5 First Draft Tips From Online Screenplay Writing Courses
Most scripts are always suitable for screenplay contests but when it comes down to production costs they are never made into movies.
By Jen B.
Today, young screenwriters can easily get access to endless screenwriting resources to help them during their journey of writing their very first script. Online screenplay writing courses, offered by screenwriting websites or schools, is among the more easily accessible ways to learn more about screenwriting. But others include screenwriting workshops, fellowships, and film festivals which offer screenwriters helpful opportunities to grow and learn. These courses provide guidelines for many aspects of screenplay writing, whether it’s formatting, plot development, or screenplay proofreading advice.
One of the most popular topics in such courses is the First Draft. Yes, it’s scary and intimidating and will definitely take time and energy, but when you get through it – you’re ready to begin rewriting, which is the real beginning of your script. But how to get through that First Draft is the question. New screenwriters can often lose track of their story or, conversely, fixate too much on writing every detail of every scene which results in long pages of lengthy scene descriptions that doom whoever’s going to read them to certain boredom.
So, if you’ve already developed your screenplay idea and are about to embark on your journey to write the first draft of your script, here are five tips that can help you during your pre-writing phase and, from there, get you through the first draft as smoothly as possible.
1. Map your Major Plot Points
So you’ve got your concept or premise clear in your mind. Now you’ve got to map out the major plot points that will highlight your storyline. These plot points will be conveyed during key scenes. Think of character introductions, critical decisions, or climactic battles. As any online screenplay writing course will tell you, these important moments are the crests of your storyline and will require well-written scenes.
Make a list of your major plot points. The next step is to write the scenes for each one. The trick here is that you can write your scenes in whatever order you feel like. You don’t necessarily need to write them chronologically. The benefit of writing them randomly like that is after you’re done, you’ll now have an overall timeline for your script…with some gaps in the middle. Your mission becomes to fill the gaps between your key scenes with pages that will create a good flow from one plot point to the next.
2. Don’t Wander too Far Ahead
This can be a bit more difficult to control but it’s worth a try. When you’re preparing for your first draft, think of the main relationships in your story. Pinpoint the trajectory for those relationships by writing down the beginning and ending for each one.
When it’s time to start writing, keep those points in mind and work from or towards them one step (or one scene) at a time. Don’t wander too far ahead and think about what happens during the third act. Just stay focused on your trajectory but keep your writing grounded in short-term goals.Screenwriting schools often instruct their students to do the following. After the end of every scene, screenwriters should ask themselves: “What’s next?” then proceed to write accordingly.
3. Establish cause and effect relationships
This tactic is easy to use and helps you break down your script in four quarters. Write one sentence that summarizes the major cause and effect sequence in each quarter. Whenever a character triggers a critical change of any type in your screenplay, note it down. Many screenwriting websites explain that when you use this tactic, your story won’t stagnate or become irregular or unbalanced in a way that will turn off your reader.
Writing your scenes, and your script overall, based on these sequences will help you to create a storyline that progresses forward without lagging behind in pointless scenes. After all, your screenplay idea can be terrific but if not executed and paced properly, it will be wasted on a badly written script and won’t go beyond the first draft stage.
Instead of using key scenes or cause and effect sequences as landmarks for your script, this method requires you to outline the main conflict(s) in your story. After you’ve identified that, you need to write down the different ways you can escalate that conflict. Order those escalations by increasing intensity. Your conflict escalations should help you while you write your draft by keeping you on track and directing you from one escalation to the next.
Escalations of any conflict amplifies the intensity of whatever is happening in your script. As you write towards each escalation, your story becomes more interesting and gains a narrative drive that captivates the reader. That narrative drive is among the key elements that you learn to develop in screenwriting schools. It’s what keeps your readers and audiences actively engaged with your characters and story so prioritize it when you’re writing your first draft and you’ll be able to polish it during the rewriting phase as well.
5. Springboard your Plot
If you’ve dabbled in some online screenplay writing courses, you might be familiar with the springboard method. This method involves important events or triggers that drive your screenplay into a new course of action. Your goal is to highlight your springboards whenever they happen during your story. You should identify or create springboards every 10-15 pages to maintain a good momentum throughout your script.
Springboarding your script into identifiable sections will help you manage your writing and your time better. You will have a clear idea of what happens when and how to lead up to critical moments in your script.
With these methods in mind, you can now approach the First Draft with a better idea of how to map it out and work through it. Whether you focus on major plot points, escalations, or springboards, you’ll get a good grip of your storyline and power through to THE END. And from there you can finally start the real process of rewriting, editing, and screenplay proofreading.