Avoiding the White Screen of Death: Screenplay Writing Tips for the Novice Screenwriter

Film & TV / February 19, 2015

The Spark

There you are. You went and saw the latest blockbuster film, but you know that you could write something much more exciting, something deeper, something that would resonate with a majority of the movie-going public! So, heedless of the screenplay writing tips you didn’t read, you grab your laptop and power it up. You bring up your word processor and stare at the blank white screen.

And then it happens.

All your wonderful ideas, which seemed so real to you moments before, totally disappear. The white screen of death has wiped your mind! The horror! The disappointment! The frustration! And your hero was such a cool guy, too.

How Did I Get Here?

The truth is that many people fancy themselves writers, and some believe that they have an idea that would create the bones of a critical hit film. What most of these individuals are missing, however, is an understanding of the script writing process; they proceed without seeking any kind of screenplay writing advice. Even if they can pound out a rough draft, they often lack an understanding of story structure, plot points, character development and more. Without any screenplay writing tips, the novice writer doesn’t understand how to transport their ideas onto the page.

This article provides some advice any novice screenwriter should take to heart when embarking on a writing adventure. If you’re hungry for screenplay writing tips that will enable you to conquer the blank page of death, read on.

Screenplay Writing Tip #1: Watch Movies

The first of our screenplay writing tips is the easiest of them all: watch a ton of movies and take notes. You may have an instinctual, gut feel that tells you, “This film is worth seeing,” versus something that is, in polite terms, “no good”. Most worthwhile movies will have something in common: good story structure, good plot points, good dialogue, well-developed characters, the list goes on. Identify the elements these worthwhile films/television have in common, and work towards developing them elements in your writing.

Screenplay Writing Tip #2: Do Your Research

This screenplay writing tip is probably the least fun of them all, but still crucial. When a movie strikes a chord in you, go to simplyscripts.com (or a similar site) and see if you can find the screenplay. Download those scripts and read them. Then read them again, and watch the film with the screenplay in your lap. Take notes about how the writing translates into the visual image.

All screenwriters have different writing styles and voices, but the structure and style of most screenplays have a standard format. There are scriptwriting programs out there, such as Final Draft, which makes learning and writing in this format much easier. However, those programs are pretty expensive. Unless you have the financial means, just learn the format on your own and proceed with a simple word processor.

Screenplay Writing Tip #3: Create the Story Elements

Ironically enough, studying the plots and characters of other films is the best way for a novice screenplay writer to develop original material. The pay-off of your research will be an engaging story with deep characters. But, to that end, you must get to know them. Learn what makes your characters tick; get inside their minds. When you really know your characters, their personalities will come to life as you write.

Identifying the theme of your script is a solid next step. Most films have a theme that serves as the plot’s foundation; oftentimes, the theme is also the bedrock of the world you’re about to craft.

Screenplay Writing Tip #4: Plan & Persist

Once you’re comfortable with style, structure, and format, make a schedule for yourself. Writing a feature-length screenplay takes time and discipline. More often than not, you’ll be unhappy with the initial draft. You’ll go back and re-write it again, and again, and again. But don’t worry, that’s how writing works. A master screenplay never happens over night.

Perhaps the most crucial screenplay writing tip you’ll ever hear is this: find the right environment and treat your script like a job. Daily tasks – kids, smartphones, pets, and social media – will conspire to take you away from your craft. If you don’t find a place and a time that is conducive to your creative process, finishing your draft will become less likely.

Screenplay Writing Tip #5: Write From Experience

Writers, whether they’re writing a short story, novel, play, or film script, will be told to “write what they know.” Great advice, but what if someone wants to write a movie about sexy alien chicks rescuing their alien dogs from evil, intergalactic fur traders? That person should have some experience rescuing dogs from evil people, because real world experiences have the ability to translate into believable fantasy stories.

The bottom line of this screenplay writing tip is that you should write about whatever moves you, as long as it’s coming from a real place. Your audience will connect with you if you do so, and that’s where the real movie magic happens.

Screenplay Writing Tip #6: Have Faith

The screenwriting process is arduous, but the rewards are great. There are many stories of individuals who dreamed big dreams, but never put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard), or who began but never finished. Don’t let that be your story. No matter how many times you get distracted, no matter how often you get discouraged, keep pressing forward. Whether your story ends up in AMC or Laemmle Theatres, you’ll arrive at that perfect final draft if you just keep going.

Did you find our screenplay writing tips helpful? There’s plenty more where this came from. We update our blog regularly with advice, news, and fun-facts from the world of film. Subscribe to the LACS Life email list for more.

LACS life
LACS life
Contributing writers from the Los Angeles Center Studios come from all facets of the film and television industry bringing fresh insight and innovation. From screenwriters, to crew, to makeup artists and location scouts, we’ve got contributors from every corner of creativity.

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