Before I started writing my very first screenplay, I naturally tried to Google my way through screenplay lessons that would hopefully help me to make the entire journey easier. However, the initial lessons that I drew from other people were not exactly the same as my own.
This is no surprise since every writer has their own methods, mental worlds, and writing style – but I was still hoping that we would more or less be on the same page in terms of what we needed to know as complete beginners.
The following are my very first screenplay lessons that I drew from my own work, Leaving Irnia (2019). Perhaps some of them will also be beneficial for you on your journey to becoming a screenwriter.
1. Formatting is crucial but not difficult
Formatting the script properly was easily my biggest fear when I started writing my first screenplay. I didn’t know any of the rules, was worried that it would take me ages to format everything properly on my own, and was frankly embarrassed to let other people see my formatting mistakes.
In order to make things easier, I decided to search for a script formatting tool that would, hopefully, do the job for me. I didn’t have the funds to purchase any of the tools though, so I had to find something that would help me for free. This is where WriterDuet (not sponsored) came in to save the day.
It took me about 15 minutes to familiarize myself with the different toolbar options on the left sidebar, and then I was ready to go! By the time I reached the second page, I knew about 80% of everything I needed to know about formatting a screenplay.
2. It takes a long as writing a novel
Out of all the screenplay lessons, this is the one that shocked me the most. You would think that, considering the length of screenplays and their page structure, they would take much less time than a novel to write. After all, an average screenplay is about 100 pages and totals about 20,000 words.
Considering the fact that an average novel has about 50,000 words, this seems easy!
However, it’s anything but. The structure and pacing of a screenplay is very different from that of a novel (more on this in a different post). In fact, it still took me about 3 months to complete the screenplay, which is as long as it would have taken me to reach a decent draft of a novel.
3. Inject humor for life
The genre of my first screenplay was drama/sci-fi with quite a dark story behind it. Because of this, I went into writing it thinking that almost everything on the page would be dark, because it felt like I didn’t have enough space to tell the story.
However, it was the moments of humor in the story that really helped to change the pace, introduce new characters, and even relieve a depressing situation.
It wasn’t any kind of forced humor. Simply a natural way of looking at the world at a time when everything seems to be falling apart. It was the humor that brought a much-needed level of humanity into the script, and frankly, made for some of my favorite moments in the screenplay.
4. Read screenplays
I’ve definitely learned to read more screenplays after my first attempt at writing one. I had only read one or two screenplays before writing Leaving Irnia, which was nowhere near enough to truly understand the structure and style of storytelling that comes with screenplays.
I have now made it my mission to read about 5 screenplays every week. Not to take other people’s ideas, but to learn different ways to express myself through this very unique form of writing.
5. The screenplay must be completed
No matter what happens or how many new ideas form in your head, if you start a screenplay you must finish the screenplay. Even if no one else is ever going to read it, even if you are almost certain that it sucks, the screenplay needs a point of completion.
Not only is this an important feeling of satisfaction for you, it will also train your mind to know that you are actually capable of finishing your own story.
I’m curious to see how other people approached their first try at writing a screenplay. What were the best screenplay lessons that you learned from your first attempt?