Jan 31, 2023
screenwriting tips for aspiring screenwriters

 I’m regularly approached by novelists who want to learn how to write screenplays because they’re interested in seeing their own projects made into films. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, Hollywood loves pre-published material. However, adapting a novel into this medium may not be as easy as you think.

The number one reason why scripts get rejected in Hollywood is because of formatting errors. Mistakes in formatting automatically signal to the powers-that-be that you’re an amateur. It tells them that you don’t know what you’re doing. Hollywood is a high-stakes, high-risk industry. If you haven’t mastered the craft, your script just got a pass.

The second most common reason why scripts get rejected is that they’re poorly written. Very few trained screenwriters have learned how to properly marry the technical aspects of screenwriting with the artistry the medium. It can take YEARS to learn how to do this well. As a result, even scripts that are formatted correctly rarely attain to the level of excellence that the industry demands.

If you’re a screenwriter (or want to be), here are 5 MYTHS & 5 FACTS about screenwriting that every aspiring screenwriter should know.

  • Myth #1 – I already know how to do this.   

I’m amazed how often people submit scripts for me to critique, and when I ask if they want feedback on formatting, they say, “No. I know how to format.” Then I’ll get their script and find 12 errors on the first page. It seems like they should know better, but they don’t. The truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know. 

  • Myth #2 – My screenwriting software does this for me.

Screenwriting software helps, but you still have to know what you’re doing. You can beat the software and end up with some egregious mistakes. Moreover, software programs such as Final Draft are more geared to the production process than the writing one. There are many tools and options that screenwriters are not meant to select. And yet, I regularly see writers who turn in scripts with these functions enabled.

  • Myth #3 – The Story is all that matters.

In screenwriting, the formatting IS the story. You can’t separate the story from the medium itself. It’s all one and the same thing.

  • Myth #4 – Someone else can format it for me later

But again, the writing is the formatting. Imagine wanting to write a poem and picking out all the words you want to use, but then handing them off to someone else to put in the right order. You couldn’t claim to be the writer because it wouldn’t be your poem. Whoever puts the words in the form of a poem is the actual writer, and the same is true with a screenplay.

  • Myth #5 – Screenplays are boring, technical documents.

Wrong. A screenplay is as close to poetry as any other medium. It’s all about powerful word choices and economy of language. As such, screenplays should be every bit as exciting to read as your favorite novel. Unfortunately, they seldom are.

If you’re interested in launching a successful screenwriting career, here are some facts you should know:

  • FACT #1 – Screenplays are the blueprints for the production process.

Put simply, making a movie is a team effort. It’s the most collaborative artistic medium on the planet. The screenwriter creates the document upon which everything else is built. Without this document, nothing happens. There’s nothing to create. The script impacts the entire production process, because every word is there to aid the other departments. You’re giving them the essential information they need in order to do their jobs well. If you fail to give them the right information in the right way, the set will be in chaos. Learning the rules and why they exist is an essential skill for a screenwriter because it enables you to write like a member of the film production team – this knowledge alone can take you to the next level. 

  • FACT #2 – Screenplays are all about timing.

One page of a properly formatted script equals roughly one minute of screen time. You’re controlling the pacing -- what we’re looking at and for how long. Clunky writing slows down the story. It makes it drag; it arrests momentum. You need to know which elements to include and in how much detail, so that your stories move at a reasonable pace.

  • FACT #3 - The ideal length of a screenplays is between 100 to 120 pages.

It’s all about box office. To maximize profit, a movie theatre aims to have 5 showings per day on each screen. If your film is 3 hours long, they can only show it 3 times per day, and since ticket prices don’t change depending on the length of the film, this eats into the profits. Executives are nervous enough about making a return on their investment. A longer movie means it’s going to take longer to make back their money, if they make it back at all.

  • FACT #4 -- It’s not enough to know the rules.

You must understand WHY the rules exist, so that you’ll know when and how to employ them for maximum impact. It’s about convey meaning on a much deeper level. This IS the artform – to develop the ability to tell a story in a visual way that impacts the audience on a deep, emotional level. The more we know, the better we’ll be at milking the medium for all it’s worth.

  • FACT #5 -- The basic building block of a screenplay is the scene.

You start with one scene, and then the next, and then the next, and so on until you’ve got a completed screenplay. However, each of those scenes is a world unto itself. A screenplay is only as good as the sum of its component parts. Until you learn how to maximize the artistic potential of each individual scene, you are unlikely to complete a tight, unified whole. 

You can predictably build a career as a screenwriter and see the doors of opportunity open for you simply by acquiring the right skills and knowledge to turn you into a master craftsman. If this is your desire, check out our available classes for screenwriters on The Storyteller’s Mission website. To learn more about what you can do to master this craft, go to: