raining then that’s something you should tell. If you try to show

everything your script will look “padded” with unnecessary description.

It is also easier just to tell in the first draft of your script. This allows you to get the story down, without

constantly having to stop and think how to show a fact. You should aim just to let your first draft flow as much

as possible. You can go always back and re-write your first draft to add the description need to make it show

rather than tell.

Telling is also the best way to go when you write the outline or synopsis of your story. Since these are meant to

be brief guides to your screenplay they don’t require a lot of description, just the bare bones version of events.

As you master this principle you’ll notice that showing uses a lot more words than telling. If you write a first

draft that’s 120 pages then you can add anywhere between 5 and 20 pages in the re-write. This is good
because it forces you to cut the fat from scenes and get rid of any dialogue or even full scenes you now deem

unnecessary to telling the story. The pace of your screenplay with often greatly improve as a result of this.

Don’t tell me you’re a scriptwriter, show me.

Choosing the Best Scriptwriting Contest For You

Scriptwriting contests (also referred to as screenwriting contests) can be a very useful tool in your development

as a scriptwriter. One of the most valuable things they provide is encouragement and motivation. After a while

scriptwriting can seem unrewarding but these contests give you something obtainable to strive for. You’re not

competing with Hollywood giants like George Lucas, M. Night Shyamalan or Quentin Tarantino to sell your

script. Instead you’re up against fellow eager, new scriptwriters looking to make a name for themselves.

There are literally hundreds of scriptwriting contests on the internet, all promising the prospective entrant a

large sum of money, instant recognition in Hollywood and feedback from top writing professionals. However, as

anyone who’s spent any deal of time on the internet knows, not everything on the internet should be taken as

gospel. Some of these contests may be out and out cons. Of course the majority will be legitimate but some

will be better than others.

Entering these contests usually comes at a cost which is why it’s especially important to choose the right

scriptwriting contest for you. This is why it’s so important to put in a great deal of research before choosing

which contest you wish to enter.

Contest Research
There are five key components to your research. This sort of research isn’t at all hard thanks to the presence

of the internet but it can be time consuming.

Take a close look at the contests website. This is undoubtedly the most important thing to look at as you

can glean so much information. If the website looks amateurish and is run by a bunch of names that you can

find nothing about then it’s probably not legitimate, meaning you should avoid at all costs.

A good scriptwriting contest site should have a list of guidelines and a FAQ for you to peruse. It’s important to

read these so you know exactly what you’re getting in for. For example it’s no good entering your

romance/drama based screenplay to a contest which is looking for comedy scripts. So make sure you read the
guidelines and find out if the contest is suitable for you and your script.

It’s also very useful to know how long the competition has been running for and how past winners have gone

on to do for themselves. The better the pedigree the more worth there is to entering.

Feedback. There’s few things more valuable to a fledgling scriptwriter than professional feedback. If a contest

offers feedback even if you don’t win then that adds a lot of value to the contest package.

Question previous entrants. Find a scriptwriting forum and post a message about the contest you are

thinking of entering. Ask if anyone else has previously entered and if they thought it was worthwhile.

Sign up to Movie Bytes. Movie Bytes lists the vast majority of scriptwriting contests and has an excellent

feature called “Report Cards”. Writers who have previously entered these contests write up a report and

evaluate them. The best part is that this is completely free. You can also write up your own report card to help

future scriptwriters. Visit the page here - http://moviebytes.com/ReportCard.cfm

Script readings. Some contests, particularly those attached to film festivals, offer staged readings of your

script. This is a great way for you to evaluate the flow of your own writing and spot any changes you feel need

making to your script. If this is offered it’s normally only to the finalists rather than all entrants.

Other Factors

A contest will promote their sponsors heavily, for obvious reasons. Make sure that the sponsor has relevant

film industry credentials as this opens up another door into Hollywood for you. It never hurts to make contacts.

Similarly a contest might promote themselves a being connected to a big time writer, director or actor. Check
that this name is actually involved in the judging process at some stage in the contest guidelines otherwise it

could be a lie or a case of the star not actually being involved, just lending their name.

You will also want to check up on the judges of the contest and what credentials they possess. Some contest

will not make their list of judges known, possibly to protect them as well as contest entrants from potential

corruption. However a good rule of thumb is that the more information given, the better. You most certainly

want at least some information about the judges and the judging process before you even think about cutting a


Publicity is a driving force for any scriptwriter entering a screenwriting competition. Scout around the internet
and industry magazines for press releases by competitions touting their latest winner. Another great publicity

boost is if the competition pays for adverts in major film magazines promoting their contest and the winner. The

more you have your name out there the more likely you are to get signed to a deal. You may also be promised

contact with certain agents or production companies. Try and find out the exact details of these promises. A

five minute phone conversation with an agent has no-where near the value of lunch with a top producer.

Some competitions even promise that the winning script will be produced. These type of contests are usually

run by small production companies looking for good, low budget movies. Still, you want to check the validity of

these claims by looking for past winners and making some form of contact with them for proof positive.

I hope this guide has helped you in choosing the right scriptwriting contest for you. Remember that you’re a

writer now, so be frugal with your money!

Selling Your Script

It seems like congratulations may be in order. If you've come to this section of the site then you've probably just

finished your script and are wondering, "what next?". Well, first of all, you can now officially consider yourself to

be a scriptwriter, you've got the body of work to prove it.

We well help you in every way possible to sell your script, and we won't even ask for a 10% agents fee!

Everything you need to know about finding an agent, preparing a marketing plan, making a successful pitch

and how to sell a script without an agent will be right here.

Now you are a scriptwriter with a finished script you'll also be needing to know how to copyright your work. Well

don't worry because we have a guide to copyrighting your script coming soon and it's can't miss material.
The Rewrite
Once you’ve finished your script you might feel like your work is done, however nothing could be further from

the truth. Now you have the joy of rewriting to look forward to!

The vast majority of film scripts go through a good half-dozen rewrites before they are accepted by a producer.

It can be extremely deflating to show a trusted friend a finished script only for them to send it back to you with

various scribbles over the pages with corrections, pointing out plot holes and the like. So much so that you

wish you’d never bothered.

Take heart though because every script goes through numerous rewrites before they are in a fit state to be
sold and produced.

When you begin your rewrite there are two things you should be looking to do, zoom in and spread out.

Zoom In

As the phrase suggests you need to look at every single scene heading, action and piece of dialogue and

make sure that they all make sense, tie into each other and are as short yet descriptive as possible.

If you have found someone to read through your script ask them to make notes of any passage (preferably

written on the script itself) of places where they felt lost or didn’t understand exactly what was going on. While

it’s fine to have mystery in a script you never want confusion as confusion leads to rejections.

In terms of tying all the scenes together you may find parts or even entire scenes which aren’t necessary in

telling the story and can be taken out of the script or rewritten to work into other scenes.

You also will want to cut out any waffle or ramblings in your action and dialogue. Scriptwriting is very much a

case of “why use two words when one will do?”. Keep it all neat and trim, whoever reads your script will thank

you for not having to read through a paragraph of location description. This will improve your chances of your

script being read all the way through and, as a result, purchased.

Spread Out

This relates to backstory and dialogue. Occasionally I come across a script where the writer seems to realise

the importance of backstory but not how to ease it into the script. This results in a tedious ten minute bar scene

where the main character blasts through his entire life story up to that point. It breaks the flow of the story. It is
fine to write this sort of scene in the first draft of your script, it records important character information which

you can use in the rewrite in a more effective manner.

For example if your main character is a divorced father of two he doesn’t even need to talk about it for you to

be able to get that point across clearly to the audience. He could open up his wallet to pay for a drink after

work revealing a picture of two children and then head home to a small, empty apartment. This effectively

shows the audience that the character has two children yet no reason to rush home and live alone. The

audience will put the facts together and put the situation together without you ever having to tell them.

Show don’t tell.

Quick Exercises To Help With Rewriting

Once you’ve received feedback on your script from the people you trust enough to give a non-biased opinion

the first thing you should do is…nothing. Read through the corrections, questions and advice you’ve been

given and leave it to ferment in your brain for a few days. This time will allow you to come up with a course of

action on rewriting your screenplay.

In writing the first draft of your script you’ve probably got the basic story down. It is the character arc and the

relationship between each character that is left skeletal at best.

Here are a couple of exercises which will help you in the process on rewriting your script which will improve it


The Character Arc

Grab yourself some 3x5 cards or, failing that, cut some paper down to the required size. You will need one car

for each scene. Start with your main character or characters, and write down what happens, and how it affects

them. You will notice that several scenes containing your main character have situations which don’t seem to

affect them at all. Any scene where this is apparent you will need to go back and add some sort of character

reaction or action which shows growth in their personality.

The Relationship Arc

The second exercise is much the same as the first. However, instead you’ll want to chart the growth of the

relationship between the main characters. Tack them up to the wall, or a notice board, and look at the

progression. Looking at these cards should give you a good insight into the burgeoning relationship between
your main characters. Some scenes will keep the character relationship frozen, for which you’ll need to add a

little growth and warmth. Other scenes might have too much relationship building which appears corny and

slows down the action, you will need to spread this growth out across other scenes.

Now you have these two arcs better planned out you can make a list. Fold a piece of paper in two and title

once half “character arc” and the other, “relationship arc”. Now you should have a clear, scene-by-scene, look

at how the main character and their relationships grow. Remember that if an incident happens in your story

that affects your main character in a negative fashion then it should also affect the majority of their

relationships negatively too.

By fleshing out the character and relationship arcs you help develop your characters into real people in a real

world, rather than cardboard cut-outs who are merely vehicles to tell your story.

Once you’ve rewritten your script, taking into account the link between the character arc and relationship arc,

then you are ready to send your screenplay back to your trusted readers to find any more improvements you

can make.

To paraphrase Paul Valery “A script is never finished, only abandoned”, so keep writing and rewriting!

Copyrighting Your Script

One of the biggest fears for any scriptwriter is their work falling into the wrong hands and being horribly

plagiarised. However, if you copyright your script then this need not be a worry.

There are certain things that you cannot copyright: ideas, titles, plots, phrases and basically anything that isn’t

written down. You can though copyright your original spec script.

As current copyright law currently stands, as soon as you write your script you already own the copyright to it.

The problem with this though is that you have no proof of copyright date. To rectify this problem you will need

to register your script with the U.S Copyright Office which is in Washington, DC. They have a website which

can be found at http://www.copyright.gov/. The process is straightforward and inexpensive.

When you have gone through the procedure of copyrighting your work you will need to put notice of this

somewhere on your script, preferably the cover page. It should look like this:
Copyright 2008 Joe King


© 2008 Joe King.

To make sure your copyright is respected worldwide you want to add the phrase “All Rights Reserved” when

registering with the U.S Copyright Office.

Despite this all being very simple most scriptwriters do not copyright their script. This is mainly because once

the script has been sold the production company will own the copyright to the script anyway. This doesn’t mean

that you shouldn’t copyright your script though. Copyrighting your script gives you the best protection possible
and also provides you with the peace of mind to begin circulating your script.

Other Ways to Protect Your Script

There are a few other ways to protect your script other than copyrighting it. If you give copies to people you

trust and get them to read it then they can testify that you have written the script and when they read it.

One method that it already quite well known is “Poor Man’s Copyright”. This entails posting your script to

yourself via registered mail and keeping it somewhere safe, without opening it. Because the date should be

stamped on the envelope this proves when you wrote the script. However there is no guarantee that this

method would hold up in a court of law.

The final thing to consider is actually one of the few advantages to being a first time scriptwriter. If you manage

to successfully sell your script it will be a lot cheaper for the producer to just pay you $100,000 rather than steal

your script and pay a recognised writer $300,000 to develop your script.

Putting The Pieces Together To Sell Your Script

Once you’ve finished your script off the dollar signs will be flashing ad you’ll be looking to sell it to the highest

bidder. But before you send off your script to everyone and their mother, you need to have a plan. Here are the

tools you will need to sell your script.

The Script - Hopefully you’ve already finished your script if you’re reading this, otherwise you’re just

procrastinating. If you have more than once script then that’s great, this will prove not only your writing ability

but that you have more that one script in you and can be treated as a long term piece of talent.
A Hook - This can be the logline of your movie or the basic concept or premise. You can use this hook in your

query letter, on the phone or your pitch. Hollywood is big on “high-concept” movies as they tend to have more

chance of being a box-office smash so make your script sound as high-concept as possible, even if it isn’t.

Story Summary - A story summary is normally one or two paragraphs long and can be used in your query

letter or as part of your pitch. The story summary has an offshoot known as the pitch on paper which consists

of your hook, followed by the story summary all on one page.

Query Letter - Before you send your script to anyone you should first send a query letter. This letter must

convince whoever you send it to that they need to read your script. It consists of your hook, story summary and
any relevant qualifications.

Synopsis/Treatment - The synopsis is a one or two page story summary which is to be written in present

tense, double-spaced, using a conservative 12-point font (Times New Roman, Courier, etc) which you can sent

with your query letter (if requested), use as a guideline for your phone pitch or directed to producers, actors

and directors. You will want to create a cover letter for your synopsis that contains the concept, title, genre and

any relevant qualifications.

Similar to the synopsis is the treatment. If you are asked for a treatment they are very similar to the synopsis

only longer, normally 3-4 pages unless you are asked for more.

Telephone Script - If you get the chance to speak to an agent, producer or other piece of talent you need to

know what you’re talking about. Think of yourself as a telephone marketer. Any company who employs

telephone marketers will give them a script to guide them through making the sale. By your telephone at all

time you want your telephone script as there is nothing worse than going blank on the phone, whoever you are

speaking to will simply put the phone down.

Your telephone script should consist of a brief introduction about you and your script followed by your pitch.

Not only should you be trying to sell your script, but yourself as a piece of talent too. Whoever your are

speaking to might already have three romantic comedies in production so they won’t want the Love & Laughter

script you have written. However they might be impressed enough with your work to offer you a scriptwriting

Resources - www.filmscriptwriting.com is a great start, as are our list of useful resources. You might find it

useful to join a forum or online network of scriptwriters. Most communities also have writers workshops from

which you can gain valuable insight from a personal perspective.

Mental Strength - Writing and selling a script can be a gruelling process. You must remain confident in yourself

and your script at all times, without being arrogant. Persistence is the name of the game, it took Forrest Gump

ten years to go from a finished script to a sold script. Even if you don’t manage to sell your first script you

should use the process to make friends in the industry, this way your name may come to mind if they have any

writing assignments or work.

Never give up.

The Query Letter

Your query letter is crucial to your success as a scriptwriter. It doesn’t matter how dynamic your script is if you

can’t convince anyone to read it. In the space of one page you want to make the agents of the world salivate at

the prospect of reading your script. Keep your letter to the point and intriguing, you want the agent to know

quickly that they’re dealing with a great screenplay.

You will want to include:

Why you’re writing - You’re writing because you’ve just finished your most recent script (never mention if it’s

your first) and are now looking for representation.

Category/Genre - Is your script a feature length film, or the pilot for a new sitcom? Is it a comedy, love story,

war epic, etc? Here you will want to include the logline of your story. You want your logline to be inventive and

dynamic enough for the agent to ask you to send a copy of your script. You will tell the basic premise of your

script in a single sentence or two which makes your script sound as fresh and interesting as possible.

Story Summary - This should be a paragraph or two on about the story of your script. It is a brief account of

what happens in your script.

Your Background and Achievements - If you’ve written your script based on a personal experience then let

the agent know that. Even if your story is related to a hobby of yours, this shows a personal knowledge and

passion. If you’ve ever won any scriptwriting or filmmaking competitions you certainly want to add that here.
Don’t include a full CV as the majority of the information will be irrelevant and make you look amateurish. You

can send your query letter to as many agents as you want. I recommend between 5-10 at a time, this gives you

a wide reach without making it difficult to keep track of exactly who you’ve sent your query letter to.

You can make the agent’s life easier by including two self-addressed postcards. One postcard with “Please

send script” and one with “Don’t send script”. If you receive the postcard which asks you to send the script

include it in the package with your script to remind the agent.

If you don’t hear anything from a agent in a couple of weeks you can assume that they aren’t interested. Don’t

expect a letter of recognition for sending a query letter.

If one of you strengths is phone sales then you might prefer to call an agent direct rather than right them a

letter. Have a couple of cue cards by you and give them the pitch. You will find out right away if they’re

interested or not, and if they are, who to send your script to. If you’re talking to a receptionist offer to send them

your script to read. Most of them will be agents in training who will be looking to make their own mark.

After an agent has received your query letter you may get a phone call asking for an exclusive period in which

to review your script. This period of time is normally only a few days and is worth agreeing to, but make sure

they don’t keep trying to extend the period. Your time is money too.

Finding And Working With An Agent

People often have a negative perspective of agents. After all, who wants to give up 10% of their income to

someone who just mails out their scripts and occasionally phones them with bad news? The truth about agents

is much different though.

Put simply a good agent will save you time and actually make you money. They know the ins and outs of the

industry and they know how to get you the best deal possible. Remember that an agent doesn’t take any

money from you until they’ve sold a script, so it’s pretty much win/win.

Finding an Agent

The first thing you want to do is to get a list of approved agencies from the Writers Guild. They have a coded

list so you know which agencies are currently accepting scripts. Keep in mind these are agencies rather than

individual agencies. To find an individual agent you will need to purchase the latest Hollywood Representation

Directory from Amazon.

You need to get the name of a specific agent. This might require you phoning an agency and asking them

which of their agents are currently accepting new clients. You shouldn’t tell them that you’re a new scriptwriter,

just that you’re a scriptwriter with a new script.

Once you have pinpointed a particular group of agencies or agents that you would like to represent (and are

accepting queries) you then you should send a query letter to around 5 to 10 of them. Make sure though that

you’re only contacting one agent per agency.

Working With an Agent

With the right amount of skill and luck at least one agent will get back to you and request a copy of your script.

Then you should mail a copy of your script, complete with a cover letter to the agent. Hopefully your script will

have enough impact for the agent to request a meeting. This is a chance to get you know each other

personally and ask any questions you might have about them.

A reputable agent will take only 10% of your scriptwriting income with no extra charges (travel, reading,

sending out scripts, etc.). If you meet an agent who differs from this then you should politely back out of any

further dealings with them. The only cost you many have to pay for is photocopying scripts.

You want to present yourself to the agent as a passionate writer and a great pitcher. The more scripts you can

produce then the more money the agent stands to make which makes you a great acquisition for them. The

agent will want to know where you see your career heading. For example, what genres interest you, would you

also write for television, can you travel to Hollywood regularly for meetings, etc?

Once you have signed a Writers Guild-signatory contract your agent has a 90 period to sell your script before

you can terminate the deal. Do remember though that selling a script takes time, so don’t rush to end the

contract unless you strongly feel nothing is being done. An agent is primarily concerned with making money

though so it would make no sense for them not to be trying their hardest to sell your script.

There are four different deals your agent can strike for you, they are:

Outright Sale: If your script has created enough interest and buzz around Hollywood then it may be sold in an

auction like style. As you can imagine the bidding can get high, at least six figures and can go as high as seven

figures. You will also receive a bonus when then script has actually been produced as well as residual fees for

things such as DVDs and TV showings.

An Option: This is a lot more common than an outright sale. The buyer will purchase the option to rights of the

script for a period of time (6 to 16 months). During this time the production company tries to attract talent

and/or money towards the script. An option fee can be anything from $0 to $20,000. You will be paid this fee at

the end of the optioning contract, at which time the option may be renewed or pass on the script. If they pass

on the script you receive the option fee and retain rights to the script.

Development Deal: Your agent will use your spec script to arrange a meeting with a producer. In the meeting

you will pitch ideas which can result in a development deal or sale (if you have already scripted the idea).

Audition: This deal secures an audition with a producer to develop their idea into a script. This could film or
TV. In the case of a TV series you will receive money to write a couple of episodes and will get residuals if the

show goes into syndication. If you impress you may be asked to work full time on the staff of the TV show.

Once you have an agent you should do all you can to stay in touch with them. Arrange a time to call or meet

with them once a month or so and keep to it.

Market Research
Before you sit down to write your script it is hard to know what the movie market will be like by the time you

have finished it. No-one can predict the future, especially about something as volatile as the film industry.

While some types of movie are always in demand (action, romantic comedy, etc) it is very hard to look at a

script and know if it will sell or not at the box office. It doesn’t matter how good the script is.

What you can do is a little market research and use a little common sense. If you’re writing a script social

drama then keep it a low budget affair. These type of movies generally don’t do well at the box office or are

produced as a “made for TV movie”.

Stars drive Hollywood. With that in mind, if you can create a character than an A-list actor would love to play

then you’re in business. To do this requires writing a screenplay that revolves around a unique character who

grows through a period of high drama, this is known as a strong character arc. The high drama gives the actor

a chance to flex their muscles and show off their full range of acting emotions. While it is true that there are

more A-list male actors, females are catching up so don’t let that sway the choice of sex for your main


What To Do With A Finished Script

The first thing you want to do with a finished script is to let it ferment for awhile. Give yourself time to come up

with ways of fixing any problems in the screenplay. You may get new ideas on ways to improve the story and

the characters. At the same time though you want to be careful of re-writing the life out of the screenplay, the

first draft is full of passion and you don’t want to lose that.

This break also allows you to become more objective. It is easier to admit mistakes after giving yourself some

distance from the project. The break also gives you more time to assess the market. If a movie similar to yours

is released and does well then you should send your script out as soon as possible. If it bombs then you

should leave it around a year before you send the script out.

Use this time to write another screenplay, having more than one will show that you’re productive and are a

sound investment for any agent or producer.

Where To Get Market Information

Variety and the Hollywood Reporter are the two best places to get information on the markets. Variety tends

to focus more on movies while the Hollywood Reporter focuses more on television. They both have weekly

editions and websites you can visit for all the information on what screenplays have been sold, how much they

sold for, who’s attached to them, when it will go into production, etc.

You can also find out who each production company receives its funding from. If you discover that a production

company is funded by a huge Hollywood star the you’d be wise to look at their track record of films. Do they

like to star in specific kinds of movies, do they star in movies that they produce?

There are also any number of workshops, seminars and film festivals you can attend. It always helps to know

someone with a foot already on the ladder. Try to drum up some contacts and give them a quick pitch of your

script. Before you know it they’ve told a friend about it who happens to be the brother of an executive at a

production company.

Having a killer screenplay is great, but you need to know who to pitch it to and when if you want to sell it and

make the most money possible.

Teach Yourself Hypnotic Writing

By following my guidelines you can teach yourself the powerful art of hypnotic writing. This can be used in your

query letter, synopsis and screenplay pitch to great effect. Using hypnotic writing in your script sales pitches
can be the difference between no sale and a million dollars in the bank. Hypnotism is the use of focused


You might occasionally get calls from salesmen hawking products. The secret to the game is that they all have

scripts, written with the power of suggestion to convince you that you need their product. In reality you probably

don’t but these pitches are damn convincing.

Before I knew about the hypnotic methods salesmen use I nearly purchased double glazing from a telephone

salesmen…despite the fact I already had double glazing.

That is the power of hypnotic writing!

The first tools you need to become a hypnotic sales writer are passion and sincerity. Since this

is your screenplay that you are selling you should already be full of these. You need to believe with all your

heart that the agents and producers need to buy your screenplay for their sake as well as yours. Your

screenplay is your product and you should show a lot of enthusiasm for it.

Now you have the tools you need a hook. The hook is simple and I’m sure you’ll have heard it before. All you

need to do is promise results in a set amount of time.

“Give me an hour and I’ll tell you the greatest story ever told!”

Look at that again. What an offer! You’re instantly showing the agents and producers of the world how

enthusiastic you are of your screenplay, and how little time it will take them to read through. An hour for a box

office smash seems like a great deal. Open your letter/pitch with this and you’ll have them instantly hooked,

now you need to keep them interested.

They’ve took the bait, now reel them in.

7 Points To Hooking And Keeping Your Audience

1. Headline

This is where you want to convey the benefit of interest to the audience. “Give me an hour and I’ll tell you the

greatest story ever told!” makes for a great headline. Get over with your why they should read your screenplay

any way you can.

“Have the next Hollywood Blockbuster delivered right to you!”

That headline on a query letter would entice an agent or producer to get you to send your script to them.

Getting your screenplay read is half the battle in selling it. Wouldn’t you want to read a screenplay that was

introduced like this?

2. Opening Paragraph

Just like the first ten pages of your screenplay you want to make this captivating. Be creative, anything to keep

their curiosity peaked. Give a grandiose speech about how the movie industry is dying and you and your
screenplay are here to save it. Whatever you need to do to get the audience to pay attention.

3. The Offer And Its Advantages

Now you hit them with what you have to offer. Let them know briefly what your script is about and how

enthusiastic about it you are. Keep it short and sweet and then tell them why they should buy your screenplay.

Say you’ve done market research which suggests that there’s a lot of movie to be made in this genre after the

success of…(name the most recent, similar and successful movie).

4. Appeal To Their Ego

“This is the screenplay that could turn everyone involved into icons!”

Everyone in Hollywood wants two thing, fame and money. You can offer them both with your screenplay.

Always refer to the reader. Use “you”, “your” and their name if you know it. This keeps the sale personal,

more like a correspondence between friends than a pitch.

5. Readability

You want to make your query letter as simple to read as possible. Keep paragraphs short and words easy to


You should also look to make the important parts of your letter stand out. Single them out by using bold or italic

text to draw the eye towards them.

6. Should You Ask Questions?

Yes you should! Keep the audience involved, keep the pitch interactive.

“Wouldn’t you like…?”

“Can you imagine if…?”

“Do you know what I mean?”

These questions force your audience to pay attention because you’re asking a question of them. They need to

take in your information to be able to answer them.

7. A Strong Finish

You’ve got them where to want them. Leave your audience in a position where they have to act. Tell them to

write back or call you to take advantage of this fabulous opportunity. Then sum up your entire pitch with a

single sentence.

“This is the script you’ve been waiting your whole life to read.”

“Can your afford to miss out on this unique opportunity?”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Scriptwriting is a cutthroat industry, using the power of hypnotic

writing will give you the extra edge you need.

The Meeting And Pitch

Receiving a request for a meeting from a Hollywood executive is both an exciting and daunting prospect. If you

have never had a meeting like this before that it is nerve-wracking, you don’t know what to expect and are

naturally fearful of wasting your big chance. Even if you do have experience in such meetings you are bound to

have a few butterflies.

For you the purpose of the meeting is to impress the executives and put yourself and your script in a

favourable position in the mind of the executive. From the point of view of the executive there are two reasons

to call a meeting. One is to hear your ideas and possibly sign you to a developmental deal to write your script

or to offer you a deal for a script you have already wrote. The second reason is that the executive already has

an idea for a screenplay and is auditioning scriptwriters to take up the assignment.

Typically these meetings are from thirty minutes to an hour long but more or less depending on a number of

factors. You will be sat with the executives and the initial phase of the meeting will be getting to know each

other, they will try to put you at ease.

Like any social situation you want to be as warm and open as possible without going overboard. Creating a

good rapport with an executive could provide you with a lot of work in the future. Be conversational and natural

while retaining a sense of professionalism. If you are struggling to think of something to say take a look around

the room, there may be an interesting painting or award you can ask about.

In terms of dress you should probably opt for a smart/casual look unless you were instructed otherwise when

the meeting was set up. A pair of slacks with an open collared shirt is a safe option. You would also be wise to

take a pen and notepad to write down anything of importance.

They will ask for you to pitch a few ideas if they are looking to sign you to a developmental deal. If they wish to
assign you an idea of their own they will ask you questions about what you’re currently working on, and what

you’ve written in the past. This is your chance to show your creativity and how easy you are to work with.

You should always go to a meeting with a handful of ideas to pitch. There are two types of pitch, the two

minute pitch and the long pitch.

The Two Minute Pitch

The two minute pitch starts off with the hook of the story. You have to sum up the storyline of your idea in

around 25 words or less. This is the hook, an example would be:

The Godfather: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire

to his reluctant son.

After you have drawn in the executives with your hook you will be asked to continue. This is when you can go

over the storyline briefly from beginning to end. Focus on two or three characters at most and the action,

conflict and emotions they will go through.

Open your pitching session with your very best idea and limit yourself to around 5 pitches, but have a few more

ideas in mind in case you’re asked for more.

After you’ve completed your pitch you may be offered a developmental deal to write the screenplay of one of

your ideas. They may also just ask to see the screenplay when it is finished and then go from there.
Once this session is complete the executives might begin talking about their own ideas, this is your chance to

pick up the ball and run. If you can come up with a strong creative direction for their idea then you will be given

instructions to come back in the future with a full pitch.

The Long Pitch

There’s a lot more pressure to deal with during a long pitch as you need to articulate your ideas in detail, and if

you’ve been asked to do a long pitch you are probably close to receiving some sort of deal.

It’s entirely appropriate to take notes or 3”x5” cards into a pitch although you want to make sure that you don’t

just read directly from them. Commit the information to memory and use your notes as and aid if you feel
you’ve forgotten something.

As with the two minute pitch you should open with your hook and then the storyline. You can introduce the

main characters with a little detail about them before you go into the storyline if you wish. If you are giving a

long pitch of one of your own ideas you might want to open with the title and genre too.

While this is the long pitch you aren’t expected, nor should you, give a scene-by-scene rundown of the story or

mention every character in the story. Instead focus on the highpoints and most important characters. Give the

executives information on the main characters, their goals, what’s at stake, the emotions, the theme, how the

characters grow, any major plot twists and how the story will end.

Avoid tying a character to a specific actor. If you say you see the main character being played by Tom Selleck

then you’re painting yourself into a corner. The executives may have no wish to produce a film with Tom

Selleck as the lead or Selleck may have no interest in playing the part. If you want to create a visual image of a

character name several actors - “A Tom Selleck/Burt Reynolds/Harrison Ford style of actor”. This way you

leave the door open for many actors to play the part in the mind of the executive.

In a similar vein in can also be helpful to compare your idea to a past successful movie to help the executive

visualise the project. “It’s like Dodgeball meets Ghostbusters” gives an instant impression with very little


During the course of the pitch you may be interrupted with questions and queries, this is why notes and cards

are useful so you don’t lose track of where you were. This could also be a situation where you have to think on

your feet if the executive suggests a change or two to the story. If you can implement new ideas quickly this will

impress them greatly.

What Are They Looking For?

Outside of your ideas the executives are also testing you on your personality and your creativity. If they are to

offer you a contract then that may mean many hours of time spent together. They are especially looking at four

qualities, your SAGE.

Sensitivity - You need a thick skin to work in Hollywood, if you can’t take constructive criticism they you won’t

be able to make it as a scriptwriter. You have to be able to separate your ego from your work. At the same time

though you should stick to your guns on any issues you feel strongly about. It’s a fine balancing act.

Ambition - The more ambition the better. If the executives see you as someone who wants to write a series of

blockbusters then they know you could be worth a lot of money to them if you have the ability.

Grace - No-one likes a pessimistic grump. You don’t need to be sugar and spice but treat people with respect

and have good manners. Try to be a conversationalist no matter how nervous you might feel, you’ll soon warm

into it.

Enthusiasm - Any good salesperson knows that the most important attribute to have is a passion for the

product they are selling. Well, you’re selling your screenplay/ideas so this is no different. A strong sense of self-

belief will impress the executives and help make them believe in you.

Good Preparation

The best way to cope with the high pressure situation of a long pitch is to prepare yourself well. Treat it like a

job interview. Map out a route and have a look around a few days before the meeting so you won’t be flustered

on the day. Pick out some nice clothes and get as good a night’s sleep as you can.

You should try and find out as much as possible about the company and people you are meeting with as

possible. If you have an agent they will be able to do the work for you here. You want to find out what sort of

genres they work in, what their budget stretches to, do they have any “go-to” star talent, etc.

It’s handy to take some sort of bag or case to the meeting where you can keep your notes and cards. You can

also carry anything else you think they might ask for such as examples of work, samples scripts they haven’t

seen and so on. A short biography of yourself as a scriptwriter could also be helpful if they ask about your

background, keep it as reference rather than handing it to them though.

Some executives will ask you if you had any casting in mind for your script. Generally you want to keep this to

the main character unless you have a strong image of a specific actor for a smaller role.

Arrive early to the meeting, you may be sat at reception for awhile but this will give you a chance to go over

your notes and gather your thoughts.

The best possible preparation you can do though is to practice your long pitch as many times as possible.

Pitch to the mirror, to friend, to relatives, to anyone! Practice makes perfect after all. You’ll soon find after a few

runs through that you develop a certain flow

If you do well then it’s time to talk deal!

The Logline
The logline of your screenplay is a simple sentence or two that acts as a short synopsis of your story and

provides the emotional hook that will make any agent or producer wish to read your script. You include the

logline of your screenplay within your initial query letter whenever you are soliciting interest in your script from

an agent or producer.

A well written logline should be carefully thought out. You have two sentences at most to convince people that

your script is worth the time and effort to read, which will hopefully lead to a sale. A logline is also a useful time-

saving device. If you are talking about your screenplay to anyone (from friend to Hollywood star) and they ask

you what it’s about then you can simply quote your logline. There should be something about that logline which

really stands out and makes whoever hears it want to read the full story.

Your logline also allows you to “big up” your story so it sounds as high concept as possible. Producers love

high concept scripts as they are easy to market. That means even if your story isn’t particularly high concept

you can use you logline to embellish on it’s most intriguing points.

Anatomy of a Logline

The anatomy of a logline is relatively straightforward. In every story there is a main character who has a

problem and has to achieve a certain goal in order to solve that problem. You need to explain WHO has the

problem, WHAT the problem is and HOW they are going to overcome it. All this is to be explained in one or two

sentences. The snappier it is the better.

Examples of Good Loglines

One of the best ways to get good at anything is to see how the masters do it.

"One man's struggle to take it easy." - Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

"Unchanged men in a changing land. Out of step, out of place and desperately out of time." - The Wild Bunch

"To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman." - The Silence of the Lambs

“After he's wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, a high-powered surgeon escapes custody and hunts down

the real killer, a one-armed man.” - The Fugitive

"On every street in every city, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody." - Taxi Driver

You should now notice how the logline tells the reader the very spine of the story while accentuating the most

interesting points. Lets dissect the logline from The Silence of the Lambs and see how it answers the WHO,


WHO: A woman must (“…she…”)

WHAT: get inside the head of a killer (“To enter the mind of a killer…”)

HOW: by challenging his warped mind (“…challenge the mind of a madman.”)

The logline paints the picture of a disturbing psychological thriller with the added twist of a woman (seen as

vulnerable, especially compared to a killer) in the role of investigator. The Silence of the Lambs is a complex

story so if that story can be surmised in a sentence there is no reason yours can’t!

Loglines as the Starting Line

Many beginning scriptwriters don’t even consider a logline for their screenplay until after at least the first draft

is written. In my opinion this is a mistake. Writing a logline should be one of the very first things you do. It helps

you understand the core of your story right from the get go, preventing getting half way through a script and

being unsure what direction to take it in. Write down the WHO, WHAT, HOW and piece together a logline and

paste it up on the wall where you write. Even if you change the logline after you’ve finished the script it will help

you remain on track.

Like anything, writing loglines takes practice. One good little exercise is to look at the movies in your DVD

collection and come up with loglines of your own.

Well, what are you waiting for?