Anything worth doing well takes hard work and unfortunately, so many people don't appreciate or respect the craft of screenwriting and how difficult it actually is. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but it's the actual execution of the ideas put into 108-120 pages of script that takes self-discipline, hard work and commitment. Writers often think of new ideas when they're stuck in Act 2 or they have problems with the Act 3 climax. Other writers get discouraged when they're beginning at Fade In and realize they have over 100 more pages to go. They usually wonder what to do, because everything seems so unwieldy and they have no idea. The thought of having over 100 pages of script from beginning to end can seem quite formidable to anyone.
To make writing a screenplay more manageable you need to break down your 108-120 pages into scenes and acts. This allows your material to be easier to write and you won't lose your way in the middle of your script.
Today, with the popularity of novels being made into films, many novelists would like to adapt their own fiction into a screenplay if only they knew how. That is why so many novels that are adapted into screenplays aren't written by the novelist, but by a screenwriter. The two forms of writing are so completely different. Screenwriting has specific rules and the construction has to deal with your structure. Story structure is what good screenwriting is all about—a blueprint for laying out a story.
By now your blueprint for screenwriting is almost completed. You've laid down the foundation, constructed the framework, built your story and developed your characters. Now, you need to design your blueprint into a definite structure.
When you build a home it must have a floor plan showing the number of floors and the layout of the rooms on each floor. When you construct your screenplay it must have a layout, which is made up of scenes and acts.
The average length of a motion picture or a television movie is approximately 90 minutes to two hours. Knowing this approximate time limit is helpful, because it allows you to write the correct number of pages for your screenplay, since each page of screenplay equals a minute of film. A screenplay with 120 pages would be a two hour film.
A sure sign that you're a beginner would be if you'd write a 300 page screenplay. Nobody would read it let alone buy it. They will have neither the time nor the inclination. It will be clear to them that you don't understand the craft of screenwriting, which consists of acts and scenes written in a specific amount of pages.
What is a scene? A scene is a unit of drama, just as a brick is a unit of a building. You lay out each scene as you would lay bricks on a building. Each scene is laid down upon the scene preceding it, just as each brick is laid upon another brick. By constructing your scenes this way you will build a solid foundation for all the scenes in your screenplay. Every scene you write must be connected, from your opening scene, which sets up the problem, through to the climactic scene which ends your screenplay.
A scene, like your screenplay, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can think of your scene as a mini-screenplay, having all the same elements. In other words, your scene starts at one point of action and leads to another, which is the climax or end of your scene. As in a screenplay, you need to know the ending of your scene first, before you start writing it, and work backwards from your ending to the opening.
Every scene has a purpose. Without a purpose, the scene doesn't work. Before any students in my class write a scene, I have them ask, "What is the purpose or overall reason of this scene?"
Finding the purpose of your scene helps to give your scene focus. Perhaps the purpose of your scene is to introduce a love interest, show a crime being committed, or to plant a necessary clue for a detective to discover. Knowing your purpose keeps your writing solid and on track, and gives you a direction to follow. Can you tell your scene in a sentence or two?
If you're writing a scene that shows a man taking a woman on a first date, where is the best place to start the scene? The best place to start your scene is in the middle of the action! The middle of the ac tion means exactly what it says. The couple on a first date could be sitting together in a restaurant having dinner. Or they could be driving in his car on the way to a party.
You would never start your scene showing him driving to her apartment, parking the car, walking down the street to the apartment entrance, ringing the bell to enter, waiting for the elevator, riding the elevator to her floor, knocking at her door and introducing himself to her when she opens the door. This is all unnecessary and boring. Who cares how he gets to her apartment? It would slow down your story and waste time because nothing is happening!
On the other hand, if you want to show something happen to the man on the way to her apartment, then you would need to start the scene with him going to it. Maybe on the way to her apartment the man gets mugged or he sees a robbery in progress. Then it would be necessary to open the scene showing him on his way to pick her up, if that is the purpose of your scene. It is important for you to know what you want to accomplish in the scene before you start writing. If you can't state the purpose in a sentence or two, then rethink your scene or eliminate it, because it isn't focused.
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