How to be a screenwriter


Lawrence Gray gives a few handy hints on the art of being a screenwriter.
Lesson Number One: Writing is messy! And the end result only looks coherent and sharp after a lot of work has taken place ordering and structuring the erratic workings of your imagination.

Lesson Number Two: It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of directed practice to become expert at anything. And the key word is Directed. You must break down the complex task into its component skills and practice those skills until they are second nature. Then practice putting them together. In short, you do not merely write and write and hope to get better, you study the required skills and progressively develop them.

Lesson Number Three: The skills are 1) pitching your ideas 2) developing treatments 3) writing dramatic action not just describing scene settings 4) writing dramatic dialogue, not the sort of dialogue you get in novels.

Lesson Number Four: Each of the above sections can be broken down further and turned into exercise routines. For example, pitching exercises can consist of watching a movie and then summing it up in two or three sentences. Story outline exercises can consist of writing the outlines of stories in your own words that are either from your own experience, from other peoples, gleaned from newspapers, novels, plays etc. You move from shaping these stories into beginnings, middles and punchy endings, to shaping your own imagined inventions. Similarly Action can be broken down into watching a movie and writing your version of the action. I would recommend watching a John Woo movie and examining the choreography of his action sequences and writing the script for them. As for dialogue there are a range of exercises, from listening to people speaking and then trying to re-create it, to writing gags and even twitter lines! Move to writing various scenes from the Love Scene to the confrontation with the villain! Keep the exercises short and concise.

Lesson Number Five: Begin putting it all together. But begin small. How about writing lots of one minute web movies? Build up to five minutes and ten minute shorts. Try serials, where the story moves over a number of episodes. Then build to thirty minutes. Try sit-coms. Try hour long episodes. Build and be aware of where you are in the over all story and one function it takes. Move to the 90 minute film, the 120 minute, the 180 minute epic. Make sure you understand the Hook. Practice opening hooks. Practice first act inciting incidents. Practice second act highs and lows, mid turning points, second act climaxes. And practice the final acts with their big climaxes and tail end codas. Examine all the components of the overall story and understand what is required for each one.

Lesson Number Six: Never think you have perfected it. Always practice. Always push forward. Always give yourself challenges. Challenge yourself with no-budget ideas, and then big mega budget ideas. Challenge yourself with scripts you can direct right now with no resources but a camera and a few friends. Challenge yourself with scripts that will need you to find funding.

Lesson Number Seven: Learn The Business!