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3 Modern Screenwriting Methodologies

A good first draft of a screenplay won’t write itself. Before you can begin in earnest you need to have some idea of the kind of story you want to tell and the point you’d like to make.

There is no definitive approach to developing a narrative with an interesting premise but there are ways to and make the process easier.

Here are three modern methodologies to help you write your script.

1. Freewriting or Stream of Consciousness

This approach is considered to be an exercise in prewriting, however, it is a perfectly valid method of writing and is employed by many professional screenwriters the world over.

Freewriting involves putting each and every one of your ideas onto the page, in the order they come to you. Think of it like writing spontaneously and on auto-pilot.

The benefits:

• You can skip the intricacies of plot, pacing and character personalities

• You can let the dialogue drive the action and forgo scene descriptions

• You will make progress without feeling the pressure of the blank page

The problems:

• You will need to conduct heavy edits and make numerous rewrites

• The script you end up with may not be the one you set out to write

As far as writing approaches go, this would suit anyone who has been living in their head a lot and really feels the need to just get something on the page that they can keep referring back to.

It is highly recommended however, that you have an ending in mind right at the outset so that the script is afforded a directional sense.

2. Analytical Approach

This highly involved approach demands a lot from the writer before even a single word of the script can be committed to the page.

Everything must be thought of and represented in the outlined; the inciting incident, mid-point, climax, resolution, themes, plot, characters, twists, etc.

This particular methodology forms the foundation of many academic curriculums in film schools around the world and has proven to be effective — if a bit formulaic.

The benefits:

• A tight script can be written from the outline in a matter of weeks

• Your action/scene descriptions will be stronger and more coherent

• Fewer rewrites will be needed as a result of your initial planning

The problems:

• It can be difficult to make progress at first, creating writer’s anxiety

• You may second-guess yourself or regret some of your story elements

• The process may restrict the dimensionality of your cast of characters

While there’s nothing wrong with taking an analytical approach to the art of screenwriting, the resulting script can feel mechanical or plot-driven if you’re not careful.

You may need to allocate specific passes during editing to focus on individual elements such as dialogue and subtext, pacing, etc. Such edits need not be done at the end and can be performed during at regular intervals.

3. Methodical Approach

A combination of the two previous approaches, the methodical approach seeds your story and its elements from a well-developed premise. This will be your starting point.

Next, tackle what motivates your characters — their wants, needs, history, motivations, fears, etc — and use this information to craft and drive the narrative.

The benefits:

• You can create a loose outline and refine the plot as you write

• Characters should leap off the page and have a will of their own

• The actual act of writing will feel more pleasant and enjoyable

The problems:

• It may be difficult for you to write without thorough planning

• Small changes to your characters can have big plot implications

Attempting this more integrated or holistic approach to screenwriting is not without its fair share of challenges, but if you respect the process and focus your efforts where it counts, it can yield amazing results.

Ultimately, everyone will have their own preferences, and some may even have developed their own ways of going about writing a script.

If you do need help developing your screenplay at any stage, contact our team and let us know how we can help.

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