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Writing Screenplays

Creative people often like to write; perhaps poems, short stories or even novels. Then there are those who might be into amateur dramatics and fancy trying their hands at plays and screenplays. Although both are scripts to be portrayed by actors, stage plays are different to productions performed in front of cameras. The written version of the latter has to provide more than simply the words spoken by the characters plus a few guidelines such as: Enter Laertes and Ophelia. The writer of a screenplay has to picture each scene and give cast and crew some inkling of how they imagine it playing out. This may even include suggestions regarding a character's inner feelings that influence the way the actor's lines and actions make this clear to the viewer.

There is always a story of some kind, and this is an essential ingredient in any written work. The bottom line is: IF YOU DON'T HAVE A STORY, YOU DON'T HAVE A THING! Also, whatever your story is about and however it moves along, it will have an ending. Once you know that, you are well on your way. Start by writing a brief synopsis in three sentences - setup, middle, end - then read it out to someone, telling it from start to finish. Until you can do this and feel happy that it works, you aren't ready to write your screenplay. Here are a few suggestions that will hopefully be of use.

Know what you wish to achieve - do you want your audience to cry, laugh, get angry, etc. Know the objective of the script - in the example "Christmas in September" the objective is to help two grieving sisters cope with the loss of their parents.
Know the objective of each character and use the other characters to support their strengths and weaknesses.
Each word and line must have an objective. If it doesn't, it shouldn't be in the script!

Start with three easy stages - BUT first think of a good ending; then decide where the story should begin. Finally, join the two with the middle. This will most likely be the longest part; but don't pad it out with unnecessary details/dialogue. If something doesn't help the story to achieve its objective, leave it out!

Complex works will lose you your audience. The shortest route from beginning to end is often the best. And remember: the first few words, moments and scenes of a screenplay will determine how many people will still be watching and enjoying at the end of the performance.

That's what your screenplay is - just a small episode in the lives of the characters. Before it, there was a past, and after it there will be a future. Only you know what these are and how they affect what is happening now.

This is the most important stage. It is the way for you to see if your idea is working. It has to be convincing, believable and your best work yet! Get your friends or family to act out the parts; direct them; change lines; ask for suggestions - anything to improve what you started with. The chances are, if you don't like what you see, neither will anyone else. If that happens, change it or begin again.

A single page of a screenplay is approximately one minute of screen time. So, a half hour show for TV should be no more than about 30 pages, less to allow for commercial breaks. Have a look at the PDF "Christmas in September". It was written for the members of an acting agency to get experience on a film set by working on an actual sitcom which was originally filmed in 1996. If you think this kind of writing might be for you, click on the PDF of this page for advice on how to format the various parts of your screenplay.

Click this Click for PDF file image to view or print complete article with examples.

Christmas in September - the screenplay
  I wrote this screenplay back in 1996. A 30 minute sitcom, it was intended for the members of an acting agency to get experience working on a film set and was originally produced as The Magic of Christmas. The story is fairly simple, and without giving too much away, it is about friends trying to help two sisters cope with their grieving after the death of their parents.
  In this instance, I use it as an example of how to write a screenplay. The full article Writing Screenplays, which includes suggestions on formatting, is a PDF. As for Christmas in September, being quite long it is unsuitable for the usual website page, so here is also the PDF version which can be downloaded, and printed if you like, to be read when convenient.

Please enjoy

Dave Hawkins

Click this Click for PDF file image to view or print: The Screenplay Christmas in September.

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