Screenwriting is an exciting undertaking which allows you to give your imagination full rein while you sharpen your command of language. If you are thinking of embarking on screenwriting either as a new career or a as a hobby, there are some screenwriting basics that you need to carefully study and apply. Most of these basics can become guidelines that will serve you well through many years.
The Future of your Screenplay Depends on Your Beginning
Of all screenwriting basics, here is one you must always remember: The beginning of your screenplay must have the power to grip the attention of people reading it. Take note that your screenplay will be read by people who probably have to go through numerous screenplays all the time so unless you can engage them within your first ten pages, your screenplay will find its resting place piled with other rejects. The first act is the single most important factor that spells the difference between a screenplay that will sell and one that won’t. This is where you can begin to establish what your screenplay is all about; who your hero is, what obstacles confront him and what possible paths he will take.
Endow Your Characters with Elements your Audience can Identify With
Your screenplay should contain characters with personalities, psyches, desires and crises that they can see in themselves. This means allowing your characters’ inner qualities to be visible as clearly and concisely as possible with a few well chosen actions or words. It may help to situate the character in a scene where these qualities can be seen. Just be careful that you do not resort to clichés when you attempt this.
Move Your Plot Quickly and Concisely
Novels can run up to 500 pages with a good portion of these devoted to description. In contrast, screenplays will have about 100 pages and a lot of this will be eaten up by format. This means that you need to move your plot quickly and train yourself to provide short, clear descriptions. In addition, you will have to learn how to avoid wasted dialogue about obvious or irrelevant matters.
Learn the Format
It is amazing how people who read screenplays can quickly weed out submitted works that do not conform to the prescribed format. Remember that you have to use letter size paper and Courier 12 when you submit a screenplay in the United States. If you are sending one to Europe, there is no font requirement but you must use A4 paper.
Master the screenplay layout and its dialogues, headings, transitions and other elements which have specific tab settings. For example, the dialogue in a screenplay is centered and names are capitalized. Terms like fade in, fade out, fade to black are standard vocabulary with specific places.
The length of your screenplay naturally translates directly into screen time with one page being equivalent to one minute. Most movies run for less than two hours so anything more than 90 to 120 pages will definitely not be a viable screenplay. To make sure your screenplay does not exceed acceptable length, make sure your dialogue is not excessive. Use action rather than dialogue when possible. Keep in mind film is a medium that must engross not only the sense of hearing but also the sense of sight.
Writing screenplays is not an art that is learned overnight. It is an endeavor that requires putting into practice all the important screenwriting basics. It means interweaving creativity with discipline. It will take a lot of hard work, determination and resilience because all screenwriters face rejection at one time or another. But, regardless of the difficulties you encounter, everything becomes wonderfully worth it when you receive your first acceptance letter.