50 Tips to Be a Better Screenwriter

Plan your screenplayWhat follows are fifty “in the trenches” tips for becoming a better screenwriter. I’ve used all of these at some point or another. And, I continue to use many of them in my day-to-day life as a persistent screenwriter. Use what works well for you and ignore what doesn’t. In doing so, you just might kick yourself into a productive state (and that’s always a good thing).

If you have other creative tips or techniques that benefit your screenwriting habits, please drop me a comment below.

I hope some of these help you progress and flourish. I wish you the best wherever you are on your path to becoming a better screenwriter. May these serve you well:

50 Tips to Become a Better Screenwriter

  1. Write a detailed treatment for your story. Goal: make it ten pages long.
  2. Write a scene-by-scene breakdown of your script.
  3. Write three pages of prose (diving into your story) before beginning your script.
  4. Adapt a short story that you write into a short script. Feel the difference.
  5. Keep a Google Doc of loglines (even if you don’t turn them into features).
  6. Use Plot Devices’ Storyclock Notebooks (or workbooks) to reverse engineer movies.
  7. Reverse engineer a movie from memory.
  8. Use a different screenwriting software platform for a day. Observe the difference.
  9. Learn Fountain and write a screenplay in a Plain Text Editor.
  10. Spend a day playing with your software-of-choice’s settings, especially text and page colors.
  11. Create a Spotify playlist (i.e. soundtrack) for your project. Listen while you write.
  12. Write your script while listening to NO music — only the flow of your “movie mind.”
  13. Watch your favorite movie three times (while taking notes) and use what you love about it in your next project.
  14. Read screenplays and ask yourself, “How is this writer solving the problem of how to tell his or her story?”
  15. No matter what, commit to completing your script. Don’t leave it unfinished.
  16. Read screenwriting theory books as if you’ve never studied screenwriting before.
  17. Use whatever theories work for you. Discard the rest.
  18. Read psychoanalysis, philosophy, communication theory, religious texts for thematic inspiration and/or character work.
  19. Use VLC to rip the audio from movies that you want to listen to, and listen, listen.
  20. As you listen, practice imagining the movie in your head. This will work that particular muscle.
  21. As you listen, focus on how the characters interact. Use their voices next time you write.
  22. Or, as you listen, actually imagine the screenwriter writing that scene (i.e. words on the page). Imagining this will feed your unconscious when it comes time for you to write.
  23. Write from the standpoint of you already being a screenwriter. Yes, you are in the “learning mode,” but you are also completely immersed in the craft. Write with confidence.
  24. Set yourself time challenges such as: I will write for one hour. Or, I will write ten pages today. Reward yourself or take a break when you are done.
  25. Give yourself a mega goal and follow through, such as: I will write thirty-five pages today. Reward yourself or take a break when you are done.
  26. Watch three or movies in one day. Reverse engineer all of them.
  27. Immerse yourself in a book. Read for at least three hours with no distractions.
  28. Keep track of how many screenplays you have read. Make a list. Read more.
  29. Spend one week reading ONE screenplay per day. If this is too much, spend one week reading ten pages of a screenplay per day.
  30. Graph out a story with crayons and markers. See how the narrative perception shifts.
  31. Create a cinematic sound collage of various samples. Be an abstract DJ. Imagine that your mix is a movie. How would you structure it?
  32. Create a Youtube playlist of scenes that you feel emotionally work together. For me, I love to watch the end of “Magnolia” and the end of “No Country for Old Men” back to back. These are beautiful moments — endings to aim for in my own work.
  33. Use Blacklist and get critical feedback.
  34. Use Inktip and see if your work attracts any producers.
  35. Enter a contest. Prior to doing so, craft your script to work well within that contest. Polish it beyond belief.
  36. Read scripts that have placed well in contests. They are likely superbly written.
  37. Make a “Dream Cast” list for your next project. Try to push the actors’ voice into your head and put that on the page.
  38. Reach out to directors and see what kind of scripts they are interested in (and if they will, perhaps, read your work.
  39. Reach out to producers and see what kind of scripts they are interested in (and if they will, perhaps, read your work.
  40. Take an older script of yours and revise it.
  41. Take an older script of yours and rewrite it from memory.
  42. Post your work to forums like Reddit and see if you can get someone to provide coverage. Return the favor if you are able.
  43. Become a script reader for a director or a studio.
  44. Write your own coverage of professionally written scripts.
  45. Write your own coverage for writers who (on sites such as Reddit) might be looking.
  46. Never be afraid to write a “bad script.” Or, said otherwise, don’t let your fear of writing a bad script stop you from telling the story you want to tell.
  47. Be structured and spontaneous. Use whatever page-by-page system you like to organize your story beats, but don’t be afraid to deviate if it feels right. You can always clean it up later.
  48. Find a mentor, someone who will read your work and give you unbiased (or seemingly unbiased) critiques of your work. It helps if this person has your best interest in mind. Choose carefully.
  49. Write scripts (and/or put these tips into practice) with genres that are outside of your comfort zone.
  50. At the end of each day, be grateful that you have been chosen to write, and that you have accepted that call. Be grateful that the spirits of story flow through you and desire to be told. Be thankful that you can use your desire and channel it into stories that might find their way into the lives of other people. And, most importantly, keep writing. Persistence and reflection will, if anything, grow you into a better writer if you always try to approach the craft with reverence, awe, and pure love.

UPDATES: 

  • Listen to screenwriting-related podcasts (like Ashley Scott Meyers’ Selling Your Screenplay) or Scriptnotes.
  • Pick a time to write and test out your productivity. For example, try writing every night from 8:00 pm until 9:00 pm. Take a week to adjust and then monitor for the following three weeks.
  • Consider an MFA in Creative Writing or an MFA in Screenwriting (and/or film production)
  • Interact with game writers and/or game developers who use narrative. Pick their brains as to how they craft their character choices and world designs.

Thank you for reading.

If you are interested in receiving professional coverage from your screenplay, check out my screenplay consultant service. Thank you.

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