Screenwriting Tips for Screenwriters
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."
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.
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!