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Q.I live in a small town and have no access to screenwriting classes. Do I really have to take classes to have a shot?

A.To be a successful screenwriter, you need talent and a grounding in the mechanics. While talent can't be taught, the mechanics of screenwriting can: character development, story structure and script format. Formal classes teach these mechanics and offer feedback on your scripts.

If formal classes aren't an option, you'll need to learn these mechanics on your own. Although you won't have the advantage of feedback on your work, some basic screenwriting books and sample scripts can teach you what you need to know.

For story structure, nothing beats Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 Based on Lew's UCLA class, Screenwriting 434 walks you step by step through the stages of script development, from concept to step outline to Acts 1, 2 and 3 and the rewrite. It's stuffed with practical information such as number/length of scenes, as well as tips to ramp up your story and characters. Screenwriting 434 is far more accessible and down to earth than just about any other book in this genre.

No matter how great your concept, your characters must sell your story. To learn about character development, you may want to try Creating Unforgettable Characters, by Linda Seger. Linda's book explains how to develop complex and engaging characters by researching and defining their background and relationships.

But your script will never get read if it isn't formatted correctly. Software such as Final Draft (the industry standard) and Script Wizard (Word-based script formatting) will format your script for you. Or you can consult a good script formatting book, such as The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier.

Finally, scripts are the best teacher, and many are available online for free. Locate scripts in a genre that excites you and study them. Reverse-engineer several scripts, breaking them down into outline form to reveal the mechanics of good structure. Analyze how character is revealed through dialogue and action. You will learn more by doing this than you will from any screenwriting course, and best of all, it's free!

Read the previous email, Defining Genre and Tone

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The ScriptSmith Script Consulting - Screenplay & TV Script Consultant
Updated October 17, 2017
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