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How to Start Writing Your Screenplay

5 stress-free steps to get you going

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by Naomi in pre-writing, screenwriting
screenwriting blog article

So you want to write a screenplay. And you have an idea you’re really excited about. Now what?

Where do you actually… start?

How to get started with a screenwriting project

Sometimes starting is the hardest part.

Maybe the process seems too big and daunting. Maybe you’ve read a bunch of how-to books, but are still feeling confused about the actual steps to take. Maybe you’re experiencing a little fear around wanting to do the idea justice.

It’s easy to get in our heads and psych ourselves out about wanting to do it “right”. So it can be helpful to take a step back and remember that starting is just one step in the process. The only way it’s going to make or break you is if you don’t do it.

I love this Arthur Ashe quote as a mindset reminder:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

So you’re in a productive frame of mind, but you’re still feeling stuck? Not quite ready to dive in?

One thing that can help you get moving on a project is to have a plan that feels manageable. If the method seems simple enough, it’s easier to set aside whatever fear you’re dealing with and get yourself to take action.

Here are five of the easiest steps to take to get your screenplay started.

Screenplay Writing

Step 1. Do you have a screenplay idea?

If you want to write a screenplay but haven’t landed on an idea yet, then start with some brainstorming & idea-generating games to see what you spark to. Here are 3 games for generating screenplay ideas right now.

Step 2. Start your screenplay with a brain dump

If you already have the idea you know you want to write, one way to ease into it is with a brain dump. Just free-write everything you know about the idea, everything that makes you excited about it, everything you hope for it to end up being.

Anything at all that comes to mind when you think of your idea. Dump it all into one document. It’s exciting to let your imagination go and just type (or hand-write) with abandon.

Since there’s no other purpose for this document, there’s no pressure to make it “good.” The best version of this document is the one that contains as much about your idea as you can think of.

Step 3. Create your screenplay foundation

Then you can start pulling some bits and pieces from that brain dump document to create the foundation of your screenplay.

What pieces of information should you look for in the brain dump document? Start with things like:

  • who the main character is
  • what his/her story goal is
  • what the plan is to achieve it
  • who’s standing in the way
  • what’s at stake

These are some of the building block story elements you need for a solid screenplay.

The great thing about this step is that you probably already have a lot of what you need from your brain dump. You’re not starting from scratch here, which makes it so much easier to approach.

When you’re clear on the basics you can start building out your screenplay in more detail, knowing that the foundation is sound enough to hold up to some experimenting and trying new things along the way.

 

(If you need help with this step or want more explanation, sign up to the Write + Co. mailing list to get a copy of the Screenplay Jump Start pdf and other helpful tools for screenwriters.)

 

Step 4. Organize your screenplay structure

Start organizing what you know so far into the three acts. I’ve heard of writers using three (or four, if you like to divide the 2nd act into halves) pieces of notebook paper to do this. Like a kindergarten craft project. See? No pressure.

Use each of the pages to hold what you know goes into each act. And if thinking of your screenplay in acts is still too daunting, ask yourself:

  • What goes in the setup? (who, what, where, why, how)
  • What goes in the escalation? (obstacles and conflict)
  • What goes in the resolution? (a final push, a last battle, solving the problem once and for all)

Nothing has to be set in stone. Simply note what you know or think you know. Or know you need to know eventually.

Great! You are well on your way and you hardly broke a sweat. But what if you know all this and you still… can’t… do it.

Step 5. How to start writing

Still having trouble starting?

Is it fear? Perfectionism? Insecurity? We’ve all been there. Whatever your unique cause, here are some tips (from Psychology Today) for when you know what you need to do, and you just need to overcome that inertia:

Start Small. Ask yourself, “Why is it too hard to do this for just 15 minutes?” It isn’t, and you’ll find that you quickly enjoy some tasks (somewhat).

Challenge Yourself. Dispute the idea that you can’t do it. Often, we learn by trial and error, and if you take a long-range view, you’ll find that you can do something difficult.

Keep Tabs. Write out your goals daily. We’re more likely to stick to our plans if we monitor our progress toward a goal.

Commit to Others. Make a public commitment to complete a task. The extrinsic motivation provided by others will make you more conscientious about getting it done.

Accept Incremental Progress. Dispute the idea that you need comfort and immediate reward. Getting rid of these ideas can refocus you on your long-term goal.

Reward Yourself. Relaxation differs from laziness in that it is a reward for a completed task. Let yourself relax after a period of sustained effort.

Which small step will you start your screenplay with?

Here’s your challenge: Determine where you are, and then decide which step to take next to get you there:

  • Gather some inspiration and new ideas.
  • Fill out the 9 Screenplay Jump Start questions to create a strong foundation for your screenplay.
  • Write your logline.
  • Organize your outline.

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ADVANCE YOUR STORY

Starting a screenplay? Pitching a project? Write a logline that launches your screenplay with this free 15+ page guide - including 8 logline templates. Enter your email address below and get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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