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Meet the Reader

Guest Blogger: Ray Morton, author of film-related books such as A Quick Guide to Screenwritingoutlines the process of how to write a screenplay on Script Magazine.

Meet the Reader: How to Write a Screenplay in Nine (Not So) Easy Steps

One of my consulting clients – a very nice fellow who is just getting started on his very first script – asked me to outline the process of writing a screenplay for him. I was originally just going to jot down a few brief notes, but as I got into it, I found myself developing a much more extensive document, which I’ve decided to share with you – as a summation for experienced writers and as a road map for beginners. So here they are – the process of writing a screenplay, broken down into nine basic steps.

1.  Assemble Your Tools

The first step in writing anything is to gather your implements. Most screenwriters today work on a computer (with some using special screenwriting software — e.g. Final Draft – while others just use a regular word processing program), although some still prefer to write by hand and a few continue to use a typewriter.

2. Outline

The outline is the written skeleton of your story – the document in which you lay out your plot.  Many screenwriters create very detailed, formal outlines, complete with numbered and lettered headings and subheadings. Others simply make a list of the basic story points (a.k.a. “beats”) called a “step sheet” or a “beat sheet.” Some jot down each beat on an individual index card and then shuffle the cards around until they come up with a satisfactory shape for their tale.

3. Treatment

A treatment is a screen story written in prose form, with little or no dialogue. A treatment is more developed than an outline and gives you the room to flesh out the narrative and characters in greater detail, as well as use the prose to set a specific tone for the piece. Some treatments are just a few pages long; others are almost as long as a finished screenplay. James Cameron writes what he calls a “scriptment” – a long treatment that contains patches of dialogue, although not as much as in his final scripts. Inspired by the Great Terminator King of Pandora, an increasing number of writers are opting to do this as well.

Keep reading at Script Magazine for the rest of the steps!

The Quick Guide to Screenwriting is the ultimate reference manual to the art, craft, and business of writing for the movies. In a series of brief but comprehensive segments, the book covers the entire process of creating a film script, from conceiving the initial idea, to developing the story, to producing a polished and professional final draft. Covered topics include the history of screenwriting; commercial vs. “personal” writing; the three basic types of screenplays; how to brainstorm ideas; developing and structuring a story; the techniques of cinematic storytelling; screenplay style and formatting; essential tools of the screenwriting trade; the seven basic steps to writing a screenplay; important screenwriting dos and don’ts; how to get quality feedback and then use it to improve your work; and the business of screenwriting, including copyright and registration of finished material, the function of agents and managers, the Writers Guild, contracts, the development process, and how to bring your work to the attention of the industry. Written in smart, reader-friendly prose, the book is chock-full of the vital information, helpful tips, and keen advice that will help you make your script the best it can be.