This guide is not intended as a textbook. No attempt
has been made to use precise definitions of terms or to teach theory of
literature or creative writing. It is intended only as a practical aid
to help people write a screenplay, and may be found a useful resource for
This guide emphasizes an intuitive rather than analytical
approach. Concepts in this guide are presented in an order that will get
people writing and interested enough to dig deeper. Characterization, dramatic
structure (especially plot), dialogue, the scene, and format are essential
to writing a screenplay. The remainder is improving on the basics.
The phrase, what this story is about, is often
substituted for concept, plot, theme, and premise. Concept is
an excellent tool for focusing dramatic structure. Theme and premise
can be useful tools, but are less often used, even though they are
evident in stories. Plot is the most useful tool and has been explained
in some depth.
Contemporary wisdom has it that characterization
is the essential starting point for a screenplay and that story follows
from character. However, many writers need some idea of what their story
is about before they can even begin developing characters. For example,
as people confront questions in their life they often choose to write about
them. Characters become a device for exploration. This idea is central
to the Writers Workshop pilot program with high schools, giving students
both the motivation to write, and an avenue of exploration. Writing is
an interactive process and there is no one best starting point for all
stories. Building characters is an excellent beginning exercise from which
stories can develop and exploration can blossom.
I recommend workshopping one (30 minute) screenplay
in class as an excellent vehicle for gaining interest, participation, and
learning. The workshopping approach allows writers to both write the story
and see the result through staged reading.
I hope you or one of your students will write the
next Home Alone! Please be aware that ALL scripts submitted to anyone
associated with the TV and movie industry must be submitted through an
agent with a Release Form (provided by a studio). The Writer's Guild can
supply you with a list of agents, particularly those willing to take new
clients. A query letter to a receptive agent will get you a Release Form.
You are free to give this article in its entirety to others (small groups, under 100) as long as the copyright with my name (Dorian Scott Cole) is included. This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole. Complementary distribution (unpaid - no charge) will not be charged for. Visit the Visual Writer Web site for e-mail address information.
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