Screenwriting : What advice would you give to someone just starting out in screenwriting? by Sandra Scott

Sandra Scott

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in screenwriting?

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your past self when you were just starting out, what would it be?

For instance, would you tell yourself to focus on character development, or maybe to prioritize outlining your story before diving into writing? A specific tool which was a game changer for your screenwriting? Or perhaps you'd emphasize the importance of finding your unique voice and style as a writer?

What’s your go to screenwriting tool and why?

I'm all ears for your wisdom and insights. Your advice could be a game-changer for me and others just starting out on this screenwriting journey.

Jack Teague

Brevity. Learn the difference between prose writing and screenwriting.

Robert Russo

Cut it till it bleeds. Scripts are usually overwritten. Cut until you can’t possibly cut anymore.

Adam Harper

Spend more time developing depth to your characters. My early scripts go in the direction I want them to rather than where my characters would take things. I cringe at the inauthenticity

Bill Albert

Some times you might need to just walk away from your script once in a while. Clear your head out, let the emotions settle, then go back with a fresh view.

Rufus Chaffee

You will have another great idea about 40 pages in. Don’t scrap your script to work on the new exciting idea. Push through and finish your first draft. Write pages every day - 1 page, 5 pages. Just write every day.

CJ Walley

I'd tell myself to prioritise being an artist over everything else, and that means being playful, indulgent, and unashamedly authentic.

Preston Poulter

Dan O'Bannon's Guide to Screenplay Structure

Stephen Folker

Write scripts. Write stories you'd want to see. Get something produced, whether that be on your own or finding someone.

Maurice Vaughan

Sandra ScottShow, don't tell.


I used to write, “She's scared.” I was “telling” the reader that the character was scared.

Now, I’d write something like, “Anna's breathing turns erratic. Her heart bangs against her chest, drowning out her breathing. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!

One of my go-to screenwriting tool is Stage 32's Screenwriting Lounge. I didn't have anything like it when I started screenwriting.

Scott Sawitz

Read lots of scripts from contemporary films ... and write in that style.

The best way to learn how to be on that professional level writer is see what gets produced and emulate that. People will argue about stupid shit, like we see and bolded sluglines, but things like the amount of white space, using bold/italic/underline for emphasis, etc, are much more helpful.

Richard "RB" Botto

See some good comments here, so I'll go a different way. One, don't take notes personally. You're going to get them until the day you stop writing. And remember that it's only one person's opinion.

Two, speaking to that last point, when you're done with your first rewrite (not first draft), get 3 sets of notes. If one person gives you a particular note, consider it. If 2 people give you the same note, look into it. If 3 people give you the same note, change it.

Ashley Renee Smith

Challenge yourself to write your characters from different perspectives. You want to ensure that your characters feel real, with individual voices. A common problem many writers have when starting out is writing all of their characters to sound the same. That unified voice is usually the writer's voice seeping in. Push yourself to think differently and approach your story from a different angle, the way a different person might so that your characters are all distinct.

Dan MaxXx

Set up trust fund, enjoy life, and write confidently on the page, employers want what you bring off the page; there are thousands of script experts/fixers after you. But you're the start!

Pat Alexander

It's a longer process than you want it to be. Also the pomodoro method while writing helps you get stuff done efficiently!

D A Stenard

READ! Read a lot of scripts- good and bad and in the middle.

Nick Phillips

Outline as much as possible, be as ready as you can be to create that first draft. I know people who just try and jump into writing the Great American Script without nearly enough prep or organization. Do the advance work, get that first draft out, then build on it from there. Do not micromanage yourself and go back and revise what you wrote the day before, you'll never finish.

Trenor Rapkins

Pay for a qualified consultant to go over your query/pitch. It really is worth the money. Also pay for script "coverage." Because there are so many little things that the industry people expect to see and they will use any little excuse to reject your work.

Michael David

Tell the story you want to tell. Don't be afraid of people.

Matthew Kelcourse

Hi Sandra Scott, don't become one of those "only use DAY or NIGHT in your sluglines kinda keyboard jockies. In other words: there are some strict formatting rules, but not nearly as many as there used to be (so I'm told). Get a good software program to help format (I like Final Draft) and then be creative before you nibble away at the exposition and excessive prose. If there's one steadfast rule I try to stick to (it's second nature) is "Show, don't tell". So be consistent, open, and tell a good story in the proper format.

I also like the quotes that apply to early writers and drafts (don't know who said them first), "Write as if no one else is ever gonna see it" and, "Expect your first screenplay to bomb".

And: Enjoy the ride. Screenwriting is the most fun you can legally have without limits!

Rutger Oosterhoff

... What if you could do all of that - and more, much more -- with one 'simple' managing program organize your life, work, optimise partnerships, be the most creative you can posdibly be -- ADVERTISING A FILM SOFTWARE MANAGING SYSTEM in a LOUNGE where it normally is NOT ALLOWED but NOW IS because it brought as "EDUCATIONAL". Smart!

Jim Boston

Sandra, my one piece of advice to my past self would be: "Don't you DARE listen to any naysayers. Don't listen to people who, despite constantly putting other folks down, don't know what they themselves want in life."

Thanks so doggone much for posting...and glad you're here on Stage 32!

D A Stenard

Jim, you are absolutely right! I just congratulated a person who has been trying for 21 years to get his Christmas script made. It coming out this year!

Pat Alexander

couldn't agree more Jim Boston ! don't let people get you down, just keep working and learning

Jim Boston

Pat and D A, thanks bunches...and here's wishing all kinds of success to the writer whose Christmas script is finally getting made!

Anna Marton Henry

Such great advice here! I'll add one more that only seems obvious... great writers write. All the time. Every day. The people whose careers I've seen go nowhere write a first draft, get notes that tear that apart, get discouraged even though they see that the work needs to be done, and abandon the script. Then they don't write anything for months before starting again on something new. Screenwriting is "iterative." Successful writers do many, many drafts, improving relentlessly. And every time they finish writing something, they begin something new. The best showrunners I've worked with doodle random scenes or lines of dialogue or wording for a pitch on any white surface left within their grasp (notepads, napkins, birthday cards, some important document you accidentally left in their office...).

Dan Guardino

Write economically so the screenplay reads like a screenplay and not like a novel.

Michael A. Levine

My wife and I met David Zucker (Airplane!, The Naked Gun) at a Univ. of Wisconsin alumni event. (He went to UW, as my wife and I did.) Someone asked him what advice he'd give to a young writer starting out. He said, "Give it up. You'll never make it. It’s hopeless. You have no talent. Do something - anything - else." He paused, then added. "If you still want to write after hearing that, you've passed your first test."

Pat Alexander

Hahaha that's amazing Michael A. Levine. You do have to have really thick skin to make it in this industry

Miquiel Banks

I would say focus on Finishing First!!!! You can't rewrite or fix excuses or unfinished drafts...

Bill Brock

BE GOOD TO YOURSELF. Take good care of your mental and physical HEALTH. I've had the ability and good fortune to write 8 quality feature screenplays (some winners, many finalists), yet would not have achieved said accolades if I lacked the proper capacities to do so. Do not become that tortured writer that is engulfed in the printed page. ALLOW YOURSELF TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST, and everything else should follow in a natural and logical way. BEST OF LUCK!

This message is brought to you by the fine folks of Brock's Monkey Productions.

Bill Brock

"DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION SCREENWRITING ADVICE"-- Head down to your local shelter and RESCUE a dog. It's a definite WIN-WIN!! Whenever I get stuck in a scene and need some answers, I reach for the leash and take "Molly Ringwald" (Yep, they're both red heads.) for a nice walk in order to figure things out. I always seem to return to the house with plenty of fresh ideas!

Thanks, Molly! Good Girl! : )

Nick Phillips

First off, really love the double secret probation reference Bill Brock! And second, kudos on the dog suggestion!

Nick Phillips

Sandra Scott Hope you're finding all of this feedback helpful. This is a great thread!

Niki H

Write every day, no matter what it is. Read a shit-ton of scripts :) Allow yourself to write crappy stuff.

Pat Alexander

Niki H ditto. you can never read enough scripts!

Anthony Murphy

Niki H That's what I do. Some call it free writing, where you make a commitment with yourself to sit down and write for X amount of time every day. Don't worry about what you write or how good it is, for the important thing is that you sit down and write every day. I do a half an hour as my daily mandatory-minimum, but that half hour usually turns into two, three, four, or more hours. .

Asmaa Jamil

Take courses, read about the industry, keep writing all kinds of genres, and continue learning.

Ewan Dunbar

Totally agree with everyone saying read as many scripts as you can. Another great thing to do is to take notes when you read or see something that you like and ask yourself why you, as an audience member, liked it. This will give you a deeper understanding of what works and what creative work has been done to achieve it.

Jane Tumminello

Write what you love and have a ton a patience. It's going to be a marathon.

Robert Deege

A lot of great comments here. My first thought which has been echoed here is to read as many scripts as you can. Read good scripts - contest-winning entries, produced screenplays, etc, but also read some ones that aren't as good or at least haven't yet been recognized. Try to discern what things are separating the good ones. My other thought is if you have an opportunity to do coverage - as an intern, assistant or even on your own - do it. When you have to deconstruct a script and its elements, it forces you to think about it differently, and if you do it enough, you can start to apply this analysis to an extent to your own writing endeavors.

Jenna D'Amato

I'd say "Keep writing no matter how many no's you get. If you're meant to be a writer, you'll get a yes one day. It will also take a lot of drafts to get there. You will end up having to rewrite/cut out a lot of your script but it will help you realize the heart of your story. Also, be patient. This industry is a lot of "Hurry up and then wait."

Bill Brock

Nick Phillips Thanks Nick! Yeah, my girl, Molly, has been the answer to my screenwriting sanity. : )

Ashley Renee Smith

Great advice, Bill Brock. We rescued our puppy this past fall and he's made a huge impact on my mental health. Whenever I feel myself getting frustrated, anxious, or stuck, he gives me the space to take a break, get air, play, or have some much-needed cuddles. It really does help!

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