How to Get Started With Screenwriting (Using AI)

April 25, 2023
Updated: May 25, 2023
How to Get Started With Screenwriting (Using AI)

Everyone thinks they’ve got a screenplay in them. A few people manage to write one. But very few manage to make a career for themselves in screenwriting.

There’s an industry in itself devoted to training up hopeful young screenwriters — film schools, masterclasses, festivals. It can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin if you want to get into the screenwriting industry.

Throughout my years as a screenwriter I’ve learned how best to navigate getting into this industry, and now have a feature film credit alongside several shorts and a web series. In this article, I’ll guide you through the process of getting started as a screenwriter and teach you some of the pitfalls to avoid.

What is Screenwriting?

Screenwriting, or scriptwriting, is the craft of writing scripts for visual media, such as TV shows, feature films, and video games. The screenwriter is one of the most important people behind any film or TV production. The script they write is a template that all the other creatives follow, from those working in pre-production to on-set crew and post-production workers. 

Screenwriters don’t always come up with the story by themselves. Sometimes they’ll work alongside a director, or even work to a brief drafted by a studio. In American TV, screenwriters are often employed to work collaboratively in a writer’s room.

But more often than not, screenwriting is a freelance profession. While studios might hire writers to work on a specific project, many screenwriters work on their own stories — known as spec scripts — in the hope of selling them to production companies or impressing agents.

Education and Training

If you’re looking to get into screenwriting, your first instinct might be to sign up for film school. I did a film production course at university, which had several screenwriting modules. There are also plenty of short courses available through universities and film schools. Many of these can be carried out online, meaning you can easily complete them alongside a day job.

A formal screenwriting education has many benefits. I found the lectures on different screenwriting techniques to be useful, and particularly enjoyed working through my projects stage-by-stage with experienced tutors. Their feedback helped me improve my writing skills and enabled me to finish the course with several strong scripts already written.

The network you’ll build among your peers while on a screenwriting course may also prove invaluable as you all progress in your careers — several people I still work with today are people I met while at university.

That said, there are drawbacks, not least the time and financial commitment. In addition, film and TV companies care more about the quality of a writer’s script than whether or not they have a degree. 

The truth is, you don’t need a formal education if you don’t want to pursue one. You can teach yourself to write, and the best way to do that is to…

Read as Many Screenplays as You Can

Many aspiring screenwriters think they can learn to write scripts by watching films. However, this is like saying that because you can drive a car, you know how to engineer one. To be able to do that, you would need to take it apart and examine all the parts.

The same applies to screenplays. Reading scripts of successful films and TV shows gives you a better understanding of how to structure a story, how to format a script, and how to engage your reader.

Several websites — such as SimplyScripts, IMSDb, and StudioBinder — host free libraries of movie and TV scripts. Try searching for your favorite film, and there’s a good chance the script will be available online.

The more you read scripts, the better prepared you’ll be to write your own.

Begin Learning Screenplay Structure

Many screenwriting books and courses focus on screenplay structure. The most common approach is the three-act structure, which breaks stories down into three sections: set-up, conflict, and resolution.

In Act One, the main character is introduced, their status quo is disrupted, and they set off to put things right. Act Two is about the character’s journey as they face obstacles, often culminating when they have come as far as they can in their original goal. In Act Three, the character faces a final confrontation and resolves the conflict.

This structure may seem most suited to typical adventure stories but you can apply it to all genres, from sports movies to romantic comedies. 

You can worry too much about formal structure. A famous screenwriting book, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, goes into extreme detail about which events should happen on which page of your screenplay. For me, this isn’t a healthy way to approach the writing process, as adhering too strictly to formula can limit creativity and experimentation

However, writers who ignore structure entirely end up with messy, unsatisfying scripts. If you understand the principles of how stories come together, you can apply these creatively to improve your work.

For me, the best book on story structure is Into the Woods by John Yorke. By comparing successful screenplays to longstanding folk tales, Yorke gets to the heart of why stories tend to take certain shapes, and offers practical advice on applying this analysis to your own writing.

My approach when first plotting a story is to start by thinking about the characters and the journeys — both practical and emotional — I want them to go on, and then jot down the general order of events. Then, if anything doesn’t seem to be working, thinking about structural details like act breaks can be a useful problem-solving technique.

Networking to Find Others in the Industry

There are many advantages to expanding your network. People often say that finding success in the industry is not about what you know, but who you know.

Investigate any writers’ groups or other networking events that take place in your local area. If your area doesn’t offer these, there are plenty of online communities to get involved in. Try searching on Facebook for screenwriting groups, or taking part in the screenwriting subreddit.

It can be useful to find fellow writers to collaborate with. I’ve written with a partner and found it very rewarding to be able to bounce ideas off of each other. You may even want to put together a talented team, so you can share ideas, write together, and make the writing process more sociable.

If you find more experienced writers in your network, you could ask them to mentor you or to look at your scripts and give feedback. Or, you could look for other writers at your level who you can exchange script feedback with.

The Creative Journey of Writing Your Scripts and Ideas

Education and networking are important, but the most important thing to do if you want to be a writer is to get writing!

Generating Original Ideas for Feature Films, TV, or Shorts

Coming up with original ideas is the hardest part of the writing process. You never know when the spark of inspiration is going to come.

It’s useful to keep a bank of ideas, perhaps on your phone’s notepad app or in a folder on your computer. Every time you think of something — whether it’s a whole film concept or just a funny line — immediately add it to the list. You could make this practice routine. For example, you could challenge yourself to come up with three ideas before bed every night.

If you’re struggling, look around you for inspiration. Try looking in a newspaper for current issues that you could adapt into a story, or going out into the world and meeting interesting people. A screenwriting lecturer once told me that a great way to get ideas is to get a side job as a taxi driver — they always have stories to tell about everyone they’ve met!

Working on Spec Scripts and Assignments from Production Companies

Once you have your idea, you’re ready to start writing. I start with a basic plot summary, then a detailed outline, then a scene-by-scene breakdown, before finally writing the script.

At the start of your career, you’ll likely be working on what’s known as a spec script. This is a script that’s entirely your own creation, which you hope to be able to impress production companies or agents with — more on that later.

Established writers may be hired by a production company to write a draft of a film script or to write an episode for a TV show. This can be a very different process, as you need to ensure you hit all the story beats they want you to. There’s likely to be a lot of back and forth between yourself and the company’s executives and script editor, and you’ll need to get used to adjusting your writing to meet their notes.

Using Software and Other Tools to Help with the Writing Process

Production companies get many scripts sent to them, and so it’s vital that yours stands out. One of the easiest ways to make sure your script isn’t instantly discarded is to ensure that it is properly formatted.

The screenplay format is complicated, and getting it correct is the mark of a writer who’s put the work in. But if you have the right software, it’s not such a hard task.

The industry-standard screenwriting software is Final Draft. This automates most of the formatting, so you don’t have to worry about getting indents and other details exactly right by yourself. Plus, it has a useful ‘Beat Board’ feature which helps you plot out your story.

Final Draft comes at a one-off price of $249.99. If you’re just starting out and are not yet ready to make that commitment, then there are free alternatives, such as StudioBinder.

Other software tools can help you polish your writing. Wordtune is an AI-powered tool that analyzes your writing and offers suggestions to make it more clear and compelling.

Its new toolset, Wordtune Spices, can help turn a single spark of an idea into a block of text — useful for speedily drafting directions. And, Wordtune’s smart synonyms feature can offer alternative ways to phrase directions and dialogue, so you can add extra excitement that’ll grab the reader’s attention.

Finishing Your Project: Rewriting and Editing

I’ll let you in on a secret known to every professional screenwriter — the first draft of anything is terrible.

Rewriting is where you turn a finished draft into a good one. Many screenplays go through dozens of drafts before they make it to the screen.

It can be difficult to look back at a script objectively straight after writing it. So, after finishing your first draft, put it aside for a few days. When you return to it, you can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

As you read your draft back, ask yourself big questions. Do you get a clear sense of who the characters are? What are their goals? What’s at stake for them? Does the plot progress logically? And most importantly, does reading it engage you?

You may make significant rewrites. This is good! Make the big changes first, then you can fine-tune the details later. With every draft, your script will become closer to the finished product.

It’s also worth getting someone else to read your script and offer feedback. Someone unfamiliar with the story may be able to notice issues that you can’t see because you’re too close to the script. 

This will help you get your script into a solid, marketable state.

Sell Your Screenplay

Now you have a script, it’s time to pop it in the mail to Netflix, sit back, and wait for the offer, right? Sadly not — no matter how proud you are of your writing, it won’t be that easy.

Do your research — find out which companies produce works similar to yours, and which hold submission calls or regularly accept unsolicited submissions. It’s always best to find details for a specific person to contact rather than a generic “info@” address.

Another option is to get yourself an agent. Research agencies that represent writers working in a similar genre to you. Then, send them your script along with a query email containing the script’s title and logline. If they like it, they may take you on as a client. They could try to sell the script on your behalf, or more likely, use it as a step to getting you commissioned work.

You can also submit to competitions. While there can be high submission fees, some offer a cash reward to the winner. More importantly, competition success opens doors for you, as managers and agents often ask to read the winning scripts.

Finally, there is one more way to kickstart your career…

Short Films

Making a short film is the first step for many writers, as you don’t need professional funding to get a short produced. 

If you’ve met any directors or producers in your local networking groups, try sending them a tight five-page script. They might be up for getting a small crew together and shooting it. Getting something made, even if it’s just a low-budget short, is more satisfying than sending out your feature masterpiece and never hearing back.

Making short films also provides vital experience — once you have a few under your belt, you’ll be much more confident taking on a longer project. And, getting shorts into film festivals leads to valuable networking opportunities.

Never stop writing

Screenwriting isn’t an easy field to get into, but if you do your research, build your network, and most importantly, write a good script, it can be a very rewarding career.

There’s no better feeling than seeing your story as a completed production up on the big screen. Of course, by the time it gets to that stage, you’ll be working on the next script, or perhaps the one after that. Successful writers never stop writing!

This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.

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