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Screenwriting Tips for Screenwriters

The basics...

  • Format your script correctly. Use screenwriting software or books on screenplay format.
  • Do a spellcheck. Then proof the script for any errors spellcheck won't catch.
  • Never send a script out until it's ready. Your reputation rests on the work you send out.

    The whole story...

  • Most screenplay problems stem from a weak story. Make sure yours is strong.
  • What makes a strong story? Compelling characters, high stakes, conflict, escalating action.
  • Good screenwriting equals conflict. Include internal or external conflict in every scene.
  • Write an outline. Veer from your charted course if inspiration strikes, but have a compass.
  • Write your passion, not the latest "hot topic."

    Writing specs...

  • Specs are writing samples. You write them to get a job. You write them to prove you can write.
  • For television, write 3 or 4 specs for the top shows in your chosen genre. For features, aim for 6.
  • Focus on one genre. You need to establish an identity as a screenwriter.
  • Knock 'em dead. An average script won't stand out. You're competing with working screenwriters.
  • Writing spec scripts is an ongoing process. Keep writing fresh material.

    Writing for television...

  • Choose one: episodic drama or sitcoms. This is the identity your (eventual) agent will market.
  • Concentrate on writing specs for newer, highly-rated series in your chosen category that have been on at least one season.
  • What's hot? THR and Variety publish weekly ratings. Or, find them online at Zap2it.com.
  • Be in love...with the series and the characters. Indifference will be reflected in your script.
  • Obtain scripts for your chosen series. Remember to omit camera directions in your spec.
  • Better yet, write a pilot. Many showrunners actually prefer to read original material.

    Writing for film...

  • Focus on one movie genre. Comedy, action, thriller, and romantic comedy are the most popular.
  • Sci-Fi movies are a difficult sell. Big budgets/novice screenwriters make the suits very nervous.
  • Be aware that period pieces & dramatic movies are usually based on successful books or plays.
  • Study movie scripts from top films in your chosen genre. Why does the script work?
  • Your script should have at least one strong leading role that an A-list movie actor would covet.
  • Submit your polished screenplay to screenwriting contests.

    Getting an agent...

  • Consider having your specs analyzed by a script consultant before submitting to an agent.
  • Register your script with the WGA before distributing.
  • Once you've got several strong specs, get a list of WGA signatory agents/agencies.
  • Screenwriting agents & agencies specialize. Some focus on television OR movies, others do both.
  • Packaging agencies are probably not the best idea for a novice screenwriter.
  • Note the agency's contact method. Some require a query before submission. Play by the rules.
  • Perfect your query letter. Hook the reader in your first paragraph.
  • Omit obvious information such as, "I've written a screenplay entitled..."
  • Address your query to a specific person. Find names in the Hollywood Representation Directory Or call the agency and ask who handles new writers.
  • Many screenwriting agents accept new clients by referral only. Get a referral. See "Networking."
  • A manager can hook you up with agent. Call and ask if you can submit a spec, or send a query.

    Networking...

  • First sales usually come through your own contacts, even after signing with an agent/manager.
  • Ask friends/relatives if they know anyone in the business. Could they provide an introduction?
  • Want to write for television? Get an assistant position via contacts or showbizjobs.com.
  • Join screenwriting groups, or start one of your own.
  • Exchange contact information with fellow screenwriters.
  • Your goal is to get each contact to read your spec script and/or give you a referral.
  • Ask the contact for advice. This is always flattering and always helpful to you.
  • Remember to ask if they can suggest anyone else to contact.
  • Attend screenwriting workshops and seminars, save class lists and keep in touch.
  • Chat with the seminar speaker. Send a follow-up letter. Ask the speaker to read your spec.
  • Use the Internet. Join screenwriting newsgroups and mailing lists.
  • Read the industry trades. Know the market and the players.
  • Keep in touch with all your contacts at least a few times a year.
  • Persistence is key!

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    The ScriptSmith Script Consulting - Screenplay & TV Script Consultant
    Updated February 7, 2016
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