It’s easy for an aspiring screenwriter to find themselves at a block on how to develop their own work. Every screenwriter will look for screenwriting tips to help them overcome the blocks and find new inspiration.
In screenwriting, there are so many elements to consider and balance – character development, plot structure, dialogue, and pacing – the process can easily feel overwhelming, especially once a screenwriter is immersed in the detail of their writing.
However, with a bit of perspective and a few simple considerations, simple screenwriting tips offer screenwriters suggestions on how to follow to help bring their work up to an even higher level.
These simple screenwriting tips offer reliable methods to enhance and improve your screenwriting.
Screenwriting Tips 1: Develop Your Characters
Any script can be developed by strengthening its characters, even the most action-driven plots. Remember, it’s the characters that connect the audience to the story, so the stronger that connection can be, the more powerful and emotive your story is likely to become.
The most effective characters are not only compelling but also believable. Add extra depth to your characters by fleshing out their personalities, quirks, and backstory. We as the audience or reader don’t need to know every detail, but we should be able to know and feel that you know every detail.
Take your characters one by one. What are their personality traits? How do they behave when they are happy and having fun? How does this change when they’re under pressure? What past experience are they drawing on? Who are the closest to in your story? Who are they most distant from? Map out these details and see if you can find opportunities to demonstrate these traits through dialogue or their actions.
Always try to avoid creating one-dimensional characters that are simply there to move the plot along. If you have any characters that simply feel like ‘devices’ to service the plot, try to bring them to life. Give them good reasons for behaving the way that they do.
Screenwriting Tips 2: Setup Your Structure
The structure of a screenplay can take on a lot of heavy lifting in terms of storytelling.
In general, a well-structured screenplay, whether it is a classic three-act narrative, or a non-linear narrative, effectively guides the audience through the journey so that they can fully suspend any disbelief, buy into the world you’ve created and invest in the characters.
Most films follow the classic three-act structure. The first act establishes the world and the characters as they are at the beginning. An inciting incident occurs at the end of the first act, which prompts some sort of dramatic change, problem or catastrophe to which the characters must react. In the second act, the characters face a series of obstacles and endure some form of conflict, followed by a climax, which leads to the third act of resolution.
If you’re using this structure, make sure all your characters have clear goals in mind, including your antagonists. It’s easy to focus on your heroes, but remember to make your antagonists just as believable.
Also, look for ways to heighten the stakes. Can you put your characters under even more pressure?
Screenwriting Tips 3: Write Realistic Dialogue
Dialogue is one of those tricky things that can make or break a script. Everyone sitting watching a film at home or in the cinema can spot when dialogue is poor or clunky.
Good dialogue sounds natural and believable. If your characters are human, their dialogue should flow just like talking to someone you know. In real life, people don’t recap key story points, or share excessive details in conversation. It’s rare that people talk in monologues (unless they are delivering a key note speech or a press conference etc).
If your characters aren’t human, their dialogue should be believable to their species as you imagine it and consistent.
For great dialogue, each character should have their own distinct voice and style of speaking. Try listening out to people talking in public. Who uses flowery language and long sentences? Who gives yes/no answers? Who always looks on the bright side and who always responds with an objection? Try to give each individual character their own way of speaking.
You might be interested to see our screenwriting tips on dialogue here.
Screenwriting Tips 4: Pay Attention to Pace
With all creative writing, the pace can be just as important as everything else. You’ll have probably seen an example of a film you’ve found so slow and disinteresting you’ve turned it off, or a book that you’ve put down and forgotten about because nothing has happened yet. Similarly, there have been major film and TV projects heavily criticised for being too fast, and skipping out important character development or key moments.
The story should move along at a steady pace, keeping the audience engaged and interested throughout. Action works best at a faster pace, moving quickly, but emotional scenes, or scenes that focus on a particular character’s experience, can be more satisfying when slowed right down. Think of your script as a whole, like a piece of music; where should it speed up, and where should it linger?
It can be incredibly difficult to maintain an awareness of pace as you are writing a particular scene or piece of action. It often requires you to go back later, with more of an eye on editing your work. Be prepared to revisit original drafts later on, keeping the pace specifically in mind.
Screenwriting Tips 4: Edit Ruthlessly
Once you’ve written your first draft, or second, it’s always a good idea to edit further, and to be ruthless with it. Remember, you can always add back in, if you change your mind.
Cut any scenes or dialogue that don’t contribute to the plot or character development, or that repeat things we already know without adding anything new. Look for any plot holes or inconsistencies and work to make sense of them. Make sure that the pacing works and that the story flows smoothly.
Remember: less is often more when it comes to screenwriting, so don’t be afraid to cut anything that isn’t essential to the story.
Screenwriting Tips 5: Seek Feedback
Try to seek feedback from others, and learn from it.
Share your script with others, whether that’s friends you can trust to help you, fellow writers or industry professionals and listen to their feedback. Be open to constructive criticism and be prepared to take their suggestions on board. You can use their feedback to improve your work.
Screenwriting Tips 6: Have Your Work Read Aloud
In the last of our screenwriting tips, try to find opportunities for your work to be read aloud. This can make a huge difference to how you see your work and help you to evaluate what is working well and where might need some adjustment.
Workshopping your script with actors is a great way to get deeper insight into your characters, hear their voices and shape them into believable, compelling beings. You’ll see and hear where things aren’t quite there and the actors can also contribute lots of their own ideas and interpretations.
Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and by the time a script has been produced into a fully fledged production, there will be many, many changes from the original document, so being open to collaboration at this stage is a great way to factor in other points of view and discover where there is room for you to adapt or improve things.
Remember, screenwriting is a challenging process. It’s never as simple as just writing an amazing script, it takes time, revision and editing. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or confused about how to develop your work. But by following these simple screenwriting tips, aspiring screenwriters can develop their work to the next level.
About Sparks Film School
Sparks Film School helps young filmmakers age 5-18 to develop their filmmaking skills, creativity and confidence.
We offer filmmaking, animation and photography courses from our 30+ youth film schools around the UK, as well as online.
Find out more about Sparks Film School here >>
You might also be interested in…
If you would like more screenwriting tips and advice on screenwriting, take a look at some of our other blogs on screenwriting below.