Screenwriting : How Do You Write? by Jaime Durham

Jaime Durham

How Do You Write?

Hello all. Just curious as to how you all write. Do you go right to the formatting program and dive in? Do you write it out first? I write in a novelistic style first ( the old fashioned way, pen and paper!) then go to the computer. It's easier for me because I like to write at work but carrying a laptop around the theatre lobby is just not possible!

William Martell

If I type below 50 words per minute, this laptop explodes!

Jaime Durham

Lol!'

David Levy

I open a word doc and write down all my ideas and notes, plot, character arcs, etc. In another doc, I flush out the characters. A 3rd doc is used to create a beat sheet for the story. Once I have ideas flushed out I expand the beat sheet into a small written story, no dialogue. Once I can see the scenes, camera angles, and character emotions in my head I write the script. Because of my visual impairment I lwill start writing the script as I finish flushing out the end of the concept. It saves me time in the long run.

Boomer Murrhee

I often start with a yellow legal pad. I write down ideas for a beginning and ending scene. I will list characters and a brief outline the story. I will include any necessary research of locations and local dialects. I develop outline further with a beginning, middle and end. List traits for each character. I find the more time I spend exploring the character the easier it is when I focus on dialogue later. I work on a logline. When I'm satisfied, I often go to coffee shops and run it by people and friends to see their response. I will sometimes adjust the logline according to these responses, whether the obstacle is great enough for it to look impossible to overcome or if the character interesting enough to want to know more. I post the logline on my laptop. Once I have hammered out an outline. I will write a pseudo treatment in novel form. Once this is completed, I often will take a break before diving into actual writing of scenes. I feverishly write out every scene until complete. I will often take another break before I re-read it. As I go through it I think of symbolism, motifs and subplots. This may take several re-writes before I'm satisfied with the plot twists and characters. After another break, is when I go through line by line and delete unnecessary words, look to enhance each description and action line. When I feel like the words flow on the page, I start looking for coverage for another perspective. Thanks for the question. :-)

Elisabeth Meier

I have an extra beautiful notebook for my ideas. So, I will never forget any idea and work my stories out then from there. Sometimes I write it down as a short story first and work it out later for which I use FinalDraft then immediately. Many of my stories I have on my mind for a long while with only few reminders in that beautiful notebook and I write them from begin on in FinalDraft as if someone tells me the story and it just runs through my body from head down to my fingers out of the top of my fingers which simply press the right key to bring the story via laptop on the paper. Some screenplays are hard work, some are just magic.

Jennifer Lynn

I write as many thoughts as possible in a notebook with a pen. Outline, notes, and sometimes index cards. Then I start the draft. Then when I feel ready, I go into my software and type from then on. Usually by page 2-3 I jump into my software.

Jaime Durham

Thanks for all the great responses! I am fortunate in that my boss knows of my aspirations and generally looks the other way when I'm writing at work as long as I'm not ignoring customers. Unfortunately like I said a laptop is notoriously difficult to transport ads lug around work so that's why the notebook. Once I've started in that I'll write concurrently on the computer. I started using Movie Magic Screenwriter but discovered Fade In recently and use that exclusively. I love it because it has iPad and Android apps and Dropbox compatibility.

CJ Walley

If you're hand writing your notes, make sure to photograph or scan the pages once in while as a backup :)

David Levy

...and that is why I like to use Word docs for notes!! :) Even sending an e-mail or text message filled with notes and ideas to yourself can be copy and pasted into a Word doc!

Michael Hager

Typing while children hang all around me...like a vampire I feed from their energy. :-)

Kent Flaagan

CJ Walley, I sent you a connect message did you get it? Write me I have some questions?

Joy Graham

I was a pen and paper girl for a long time (I still have a notebook nearby at all times, in fact). But then I started using the Evernote app and my life hasn't been the same since. I love that I can create different notebooks for each project and separate the notes by character or chapter or even random thoughts. The bonus (aside from being able to access the notes on my computer to cut and paste them as CJ mentioned) is using speech-to-text since I don't type as fast on my phone.

CJ Walley

Yeah, Evernote is the notes app I use, nice being able to have different documents for different scripts. For actual writing I use Scrivener which is neat in that it allows you to effectively have a lot of documents in one single project (hard to explain).

Jaime Durham

I'll have to find Evermore.

Anthony Cawood

Like CJ I use Evernote for story ideas and such, it's great as there's a desktop ap, iPhone and iPad, so I've always got access to my ideas. I write using Final Draft and have started outlining using the Index Cards feature, it's got and iPad version and Dropbox integration so again I'm always connected and sync'd.

Cherie Grant

I write the story in word first. Starts off with notes and ideas written down. sort out the plot and then dive in to FD and formatting.

Elaine J Jackson

I write in Word, then transfer to Scrivener for the shuffling around (should it be necessary!).

Hugh Blanc

I start with a program called "Pen & Paper"... Ok, it's not a program, but I usually make notes, outline plot, character and maybe even some catchy dialogue. So for me it's pen and paper for the skeleton (and tiny bits of flesh) then to the computer and take it from the top.

Ioan Serban

Always start with writing the story (preferably by hand) - otherwise you'll never have a solid script. It's basic...

C.m. Andino

When I get an idea I immediately write a rough treatment in Evernote. Then I'll let it simmer for a while before I write an outline. Finally, I'll sit down at the computer and get it all out.

Leontien Parlevliet

I also begin with pen and paper to do some brainstorming Then I write a rough treatment on paper, I let it go for a moment before I write the story line. and a descritpion of the characters. Finally at the computer I write the script while I visualise everey scene

Elisabeth Meier

And never forget to print what you wrote so far as computer breakdowns really can happen always and your files can be destroyed by a virus or what ever. If you then already have a printed version of what you wrote so far you can at least type it all again in case your file suddenly vanished somewhere in the computer nirvana. Nothing is worse if you want to write and cannot because of any technical problems. With a printed version you then even can continue by writing with a pen.

GiVan Johnson

you don't want to just dive in, you could eventually crash and burn. the more work you put into an outline the smoother the first draft will be.

Leontien Parlevliet

I always sent what I wrote sofar to my email address,. Saves ink.

Regina Walker

I had my computer and back up drive go out at the same time. What's the odds of that! Lost two books, now I print everything!

Anthony Cawood

i backup to Dropbox and iDrive on a regular basis, plus a phsical backup to USB drive... I'm hoping the odds of all those failing at the same time are longer than yours Regina, fingers crossed.

David Levy

Anthony: I use Dropbox as well as always e mailing myself updated drafts. I have yet to lose a single document.

Zanna Shirmana

Aren't there any small devices similar to a phone in which you can type, then transfer to a program when you get home?

Anthony Cawood

Yes, a phone ;-) Assume u mean something with a dedicated keyboard? Well you can get Bluetooth keyboards for most phones and small tablets, something specific that isn't a phone... Not so sure... There's always a Blackberry many would argue they're not really phones! :-)

Elizabeth Kirwin

I love embracing the archaic tools - pen and paper. There is nothing like scrawling all over a notebook to get you started.

David Levy

Dragon has an app. You can dictate your notes onto your phone or other device then transfer them.

Ioan Serban

Try to write as much as possible by hand, at first! The organic connection between your hand and your brain + the paper you write on is way more useful than any writing program. Scribble down, erase a word and replace it with another, forget typing until you have a clear story in your head, until you are sure that you actually know what your story is about. Knowing what your story is about is generally the hardest thing for many writers because they get hooked on the premise, or some key scene, or even the story itself, and never make the effort to go to the essence of what they want to say, the overall message that can be said in one simple phrase and is not going to be contradicted by any word, scene or intention of any character. It is a high order to follow, but I assume that you want to achieve greatness :)

CJ Walley

We live in good times for small format devices, there's plenty of low cost tablets and ultra small laptops to chose from. I'm also another Dropbox user.

Zanna Shirmana

Ah, please forgive me. I've not completely welcomed myself to the 21st century. I'm still using a flip phone...Star Trekkie.

Zanna Shirmana

Thanks, John!

Anthony Cawood

@ Zanna, and anyone else who like a little old school paper and pen action... there is this hybrid device that's been around a while, I actually had a very early version a few years ago before tablets became popular... http://www.amazon.co.uk/Acecad-Digimemo-A402-Graphic-Tablet/dp/B000M49HQW Seems expensive for what it is/does but it's a different approach...

Anthony Cawood

@ Ioan - that approach would never work for me, can't read my own attrocious hand writing! ;-)

Zanna Shirmana

I can't read mine either!

Zanna Shirmana

Hello, Anthony. Thanks for the info. It does seem a little expensive, but I'll keep it in mind.

Ioan Serban

@Anthony - it happens to me too, sometimes, but try to type what you write by hand sooner and you will remember what you wrote - or better yet, write slower, even though you may think that you have to rush, if you have a great idea it will be there even if it takes you longer to write it in intelligible words... there is no substitute for handwriting when it comes to achieving quality, just as there is no excellent script unless you write the story first (assuming that you have a good story, of course, and that you have writing talent). - and by the way, quality writing is not subject to debate or personal taste: it is or it isn't.

Marie Roughan

The script I am working on now is so complicated that I wrote the first scene, The main character's birth in frozen Montana, and then started listing the scenes to come. I am adapting this work from a very dense personal journal written by the main character, in real life. The journal contains much more information and characters than I will ever need to fill 115 pages of script, so my choices revolve around what to leave out rather than on what scenes to write. I finished the first draft of the script as a list of important events. Now I am going from item to item changing my prose into dialogue and action. This sequence has helped me to organize an over abundance of material into a workable glob of events and characters. Many adventures into research are also listed in my first draft. The research may all end up as backstory or be involved in the tone of the piece. It was all necessary for my knowledge, but may not make the script. Writing is immensely rewarding and the process must be loved in order to finish anything.

Anthony Cawood

@ Ioan, appreciate your perspective, but I'll stick to the method that works for me, which is typing... I do outline my feature scripts a little before starting (typed), but I just start writing my short scripts and see where they go ;-) Each to their own.

Ioan Serban

@Anthony - indeed, to each his own. I'm not giving out rules, but principles that I follow... Good luck!

Harold Vandyke

I write my first draft in pencil, in uppercase letters (faster, easier to read) in number 12 font, and screenplay format, so it will pretty much match the typed page when I transfer it to the computer using Final Draft. That way I'll always have the original hardcopy. I don't have one specific way I write: I've outlined, written from one scene; figured out a plot and characters, then let the story tell itself, etc. I also constantly back up onto multiple devices -- flash drives, discs, other computers.

Regina Walker

When I get an idea, its like me watching a movie in my head and I type what I see. I have to know the end first or I can't write it. Its so fun! I'm going to use that dropbox. Thanks☺☺

Owen Mowatt

I love this thread. Hearing about the different approaches by writers is very enlightening. Writing the script comes LAST for me. I spend most my time with characters, possible scenes, and looking for the theme. The trouble with this approach is that I get too many ideas, so I'm trying to limit the output and write a little earlier. Finding that balance for how YOU write is essential.

CJ Walley

Well said Owen :) It's all about learning how we work best as individuals.

Leontien Parlevliet

If I want to start writing a screenplay sitting in front of my computer, that doesn´t work for me. I need pen and paper first.

Virginia Brucker

I began with a notebook with story ideas and character sketches. Then I purchased Final Draft and began to write. I didn't outline a lot initially, although I can see it saves time. In the first draft, I love to see where the characters want to go. In subsequent drafts, I'm the tour guide and take them where I think they NEED to go.

Zanna Shirmana

I usually jot things down by hand when I'm away from home. Then when I get home I put it in my "Notes" document for that particular story. I also have a separate document for character development. After I let it germinate in my head, I then sit down and write a treatment. When I'm satisfied with it (after many revisions), I write the story in screenplay format.

Katherine Bramston

I do everything on computer. Create a new file in documents for the work and keep everything in the one place. If I do doodle anything on a piece of paper, I always scan it into the folder on my computer. I always start with the idea. Create characters, flesh them out, write character bios, find out what makes them tick, who their friends and family are, their likes and dislikes, what they're good or bad at, etc. Then I start writing out in dot points what happens in the story. Pinnacle moments and key plot points, maybe bits of dialogue from a scene that's running through my head. Once I know what's happening from start to finish and I know everyone involved, I then start writing the script :)

Pete Stone

I think the best thing for me is have very general outine then write without regard for anything else besides what the heart/soul conveys to you. I take nature walks as needed to figure out where to go next. But for me I view it as making pottery. I gather as much clay as possible, roughly mold it together, and then will work to shape that into a beautiful image. If I worry about formatting, etc too much initially, I never gather enough clay to work with, and it is less likely to happn because it lacks heart, in short I think it to death. So I write like crazy then revise, rework, rewrite and then repeat again and again untill all the excess is shaved off and the beauty of my vision is in its best, purest form to share with others, then its time to pitch! But just my two cents about what works for me.

Zanna Shirmana

Everyone has their own method for completing the task at hand. I just watched an interview with Nia Vardalos, writer/producer of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and she said (paraphrased) that writers should find a style or method that works best for them.

Leontien Parlevliet

Maybe I´ve also a good tip when you get stuck with a scene or a dialogue. Then I always go for a walk which is a good inspiration source.

David E. Gates

I think my biggest problem, once I start writing, is being able to stop. I used to think I could only write when inspired to or at certain times of day/night (usually night - always felt I was more creative at night for some reason). Now I find if I just START writing, anything, things very quickly flow and the only issue I'm faced with, unless I finish what I'm working on, is stopping. Can be a pain if I'm writing in my lunch hour as I find it's quite addictive to work on my stuff rather than my day job. :-) David E. Gates.

CJ Walley

I love it when the imagination is flowing like that. It becomes like critical mass, the more new ideas you have the more it generates.

Leontien Parlevliet

Okay, but if I continue to write without any break, what I sometimes do then I notice that I´m going to make mistakes

Bob Reynolds

Hike and find idea, short treatment, pitch idea verbally, 'if' something's there, a scene outline (40-60) scenes. Write the script fast... (three days.) Then, hike in the Grand Canyon... also a nice metaphor. Repeat.

Marie Roughan

Write, write, and rewrite. My commitment is to get the first draft done before getting too hung up on anything. When you have a first draft with a beginning, middle, and end, you know approximately where you are going and can go back to make changes. It is too easy to stay in the beginning trying to perfect it but not knowing where the characters really want to go on their own, and will go when you let them. Trying to perfect the beginning without the end is like having one shoe nailed to the floor. Finish a first draft of whatever and then lets talk about rewriting. Ah, there is a subject.

Chris Hind

My method is the same as yours Jaime - off to my fav café in a few minutes armed with just pen and paper.

Jaime Durham

Wow, wasn't expecting such a response! Great to see so many differing approaches to writing!

Sarah Campos

Usually an idea comes to me and I immediately write it down on a piece of paper in as much detail as I can think of. Then if it's really great, I actually start to envision it in my head and just start going from there, but I will also formulate it more in depth on paper. Usually I'm able to finish within a few weeks but I've had other scripts that have taken longer. Lately I've been trying the whole index cards on a bulletin board formulating scene by scene. That's a good method, although one I don't use very often.

Chris Hackett

shorts I usually just vomit out and edit a few times. features have me running with post cards, outlines and character sheets. celtx helps with a lot of this.

Dorota Puzio

What program would you recommend ? final draft? anything else other thats great and easy to use? thank you in advance!

Leontien Parlevliet

iI´ve together with one of my firends who´s a computer expert, developped a template. We used as example the formatting of the script Big Fish.

Anthony Cawood

@ Dorota, everyone has their favourites, Final Draft, Fade In and Writers Duet are worth a look. @ Leotian, a template in Word? All scripts usually end up in PDF format, which screenwriting software takes care of for you.

Leontien Parlevliet

My scripts end up In PDF format too.

Jaime Durham

@Dorata, I've used both Movie Magic Screenwriter and Fade In. I prefer Fade In. It also has mobile versions for Android ave iThings.

Shane M Wheeler

I've used multiple methods. Most of the time, I outline, sometimes more extensively, sometimes less. I've taken notes on napkins, notepads, and text files, though usually it ends up on my computer if I get serious with the idea. My favorite mode is when I just see the movie behind my eyelids and try to write it down, when the muse is generous. While no one will ever see the movie I saw there, something close will hopefully exist when I'm done writing. Usually, I'm all about the following the outline, though I find I almost always end up off roading before the end, because better ideas tend to happen as I go, new connections are made, and problems I didn't know existed until I reach them pop up. Outline is like a solid map to start the journey, writing is making the trek. Once you're in the wilderness, you blaze your own trails. That being said, the thing I love about screenwriting is there are so many valid approaches to it. You can go in blind, writing and rewriting, slowly carving out a thing; you can approach it as an actor, generating skits and scenes and sew them together like a quilt; you can write it out like a comic book, shot per shot, and then dive back in and write the script to that comic book; etc. It all can work.

Dorota Puzio

Thank you all for a very valuable input!

Chris Hackett

Celtx is great. Free version is great for writers, studio is when you start producing your own work or regularly selling work.

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