Improve Your Screenwriting in 22 Steps

Everyone has at least one good story within themselves to tell, but not all people are writers, just as not all writers are screenwriters. Good news for you, right, you determined and spunky aspiring screenwriter? Well, yes and no.  The current rough odds of selling a screenplay to a major and minor Hollywood production company or within the independent market come in at 1 in 5,000. And that’s only if you’re a good screenwriter with a great script.

Part of your job as the aforementioned determined and spunky aspiring screenwriter is to cut those odds by half or even a quarter (don’t look at me like that, it’s doable). Here are 22 ways to set you on your path:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Read produced screenplays and search for what they did well. Read for a contest and see the difference between the winners and the ones that didn’t make it.
  3. Take screenwriting classes. I can easily recommend a few.
  4. Get feedback on your writing.
  5. Critique another writer’s scripts.
  6. Join a screenwriting group.
  7. Take your favorite screenplay and transcribe it, noticing the choices the writer made.
  8. Select a technique to improve and use it in one or more scenes.
  9. Write the same scene a completely different way: (Reverse a scene or character; Increase the stakes; Change who prevails in the scene; Use a twist to change the end of the scene; Put the characters in a worse position)
  10. Have another writer write one of your scenes in a completely different way.
  11. Take a character to an extreme to see what other possibilities are available.
  12. Take a line of dialogue or description and rewrite it 10 different ways or more.
  13. Stretch yourself: Give your character an unsolvable problem and then solve it.
  14. Pick a scene in a movie you like and write it. Once you have completed it, read the writer’s script for that scene and see how he or she wrote it differently.
  15. Watch a movie, stopping it at the end of each scene. Write down what happened in the scene, how the characters changed, what was the in and out points, and what was the most interesting part of the scene.
  16. Take your best idea and top it in some way! Sometimes, it is not about the writing. It is about the thinking and the breakthroughs and getting used to coming up with fresh ideas. Force yourself to top your best ideas on a regular basis and soon, you’ll have the best ideas in Hollywood.
  17. Find out what a producer or reader wants in a script. This can shift your chances dramatically. It may save you from writing something that has no chance of success.
  18. Take an acting class.
  19. Do a read-through with actors.
  20. Shoot a short on DV. For anyone who has done this, you’ve had the experience of seeing actors bring your script to life. Until you do, you can’t imagine the amount of pride and embarrassment you’ll experience. But directing even one scene will change how you write.
  21. Give yourself permission to write from your heart with no holding back.
  22. Decide that you will constantly improve your writing until you are one of the best screenwriters there is.

I know, I know, you probably won’t get around to doing everything on the list, but you should attempt to do at least one everyday. And that’s one in addition to writing (like I had to tell you that).

Sally forth and be writeful. And sell a script while you’re at it. I dare you.

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