Writing The Screenplay Finally

Whether you opted for index cards or the treatment approach, and it took you twenty-four crazed and manic hours or months of painstaking research, you've now arrived at the moment when you can actually start writing the screenplay. A shiver goes down your spine, whether from terror or excitement, you're not sure.

But you are ready. And, given all of the preparatory work you've already done, you're much further along than you think. In fact, many writers feel like they've finished the screenplay when they've gotten this far - the story is done, and now all they need to do is write it down. Before you do, however, you would do well to:

(1) Set aside a regular writing time, preferably every day. All the good intentions in the world won't get that screenplay down on paper. You would be amazed at how much work you can get done in even an hour a day;

(2) Set aside a regular place to write. While some writers thrive on being locked in a silent, padded cell (so no one can hear them scream, tearing their brain cells out trying to get the scene right), others prefer to listen to music compatible with the genre they're writing in; while still others prefer the background hum of life, working at a café, or on a commuter train. Figure out which approach works for you, and stick to it.

There is no one way to approach the writing process. But it's been my experience that putting yourself in the same time and place every day lets the muse know where to find you. If you don't believe in muses, call it inspiration, or call it showing up for work. Whatever you call it, the habit of showing up to do your work in a consistent way does seem to trigger what one writer-producer friend calls "writer's trance." Like a focused meditation, it's almost as if your brain waves go into a different pattern, engaging with this fictional universe you're creating, because it expects to. It's the closest thing to time/space travel I know of outside of a holodeck, and can be as deliriously exciting as it sounds. The more consistently you spend time in your fictional universe, the easier it becomes to get back there whenever you need to. But the work doesn't get done by itself, or if you're distracted, or wish you were doing something else.

So get ready to give yourself over to the process, for as long as it takes. It can take a feverish week, for the lunatic overachiever; or a year, for the slow but sure perfectionist, a different kind of overachiever. Again, there is no right way.

Here are some additional tips before you begin. FORMAT AND STYLE

Your ease with screenplay format is one of the ways a reader will know whether you're a beginner or a working writer, so it is very important that you learn the rules of the road, and learn them well. Think of this as learning how to drive, and internalizing the rules so well that they become almost automatic.

In this discussion of format, I'm not just going to tell you about margins, brads and three-hole punch paper, although those are all important. I am also going to address issues of style, the shorthand with which screenwriters indicate what happens in a scene to the director, producer, actor, production designer, lighting, sound, costume...well, you get the

idea. Although there is at least one screenwriting teacher out there who will tell you that less is more, that isn't always the case. Yes, you do need to get your point across in as few words as possible. But in order to get your reader to almost "see" the movie while reading your screenplay, you will have to become adept at using language to get your ideas across, without becoming either too wordy, or not descriptive enough. This isn't rocket science; but you'd be amazed at how few new screenwriters actually use language to communicate their ideas. This becomes especially important in character development. More on this below. But first, let's focus on format.

Screenplay format is structured and complex. While I will list all of the relevant margin details, with examples, you may find it worthwhile to invest in screenwriting software. There are several fine screenwriting software programs out there, which, unfortunately, don't write your screenplay for you, but do put it in acceptable industry-standard format. The important thing about screenwriting software programs is that they will: insert the proper margins, top, bottom, left and right, as well as for dialogue; automatically format slug lines; give you shortcut keys for character names; insert parentheticals in the right place; insert cut to, dissolve, montage, etc.; and generally make the act of typing your screenplay simpler.

Most programs will also take your "index cards," (as long as you used their index card function) and reformat them to screenplay format. For those of you wrestling with a TV script for a sitcom or a one-hour drama, it will format for that medium; as it will for soaps, commercials, documentaries and plays. Yes, these all have different formats; and no, I won't be discussing them all. The section on style refers to screenplays for feature films and television movies only.

Should you not want to invest in software, you will have to set the tabs for the margin measurements (in inches) listed below. They are approximate measurements since, although the page setup on my computer indicates certain measurements, they don't exactly match what comes out on the page, and I can't guarantee how they will turn out on an e-page. Buy screenwriting software, or follow the measurements below, and your page of script will look more or less as it should. One rule of thumb is to make sure there's lots of "white space" - keep your script lean and mean, and make it, what is called in the business, an "easy read." Trust me, this is one time when being known as easy is good.

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