Screenwriting : Screenwriting by Jessica Devlin


I have so many ideas to make into short scenes but I've never wrote a scene in my life. I'm taking a basic screenwriting class tomorrow. Any helpful advice?

Kristine Di Grigoli Paige

Where is your class? I would love to take a course. I have a script that needs lots of work and would love to just finished it

Jesse Garza

I would recommend the books "Your Screenplay sucks" by William Ackers and "Save the cat" by Blake Synder. Both books helped me a lot in terms of proper formatting, common screenwriting mistakes, and pacing.

Ehab Moniem

Be open to criticism and don't rely on learning everything in one class. Read everything you can and learn what you can from others.

David R Williams

I find that creating a "laundry list" helps - that is a list of everything that is going to happen in the film. A single short sentence for each scene. So something like: 1. Character enters old dark house. 2. Character hears strange sound. 3. Character goes into dark basement 4. Something terrible happens. 5. Something else happens. etc. Don't be afraid to write "I have no idea what happens here but something will". This gives me an extremely bare bones outline that I can then start hanging a real story on. Hope this helps & Good luck with your class!

Robert Sandage

You are lucky that you are taking a screenwriting class. I am putting together a film script on my own pretty much. You can try using notes and jot down things that you can piece together into your script. That is what I have done and as I read through it or put together my script if I do not like something I just rework it or rewrite it to make it simpler for me.

Vonnie Davis

According to most SW gurus, you need to brainstorm by collecting story ideas. And, yes, you need how to write a screenplay. If you haven't already learned, there is a basic script format for beginners to post their spec scripts. There are variations, of course, like for different genres, like high adventure, etc.

Vonnie Davis

And, it is extremely recommend that you read tons of popular movie screenplays!

Werner Aubele

Just listen a story or imagine a story, do not forget every story has the hero and the anti hero, and some point of turn or parallel stories that connects with the main story.

Daryl Powell

I recommend reading David Mamet’s note to the writers of The Unit. You can find a copy here: John August also has a video on how to start a scene. It’s a good example of the concept of starting a scene late in the action and getting out as soon as possible. You can find that here: Good luck with the class. I hope you enjoy it.

Lucifer Divinitas

Just write. Don't get hung up on making it perfect the first draft. The first draft is always trash. It's getting the ideas down that's important.

Julian Nabunya

Just put on paper what you hard in video last time , the table you had , the dress you were wearing , the seat you were in ,mood and lines you have taped your self doing . and when you enetr into the class please make sure you pay much attention on how to format and structure , these two things are very important like how i can explain below . 1, format wiill help you to present like a pro , and every one will be able to understand what mean and your imagination plus story direction , i mean where your character is going , where she is , and when to speak , and which mood to speak in and line as well . 2, structure, this will helps you to adpot the style your story will be following in , ofcourse where to begin and where to end . after your few class , please download a software and start putting that story in there , i wish good luck .

Werner Aubele

In did a script is a very descriptive narration, what the subject wears, or how she or he lives, the city, the surroundings. I think you must go to the library and read some text about screenwriting. that is my advice, at last.

Richard "RB" Botto

I'll second reading Your Screenplay Sucks. It's a great guide and the one book I'll browse before beginning a rewrite. I highly recommend using any of the books mentioned as a blueprint of sorts and not as gospel. There are too many books that set "rules" that writers take too literal. Their writing suffers as a result. I think Vonnie is dead on...Read successful scripts. They're available online. Print them out. Watch the movie and follow along with the script. See why a scene works. How it translated from page to screen. It's your own master class - so to speak. And it costs nothing beyond the rental of the movie.

Justin Kapr

Hey Jess! Good to see you again! Our music vid is reaching the 2k mark. Not exactly amazing but promising. I have 2 tips for you. 1) Download Celtx here. It's completely free and will keep your script within the specs it needs to be. Following the specs is vastly important for timing your film, sharing your idea with actors and crew, and for entering competitions. 2) Buy a easy-to-read book on how to do it. I personally chose "Screenwriting for Dummies." You can buy it online for as cheap as $1.99. So yeah, hit me up! I'd love to hear how you're doing. I have a film ideas myself. I'd love to work with you again. Cheers!

Alex Sarris

Hey Jessica, don't be afraid to get your feet wet. Writing and getting your work out there for comments is the only way to learn and improve. Good luck

Michael Dougal

Get yourself a copy of "The Screenwriter's Bible" by Dave Trottier. It has lot's of information to help you getting started. Write notes of every scene you think of to use later. You may have some great ideas today but can't remember them next week. Also you need to study Plot and Structure, Description and Settings, Characters, Emotions & Viewpoints. All stories have a beginning, middle and an end, how you tell it is what makes it unique. A scene will have the description of the day or night and location. As you write you will want to describe what the audience is seeing. Celtx is a free writing program that you can download. It has the templets that you will need to format the script. FADE IN: INT. BOX CAR -- NIGHT Three scruffy, dirty young men scramble inside a small area. They lay out their "surplus" style backpacks and collapse on the floor. MILES (20), with his LONG BLOND DREADLOCKS, is getting comfortable next to JORDAN (20) the anal retentive one with the shaved head and BEN (18). Ben has a boyish look to him with SHORT BROWN HAIR. He is smaller than the other boys. They are panting heavily trying to catch their breaths.

Kristjan Knigge

write, write, write, write, write. that's the best way to learn. do it lots and lots and lots. no substitute for putting in the hours, I'm afraid!

Rick Mclean

and believe in yourself, take your time, it will come together ...

Neil Golin

Start with one or two sentences that describe your story idea. Then re-write that into a paragraph, adding in some details. Then re-write that into a few paragraphs, adding more details. Then re-write that into a full page. Then re-write until you have a few pages. Then stop. Find someone you can explain the story to, preferably not someone who will be "kind" to you and not want to hurt your feelings. Explain your story. If their eyes glaze over and they tune you out, you don't have a commercial story idea and should begin again with a different story. But, if they take an interest and actually ask a few questions, then you might have something worthwhile. If so, expand your "treatment" again until you are sure you have a beginning, middle and end to the story, but in the proper film format, with plot points where they should be. Then, and only then, you should begin writing the script. Use a professional software program if you can afford one. And in conclusion, the hardest part is planting your ass in that chair and actually completing a first draft. Don't worry about good or bad, characterizations or length, just get the first draft done. Then, you begin the fun part. Re-writing and re-writing until you have something terrific. Good luck.

Chris Keaton

Read professional scripts. That will show you how it's done.

Kelly A. Hawk

Read the movie section in the paper and rewrite the log lines

Glen Kim

The best advice that I can hand out; remember you're drawing out the blueprints of a new house. What color the walls are and how the carpet feels against the bottom of your feet are left for novels and books.

Tabitha Baumander

listen to how people talk. Watch movies. read movies. have an action or a result you want from each element you put together.

Ben Geldart

Read all the screenwriting books you can then when you're fed up of hearing the same standard advice turn to Save The Cat. It made me think a little differently to the other text books. Other than that I would recommend reading early drafts of well known films, if nothing else to check for typo's and areas that got cut when revised. It'll make you feel better when you're looking at a plot hole you cant resolve. It also works as a good gauge of where I am to where I need to be and exceed.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

Avoid screenwriting books as much as you can. READ SCREENPLAYS111 Start here

Robert Sandage

This really helps out a lot from the suggestions that you are all making. It really helps out a lot! Thank you!

Jessica Devlin

Thank you all so much for the advice & suggestions. Class went well but def didn't cover everything. I already purchased 'Your screenplay sucks' and 'The Hollywood Standard' so I'll def get started on that! Once I have something written and ready to share I'll def keep you guys posted. Thanks again!! :-D Oh & btw primarily, I act so if any of you screenwriters/directors think I fit one of your characters don't hesitate to reach out! :))

Jessica Devlin

This has really been super helpful.

Tabitha Baumander

asking writers for advice is sometimes like shouting fire in a crowded theater. you get attention 80)

Alex Zimmerschied

Keep a notepad with you wherever you go for ideas. They will pop into your head all the time and you'll want to write them down because you'll most likely forget at least some of the ideas. I just finished my first script a few months ago and having a notepad for ideas is crucial. Good luck!!!!

Chris Keaton

^ I disagree with Alex. Notepads for ideas are a great way to keep terrible ideas. If the idea is stellar it will stick with you. If not it wasn't worth writing down.

Neil Golin

I'm currently completing post-production on a feature we shot down here in Florida from a script I wrote, produced, got financed and directed. The entire concept for the script began with just one word that I thought would be an interesting title. I had no story idea at the time, just a word. Then I started thinking about it and developed the story, but it all started with just one word that struck my fancy. Script ideas can come from anywhere. Good ideas pop into people's heads each day. The trick is to actually do something about them. That's what separates the professionals from the amateurs.

Bryce Albertson

What do you want more than anything? That's what your character wants. Now... What's in the way?

Billy Marshall Stoneking

The worlds of writing are as vast and as mysterious as the imaginations of those that work in them, whether they're writing novels, poems, journalism or screenplays. Which ever world you work in, if you're going to be a writer whose work any one is going to give a damn about, it’s important to know what kinds of stories you want to tell and to whom you want to tell them, and why. A screenwriter is also a character, and, just like any dramatic character, is goaded into action by problems, interests and opportunities. Of course it helps to understand which particular stories are peculiar to you and where they are coming from. The best characters never act without cause, and neither do the best (i.e.: enduring) writers. Whatever sort of writer you choose to be, and I assume that you want to be a SCREEN storyteller otherwise you wouldn't be here, there are a number of challenges you will have to confront and work through if you're going to produce something that is both satisfying and meaningful. For most screenwriters, the writing involves both the terror and the challenge commonly associated with dramatic action. It's not going to be pretty, and it will probably get very messy before it's all done, so don't hold on too tightly to your fastidious sense of respectability. You're going to have to get down in the metaphorical dirt where the real action is happening. You're on the trip of a lifetime, en-route to the unexpected, an odyssey fraught with danger and real stakes. Why are you going? Because you have to. You have to go where the drama is - and you have to go there because that is where the story is and if you're going to write it you have to experience it. It's visual - you write what you see... and what you hear. And to hear it and see it clearly and with the degree of emotional intensity with which it is occurring, you have to be as close to the action as possible. Remember : it's call motion PICTURES! The images and sounds (which also evoke vision) work not only in terms of their literal meanings, but - and often more significantly - in terms of the contexts in which they are presented. Fundamentally, cinematic images and sounds provide a symbolic - or totemic - landscape that operates metaphorically to contextualise all of the important narrative events that are enacted by the characters. What is the symbol system that is being employed? What natural objects are operating as symbols, and how are these enhanced or illuminated by the vision and the choices of ALL the filmmaker/storytellers, whether they be writers, editors or even audiences? The process starts with a concept and is developed by a screenwriter every time he/she drafts a version of the story in the form of a screenplay. And for those that are obsessed and made enough to want to develop some skills in the writing of screenplays, there is no substitute for learning this most difficult art than to read as many good screenplays as you get your hands on. Apprenticing oneself to the best writers often begins by reading what they have written. How else will you sharpen your instincts and develop the sort of taste necessary that will allow you to become ever more alert and sensitive to the way in which a good writer exploits and develops the emotional energies that reside within the characters? What you'll discover will surprise, if you persevere, that is. Follow the LINK below to find a selection of film and television scripts to get you started. As you read through, look and listen to the way in which the writer presents actions - notice how it is achieved. Pay special attention to the symbols and metaphors, and the underlying emotional logic that in concert provoke meaningful resonances between the characters and between the characters and their world.

Chris Keaton

Oh and live in LA, that helps. :)

Justin Kapr

@Chris Keaton LOL!!! That's funny! Obviously we both know that with the shift of films to an indie market that LA has lost its significance. You could live on Easter Island and be a successful writer.

David Liberman

@Justin. No you can't. If you want to make Hollywood films, you MUST live in LA. Because I'll tell you now, no agent/producer/manager/studio head/ etc etc will take a meeting with someone on Easter island, nor will they visit a writer there.

Justin Kapr

@David Liberman I love how you just waltz into this like you're some authoritarian figure. lol "No you can't." And that's final, right there. lol I'm amazed at your entrance. You can't be a successful writer with an entrance like that. This is a classic case of amateurs telling amateurs their amateur opinion, and then realizing that the amateur they were talking to wasn't actually an amateur, but a very successful writer. It's laughable, but I'll pretend that you have this amazing insight that I don't have, apparently. So you guys are telling me that if I wanted to talk to you I couldn't just pick up a phone; I'd have to drive out to see you? So you're telling me that Bollywood actors in India have to live in LA? So you're telling me that all the film networks in NYC have to live in LA. So you're telling me that although I am a writer, my career's been meaningless all this time because I don't live in LA. Are we seriously having this conversation? lol There's this little thing called the Internet. Let me tell you... once you sit down and get used to it... you'll be amazed at the capabilities it can perform. Skype alone allows you to hold online, video conference calls with LA execs. It's really amazing. So even though I've been doing this for years, I've been doing it wrong the whole time. @Michael Coady The keyword is "working screenwriter." In that context, it does help to collaborate in-person, but let's admit it fellas... screenwriting falls into a wide variety of categories. My career's been quite successful and I don't live in LA.

David Liberman

@Justin, I take it then you didn't read my response. Notice how I said "If you want to make Hollywood films, you MUST live in LA" Notice the key word Hollywood. Did I say Bollywood? No. Had you read other posts of mine (which I know you haven't) you'd notice that I have said things like "If you want to make British Films, you have to live in London. French Films? Paris. Australian Films? Sydney. Now let's not attack my character, Justin. This is an open forum and I can waltz into any conversation I choose to in any manner I'd like. Am I supposed to gently say something as to not offend you precious little baby ears? And how do you know I'm an amateur? What makes you so certain? FYI, I live in LA. I have optioned two features to LARGE production companies/producers. I have written over 13 features/and two series pilots. I've been in meetings with Relativity Media, Circle of Confusion, FilmNation, Envision Media Arts, Kopelson Entertainment (just to name a few). So,when you said to me "You can't be a successful writer with an entrance like that.", It now begs the question, how do you know what it takes to be a succesful writer?

Justin Kapr

I did catch that. lol I just love over-exaggerating the obvious. Dude, I'm not upset. I agree with you. You can do your thing any which way you please. I actually LOVED your entrance. I was clapping when I saw it. I figured I'd join in on it. I was referring to me being the amateur. lol I'm nobody bro. Seriously, that was the joke. I haven't written squad-oosh! lol Ok, maybe I should be a little more serious about being serious. But seriously, I'm not even an amateur. I'm just a smart ass. lol

Michael Olson

Write what you know. In other words, even if the scenes are in space with octopo people, those people should experience emotions and tasks like you might have experienced.

Chris Keaton

Shit, what I know is boring. I'm writing about stuff I'd like to know, interesting stuff. :) Remember, the only rule is to entertain. I hope all of this is clear as mud.

David Liberman

Enter into the scene as late as possile and leave as early as possible. This means don't show the car pull up to the driveway, then have the husband and wife get out, who are visibly upset, then have them enter the home, then have the tensions rise, then have them get into a long argument, etc etc. Instead, open the scene with them in the middle of the argument. Get into it right away. Leav in the smae manner. Get out of the scene quickly.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

don't treat that maxim as a "rule of thumb" - the obedient, lock-step use of any "theory" when applied to every story frequently works against the inherent rhythms and pacing that allow the story to breathe. For more on this, have a look at

Jessica Devlin

I really still can't stress enough how much you all have helped me. Thanks so much, really.

Lia Friesem

Yeah. Write. And write and write and write. And then write some more and more.

Chris Keaton

Now to give you some honest feedback. This was given to me and I think it helps..... You are never going to get rich and famous writing screenplays. You just can't. There about 10000 scripts written each year and last year there were 111 spec sales last year. Most of those came from working professional writers. People who have been doing this for years fight for each sale, which leaves us outsiders, well shit out of luck. If you sell one script it may be years before you sell another. So if you are in it for the money get out. If you are in it to be read, get out, write prose if you want someone to read your stories. So if you get into screenwriting do it because you love to write. Ultimately that's all that will come from it, you writing, no one reading and no one buying. I know it's rough, but it's the truth that no one will tell you unless they care.

Neil Golin

Now you have the hard part. You have to find the discipline to plant your ass into a chair and type your heart out, for hours, for days, for weeks. The hardest is the completion of the first draft. The rest is all just re-writing, which should be fun because it's your words and images that you're playing with.

Neil Golin

Chris is correct. The odds are stacked against you, just in the sheer bulk of numbers. Beside writing it, you have to sell it. That means a little salesmanship and packaging. You also need to meet people through networking because someone may know someone who knows someone who can help you. Living in L.A. and N.Y., it was easy to meet the right people and pitch them. Now living in Florida, face to face networking is all local, so there are few script buyers easily available for you. Faced with this Florida problem, I went around the system and got my own script finance; produced a shoot, directed the filming, did all the editing and now finishing post-production. So in summary, selling your script is hard. But, not impossible. It's up to the quality of the script and the quality of your pitch.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

selling them is one thing, having them made is another. There was one writer that I know of that did an adaptation of a novel and won the Academy Award for it, then he wrote and wrote and wrote - got some development money, sold a few scripts, had them shelved, wrote some plays, kept working and at the end of 20 years he had his next screenplay produced, which also won an Academy Award. The writer? Horton Foote. BTW why play by THEIR rules if they're gonna make it so hard for you? I've produced two features in the past year, written one and am currently writing another that will be shot in late 2013 - find out more at - it's time to re-invent a whole new industry... and technology is now on OUR side.

Vonnie Davis

Focus on your screenwriting; write 3 or 4 good screenplays in the same genre and low budget. All the while reading screenplays (available for free online). Learn to write good loglines and pitches (read Lockharts two articles on front page of Make cold call pitches to producers and agents/managers. This is what I am learning to do., too.

Vonnie Davis

Producers are looking for good writers and good scripts. Thay may not want your script, and just hire you as a writer. Be ready for this.

Lauran Childs

Just do it.

Richard Toscan

As several comments have suggested here, one of the best ways to learn this business of screenwriting is to read the screenplays of films you've liked. It's best to read them in so-called "draft" form, not shooting scripts. You can easily spot shooting scripts because they have shot/scene numbers running down the left hand margin. Draft screenplays are always much closer to what screenwriters actually wrote before directors got their fingers all over them. A good source for free downloads of Academy Award nominated scripts (and lots of others):

Yasmin Neal

get some sort of writing software- THERE ARE CHEAP AND FREE ONES AVAILABLE and then write out your ideas; line by line and then fill in the blanks with narrative later

Sammer Abu AlRagheb

Study story structure for screenplays and its beat before writing your first scene. Once you have what you need to fill a whole script, start writing. Make it your experiment. Read tons of screenplays, watch tons of great and none-great movies, touch on their basics and story structure and study everything about them. Remember, writing is a lifestyle, not a privilege. Happy writing

Kevin Little

Imagine if Jessica returned to this site 3 years after posting her question and found that people are still offering advice!

David Taylor

(After Kevin) Well Jessica. If you ever do return, you might find you no longer have interest in that question, or neither do we. However, S32 welcomes your children.

Dan Guardino

Yes I think she probably finished that class she was going to take by now. LOL!

Flint Rascal

Write from your heart then from your head!!

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