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How To Write
A Movie
Contents
Quick Start
Example:
Prom Date
 
Getting Started
What to Write
Writing Methods
 
Fundamentals
Characterization
Plot
Scene
Dialogue
 
Short Scripts
Plot
Character
 
Format
Specifications
Types of scripts
Slug line
Scene Description Lines
Terms
example
 
Perfecting
Beware!
Rewriting
 
Helpful Things
Stop Theft!
Teacher's Information
Resources
About This Guide
 
Quick Start Summary 

Use this summary to start creating your screenplay right away. And then use it for a handy reference to detailed information as you write. Have a great time and good luck!

If you want to make notes for yourself as you go, click the Notepad icon above, or click the information text for more information. 

Click the jump text to see more information about each topic.

What To Write: it's up to you

Write about what interests you. It will be more fun and if it interest you it will probably interest others. Keep the following in mind:

  • Unusual things and surprises really get attention (but don't get too radical). 
  • If the outcome of the story is predictable, I can predict a lullaby rating. 
  • Humor can be a helpful element in any story, but too much humor spoils it. 
  • One page equals about one minute of screen time, so shoot for ten to thirty pages, which is typically about three to twelve scenes. Hint: it's easier in some ways to write thirty pages than ten because shorter stories need more intensity.
Writing Methods: pick a method, any method

Use the method best suited to you - just get started. At some early point you should write out the plot or story line so you don't waste ten erasers.

Making Fascinating Characters: where stories often begin

Creating characters who have real wants and needs is a great place to start. Often the best stories come straight from the characters. 

Create your main character and an opposing character, then a couple of friends. Throw them together in a situation where they're struggling for something they want, and there it is - the story writes itself.

Example story: Prom Date illustration of dramatic structure

Stories have three acts... exciting acts! Grab a pencil and write your own outline using this one as an example. You'll be surprised how easy it is.

Act I grabs our attention like cool drinks on a hot beach. Main characters dazzle us with their entrances, and a problem we're dying to see solved develops into a big crisis: somebody wants something really really (way) badly! For example, Tom wants to star in the basketball final, needs to complete his rock collection for geology, but needs an A on his calculus final to pass high school, both are tomorrow - and he hasn't studied all semester! 

The crisis launches us into Act II, which will be about fifty percent of the story. There the main character (Tom) struggles to get his prize. But the problems get bigger and bigger, draining his strength and destroying his will. Tom's worst enemy is the only person in town who has the rock he needs. Tom sprains his ankle. He realizes all this talk in calculus about triangles was about math, not art. And his girl friend is dumping him. Beaten and broken he must do the impossible - which moves the story into Act III. 

We're on the edge of our seats going into Act III! Will Tom win this final battle and get his rock collection gathered from eighty city blocks (where his angry girl friend dumped them), and ace the calculus test, and win the ball game with a sprained ankle? Some way Tom succeeds at something important and learns something in the process. Easy, isn't it? Dramatic structure is explained in more detail in a sample story line, Prom Date.

Plot: the thing that moves your story forward

What is going to happen in your story? The basic plot is the main source of conflict, which creates tension. Plots have to have conflict to keep our interest. Tension comes from the main characters opposing each other or striving for something. Then all the details that drive the story this way and that make up the full plot. Writing the full story without knowing the plot, is a gamble that everything will work, and frequently it doesn't. 
Click the green text to see the full topic.

Scene: the fundamental building block of movies

The fundamental building block of screenplays. It lasts an average of three minutes and takes place in one location. When the location or time changes, it is a new scene. Think of scenes as situations that are like a mini-story. 
Click the green text to see the full topic.

Dialogue: writing what people say

Dialogue is what people say: their exact words without "quotation marks" or he said, she felt, she remembered, etc. Each line of dialogue should be as short as possible - don't talk to us like you talk to your friends. 
Click the green text to see the full topic.

Set-ups and Characters For Short Scripts

Ten to twenty page short scripts make special demands on character and plot. Make it easier on yourself - read more about this. 

Format:making it so Hollywood can read it

Screenplays follow an easy format; and if they're not in it, no one will read it. 
See the example.

Rewriting: the best kept secret in Hollywood

Some mistakes will earn you the title of amateur. Avoid these things and you'll look good on paper. 

Getting Feedback 

The best thing to do is talk to others about your story and get their input (unless you're very sensitive). Ask others what they would do in a situation similar to your character's. Not an expanded topic. 

Stop Theft

Major studios are honest and million dollar lawsuits discourage the dishonest from plagiarizing stories. But chances are, if you have an idea, you will see something like it within the next three years. 

Teacher's Information

Students may safely skip this part unless they are afraid the teacher is learning secrets they should know. 

You can read this like a book if you want, or select topics at random. To read this like a book, click the colored text with the double underlines at the end of each topic and section. To return to a previous topic, click the "Back" button at the top . Click the Back button repeatedly to return to a topic that is several jumps back.

Next: example story, Prom Date

Distribution:

You are free to give this article in its entirety to others (small groups, under 100) as long as the copyright with my name (Dorian Scott Cole) is included. This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole. Complementary distribution (unpaid - no charge) will not be charged for. Visit the Visual Writer Web site for e-mail address information.


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