Screenwriter Sarah Daly shares 5 tips on scriptwriting with Film Ireland
1. Know where you’re going
The more planning you do before you start actually writing your screenplay, the more likely it is that you’ll finish it. Having a detailed treatment is the best defence against the dreaded second-act block. That first rush of inspiration and momentum will take you up to around page 40, but if you don’t know where you’re heading at that point, you can easily get stuck, lose steam and meander unproductively or stop altogether. Not to say that you’ll necessarily stick 100% to your treatment – every screenplay diverges at least a little from the plan – but having a solid blueprint to refer to is vital and prevents you from going too far off track.
2. Leave out the camera directions
Unless you’re writing a script that you plan to shoot yourself, leave out all camera direction and just tell your story. It’s the director’s job to come up with camera angles and shots. A reader will find pans, zooms and tilts distracting and off-putting too.
3. Get straight into the meat of it
Don’t spend too much time setting up at the beginning of your screenplay. Try to get across what information you absolutely must in the most concise and visual way possible. Long expositional scenes at this stage will really affect the pace on the page and on screen. The first ten pages especially have to hook the reader (as the first ten minutes must hook the viewer) so make them great. A cinematic and attention-grabbing opening will set your script apart and get you off to a strong start with your reader.
4. Be brutal at the rewriting stage
Put every scene, every line, every word on the chopping block and cut anything that doesn’t progress your story, tell us something new about your characters or their world. Examine every element and make sure it earns its place in your story. If two characters perform the same function, cut one. If two scenes say the same thing, cut one. You’ll end up with something stronger, leaner, and more compelling.
5. Proofread and proofread again
This is an obvious one but typos and spelling mistakes make you look bad. Fair or not, a reader will judge you to be an inferior writer if your script is riddled with little errors. So, before you send your screenplay to a single soul, proofread it until your eyes hurt. It’s a good idea to call in a second set of eyes too if you can. The more checks the better. It’s a tedious process but it’s time well spent.
Sarah Daly is a screenwriter from Waterford best known for writing the Joseph Gordon-Levitt produced Morgan M. Morgansen short films and the critically acclaimed supernatural chiller Lord of Tears. Her next project is upcoming monster comedy Kids Vs Monsters, starring Malcolm McDowell.