Is it your dream to write a screenplay that moves its audience and ends in a huge round of applause for your efforts? If you have an idea that you can’t wait to get onto paper but don’t know how to put your thoughts into organised scenes, we can help you.
Playwriting isn’t actually that difficult once you have a solid idea for a play that’s original and entertaining. The main difficulty that people have writing a script is knowing where to start because there’s so much to think about – characters, dialogue, scenes, location, plot and emotions.
Create A Strong Character
Contrary to what you may think, the writing process doesn’t begin with the plot. Viewers are more interested in people than story lines. Your story has to be about someone and it’s crucial to the script’s success that you create a strong and believable character at the heart of it.
Write a profile about the person, including their age, appearance, job, likes, dislikes, hobbies and friends. The more detailed, the better – even if you don’t ‘use’ all of it within the play, because the character needs to exist and not just be two dimensional. You’re only ready to take it to the next level in the writing stage, once you can picture everything about the person – as if they were real.
If creating the character out of thin air is the main problem for you, take inspiration from people you know. Let’s say you want your main character to be a person who is hardworking and runs their own business. Think of a similar person you know in real life and base your person’s personality on theirs. What does the person you know do in their spare time? Are they kind? Generous? Ask yourself if they have any interesting traits about them that you’d like to use in your play.
It might even help to ‘interview’ the person to get to know them better and find out any interesting things about them, such as what motivated them to start a business etc. Dig deep until you come across fascinating things about them.
This is a trick that many famous screenwriters use.
Once you’ve completed this process, do it multiple times until you’re happy with the number of people starring in your play. After you’ve worked on the facts like they’re gender, background, appearance etc. spend more time on their personality because this is what people will remember most about them.
Try an exercise where you actually become the character for a week. How do they present themselves in public? Are they the sort of person who goes to coffee shops? If you have fun pretending you’re the person, you’ll flesh them out more so the audience really gets the opportunity to understand everything about the character and not just bits here and there.
If you think of someone in a TV show you like, do you feel like you know them? If you had to decide whether they preferred shopping or chilling at home, could you honestly answer it? It’s most likely that you can, because the characters on our screens aren’t rushed. The actors use parts of themselves to give their character life. They’re also given enough dialogue and scenes for us to be let in on their lives.
Do you want people to like or dislike your character? Be conscious about how you’ll make people like them through their personality. The truth is, the audience won’t fall in love with a murderer, but they’ll become attached to someone who volunteers for animals and puts others in front of themselves.
Put them in situations that’ll help the audience to make up their mind about them. They won’t just like people because you do, you have to give the audience enough reason to pass judgement on them.
The Art Of Writing A Play
A good play has conflict in it. In the 90 minutes, there has to be drama, arguments, fights, friendship, confusion, betrayal etc. There has to be something that adds drama to it, otherwise the audience aren’t left at the edge of their seats and it’s all too la-di-daa.
Try this activity: Refer to your favourite films and write down some conflicts in the plot. For example, the Fast & Furious’ are about driving fast cars and winning, but they’re also about winning over your enemies, rivalry and falling in love and people not accepting it.
You won’t find a single film or TV show that doesn’t have a conflict, or conflicts in it, because that is the essence of an interesting plot.
If everything is perfect in your play, then there’s nothing exciting happening. You don’t have to write about gruesome murders to make it enticing, but it has to be like a rollercoaster – filled with good and bad times.
When you’re deciding on putting your characters in scenes, make sure it makes sense. Would a kind-hearted person cheat on their loved on? No. They’d be the person being cheated on. If you’ve fleshed out your character enough, you’ll know them enough to know what they’d think and do.
Every situation you put your character in determines how the audience will react to them. Some writers think that it’s clever to trick their audience by throwing in unexpected turns and making their character do something that’s out of the ordinary for them. But this upsets the audience. As much as we don’t like things to be too obvious, as a viewer, we like things to go our way and we feel betrayed when they don’t. When the person you thought was kind, isn’t, we feel hurt for trusting them.
Finding a conflict is one of the hardest parts of screenwriting because it seems like everything has already been done before. Naturally, you want something that nobody has heard of before, but getting fired, losing a loved one and being cheated on have all been done before. That’s okay though, because nobody will have written about it in the way that you will. Your characters are different, their back lives are different, the reason why lose their job or cheat on someone is different – and that’s enough to create a compelling plot.
Challenge your characters, put them through hell and always make the good guys win and the back guys lose. Take your audience on a ride and give them the end result that they want without making the journey obvious.
Its inevitable that the man and woman will be together in the end, but how she manages to leave her violent husband, and what will happen inbetween are the surprises. When things are looking up for them, shock the audience again by the ex coming back to cause trouble.
Don’t make it easy for people to watch. If you want viewers to cry, you have to make your characters relatable and create realistic situations. Make the audience feel like they’re going through it with them. Use dramatic lighting and slow music to add to the effect. We have to truly believe what is happening and that’ll only happen if we had enough time to get to know and understand the character.
It’s like when you hear something that’s happened to a loved one… you want to know more and make sure they’re okay than if it were to have happened to a complete stranger. Characterisation is key.
Obviously we can’t cover how to write a complete screenplay in around 1,000 words, but the above points are a start. It all begins with creating a fully rounded character and inventing conflicts. The process won’t be easy and you’ll end up writing about 10 copies before you’re actually happy with the end result, but that’s because you’ll find faults in dialogue and characterisation – it’s normal and part of being a writer.
Start with the basics and add in details afterwards. But it all begins off paper – with building the characters.
The most important thing to remember is that you have created real people who have emotions and they aren’t robots. When you read through the first draft, ask yourself, ‘Can I imagine these people having lives outside of this play?’ If you can, it means that you’ve given them appropriate lines, a real job, and a home.
Ask yourself this same question when you’re watching your favourite TV show or movie, and write down exactly why you can imagine them existing outside the world created on TV. This is a useful exercise that will help you to get writing!
Keep everything real and honest to get people’s attention, and have faith in yourself as a writer.