I planned this series to deal with some fairly abstract writing principles, rather than brass tacks of writing plays, but had a question from somebody wondering about moving from poetry into screenwriting and thought I’d put up a sort of basic bit on getting started with dramatic writing.
First, format is of huge importance in plays, more than any other genre of writing--even haiku and sonnets--and is a learning curve in itself.
Rather than counting indents and remembering what to cap or center or underline, most people use programs designed to format their script. You would be out of your mind to try writing scripts without scripting software.
These are often big brand name like Final Draft or MovieMaker and cost hundreds of dollars. BUT you don’t have to pay that. I use a template for Word for Windows that works just fine. And there are free options available.
Celtyx is a free download, and a solid program praised by many experienced filmwriters. Many now use it for all their writing and it is evidently useful for creative control of larger projects.
There are lots of free templates out there. You just load them up like any other new document template and they do the formatting for you through macros. Trying templates can be time-consuming, though, and it might be easiest to just use Celtyx or some other program.
Here are some lists of the cheapest way to go with the least learning curve...templates for Word for Windows.
The first one is a zip file that you can open with winzip or something to reveal several template URLs the others should lead directly to free downloads that can be installed as windows templates and called up to create scripts.
Here is something totally new...a web-based script formatting program. You do your writing online and download the scripts. I haven't tried it. A couple of good writers who did say it's very cool. If you’re comfortable with working “in the cloud”
For users of Open Office, there is a free template to convert it to screenwriting:
You need to know the format your working in, whether for movies, TV, or plays. I’ll stick to screenwriting here, and among the many format samples (which people argue and bicker over constantly) this one stands out because it’s from the Academy and the Nicholl contest... THE script contest.
It’s well to penetrate the way scripts talk, the “accent” they use. They are told only in simple present tense, no compound verbs like “is walking” or “used to be there” or such. You can’t put things in your action and direction lines that the audience can’t see or hear. “It’s two weeks later” or “She’s thinking about her old boyfriend” don’t work unless you can figure out a way they can be seen or heard.
Warning: Many guides and books go on and on about use of SMASH CUT or FOLLOWING SHOT or CONTINUE or CLOSE UP or such. Actually, the current guide for “spec scripts”, which are what you submit to agents and contests and production companies have gotten away from that. You’re not writing a shooting script, you’re not directing the picture. Keep that in mind.
Your best guide is to read scripts. Read LOTS of scripts. We’re lucky these days; lots of scripts are available on the internet.
Among MANY sources, http://www.script-o-rama.com/
There are a jillion sites where you can get critiques and ask questions about story and format and such. Most of what you hear will be wrong. But what you hear many times, from people with experience, and born out in successful scripts is good learning.
There are sites ranging from ultra-newbie (like this one) up to forums where top writers post. I’m not going to post a list here. For one thing, nobody likes beginners dashing into a pro site and being a pest. You will find that if you progress with writing you end up hearing about sites to move up to as you are ready for them.
Good idea would be to start in simple sites like this one, or the many Yahoo screenwriting groups, then to AbsoluteWrite’s uneven but more advanced script area and post scenes for crit. Short stuff. Get the format nitpicks out of the way. There’s no point wondering if a scene works and only hearing about how you didn’t cap a character or used parentheticals wrong. When you can produce scenes without format errors, you’re ready to post longer pieces and get serious crits.
Two sites to be aware of are http://Zoetrope.com
run by Francis Ford Coppola and Kevin Spacey, respectively. You’d do well to join these sites now. Read the discussions. Get to know the people and groups. Read and review scripts when you think you’re ready for it. You learn a lot by reading scripts by other beginners, actually. When you’re ready you can upload short or feature length scripts there for formal review.
If you’re interested in TV Writing, there is one site that’s head and shoulders above the other and has forums that range from newbies to industry stars. http://tvwriter.com