Writing Scripts for Film, TV and Series: The Ultimate Guide to Successful Scriptwriting

Template screenplay writing from the idea and story to the script
Writing a screenplay from the idea and story to the script | © Pixabay

You have a brilliant idea? And dream of writing a story for a movie as a writer? Or you’re looking for a template for a movie script? In this article, you’ll find the ultimate guide to screenwriting.

To write a screenplay, there are a few things you need to know and consider as a beginner. Whether you want to learn more about storytelling and the definition of turning points, or are looking for tips on writing dialogue or the perfect movie ending, or a screenplay template:

Here we explain in a simple way what is important when writing a successful screenplay. And the things you need to consider. So you don’t write your story for the trash. But for the viewer and the big screen or home theater.

You won’t get the shortest possible guide to writing a screenplay. It’s the best possible. Because there are no shortcuts on the way to the perfect film script either! I hope you enjoy reading it. And watching the videos in this post. As well as thinking and of course successfully writing your first movie or series story!

How to write a screenplay

When creating a script, you have to make the inside visible through the outside. Therefore, you must show in your script “that the body is the image of the soul” (Wittgenstein).

15 steps lead you successfully to the film script:
  1. Find your story (self invented or adapted)
  2. Distinguish between what you want to tell (storyforming) and how you want to tell it (storytelling).
  3. Develop a strong starting point (premise: What happens if …?).
  4. Build your story(plot)
  5. Choose the right genre
  6. Create unique characters
  7. Find your narrative perspective
  8. Use the proven 3-act structure
  9. Set turning points
  10. Write the beginning of your story
  11. Understand the middle as a bridge
  12. Surprise at the end
  13. Write dialogues true to life
  14. Put the script (1st script version) aside
  15. Revise and improve! (Writing always means rewriting)

All mentioned steps of the development of your script are explained and described in detail below. Additionally, at the end of this guide, we’ve summarized the 15 most common mistakes that prevent success when writing a screenplay!

If you want to find out if you have a talent for inventing and telling stories, write a short story!

Pro tip

If you want to find out if you have a talent for inventing and telling stories, write a short story! Give these to your friends to read or post them online. If you find it appealing, you can always rework it into a movie later.

Don’t start with a 90-minute feature film right away! But write some shorts first. You’ll learn everything you’ll need to write a screenplay for cinema, television or a series, but in less time.

You also need to consider the question, “How do I write a screenplay?”: The screenplay form is ideal for filming and expert readers, but it makes reading more difficult. A reader who is not used to this form will have limited understanding of your story.

What does a screenwriter make in film?

A screenwriter who is not yet known or who is just beginning to write for films or series will receive between € 15,000 and € 20,000 for a screenplay (feature film). For writing an episode of a TV series, the compensation is around € 10,000 (per episode). For a TV film you will receive between €30,000 and €50,000 as a writer.1 It should be noted that there are significant differences between a screenplay for a series and a feature film in terms of compensation for authorial work.

The average gross salary as a screenplay writer in Germany is around €3,400 per month. This results in an annual salary of just over €40,000 per year for script writing. But of course only on the condition that you find a production company, a producer or a TV station that wants to work with you and buys the script.2

Source: 1, 2 taxclasses.com, August 2020

The preliminary stages to the film script: Exposé and Treatment

No artist paints a picture without making several sketches in advance. Similarly, a writer doesn’t pick up the keys directly to write a script for a series.

The basic concept for a screenplay is the so-called synopsis. It outlines the idea and gives its reader a first impression of the story and its characters.

After the film sketch, the treatment is recorded. This already shows the narration of the story in single scenes, thus containing all the main story arcs, but no dialogues and further details yet.

Pro tip

Usually the creation of a synopsis and treatment already takes place in consultation with a feature film production company. Only when the respective stage of the writing work is found to be good by the client, the author may proceed to the next step in writing the screenplay.

The advantage of this approach: the screenwriter does not work into the void. At the same time, the producer’s risk of financing the development of a film is kept within calculable limits.

Without a writing assignment, of course, a writer is free to work as he or she pleases. Nevertheless, we recommend these three steps: from the (1) synopsis to the (2) treatment to the (3) screenplay.

What makes a screenplay?

A screenplay is a 90 to 120 page text document. The screenplay is also called a script or film script. In this article you will find instructions on how to do this.

It can be a made-up story. Or based on a true story or previously written piece, such as a novel, play, or newspaper article. If you adapt such a basis for a film adaptation, you need all the rights necessary for an adaptation!

Film is a visual medium. In screenwriting, the writer must show what happens in a story.

Telling alone is not enough.

Pro tip

A 2-page inner monologue might work well for a novel. In a screenplay, he’s the kiss of death for any movie. The core of screenwriting is how to show a story on a screen. Key moments can be conveyed by looking at an actor’s face. Visual storytelling is compelling.

So a screenplay is like a movie, right? No, it’s not! The script is a written story. This one – if loved by the right people in the film industry – may eventually be produced as a movie later on.

Yes, writers should think of their script as a movie. Which means writing visually, externalizing action and conflict, and choosing form and function appropriately. Nonetheless, the story needs to be told first.

This means that the author’s narrative intentions must be crystal clear in the script and screenwriting. All the ideas associated with the story and the plot itself must be absolutely comprehensible and transparent to the reader. So are the individual scenes, moments, subtext (more on that later) and emotional nuances.

If I claim in a novel that two characters fall in love, the reader will believe me. In film, where you see these characters, where they come to life, their motives must be much more plausible.
Thomas Meyer

In essence, a screenplay is the blueprint for the film, which is the first to emerge from it in a next step. Later, professionals on the film set, including the producer, director, set designer and actors, translate the screenwriter’s vision. This with their individual views and talents. That’s why screenwriters must always be aware that the making of a film is ultimately a collaborative art.

Instead of writing a story for a reader, as a writer you’re writing a movie for a producer. Instead of telling a story, you’re explaining a movie with your movie script.

Writing Screenplay Template: Template / Example

“American Beauty” is example, written by Alan Ball. It was filmed by Sam Mendes with Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Thora Birch. The feature film based on it won 5 Oscars. Among them, the one for best original screenplay.

Here you can find the script (english) as an example and as a template

Screenplay American Beauty by Alan Ball

The role of the story in screenwriting

Films are unthinkable without dramaturgy. Movie story ideas need to be dramatic. Drama literally means “action” (to act, to cause an action).

Guide to recognizing dramaturgical potential:
  • What is the central dramatic plot of the idea?
  • What is the main conflict of the story?
  • Are you sending viewers and characters on a unique journey in your film in a compelling way?
  • Is your story and the universe your characters inhabit strong enough to keep the audience engaged for 90 minutes or the duration of a multi-part TV series
  • How interesting is the universe your story is set in? What do we as viewers need to know and not know? Creating a coherent world is crucial for motion pictures as well as for television series.

As a writer, when writing a screenplay, you need to know all the rules and background that apply in the universe of your story. Conversely, your audience only needs the information that creates excitement and helps with comprehension. Too many details and background information confuse.

What kind of story do you want to tell? Can you say what it’s about in a single sentence? Do you use a recognizable genre like thriller or romantic comedy?

Pro tip

If you are inspired or influenced by a typical constellation (unhappy love, struggle for freedom, etc.) or historical story, how does your idea differ? Do you have a new perspective when writing a screenplay? you open up new angles for the audience.

There are few things worse than a horror movie suddenly turning into a romance (or vice versa). Colliding genres only work if they are handled intelligently. What matters is how the experience feels to the audience. What is the tone and feel of the story? Is the film experience consistent and coherent for the viewer?

The emotional response you want to create with your film is also important in screenwriting. What reaction are you looking for? Something so poignant that it makes the audience cry? So funny that the laughter in the cinema won’t stop? So scary it makes your hair stand on end?

You need to be able to explain why it’s important to write your idea as a script now.
  • Is it something that keeps you up at night?
  • Does it really get under your skin as a writer?
  • What is it really about?
  • What’s your topic?
  • Why is the public interested in it?
  • Who’s gonna want to watch that?
  • What are you trying to question?
  • What are you hoping to communicate?

Don’t write anything that doesn’t burn inside you! Because then your writing will only be competent at best. That’s not good enough. You have to be on fire for your story when writing the script!

Storyforming and storytelling in screenwriting

There is an important difference between the structure of a story and the way it is told. Every communication between a screenwriter and his audience consists of two parts: storyforming and storytelling.

Pro tip

Storyforming is about creating a script. The focus is on the actual dramatic structure. The blueprint that contains the essence of the entire story. Storytelling, conversely, deals with the specific way the author brings that structure to the audience.

Screenplay example:

Storyforming the story requires a scene in the script that describes the struggle between morality and self-interest. The author invents a man who takes candy from a baby. Another screenwriter shows the member of a lost band of tourists in the desert hoarding the last available water for himself. Both what is to be illustrated and the manner in which it is illustrated fulfill the mission of the story in both acts.

Another way to visualize the difference is to imagine three different artists, each painting a picture of the same rose. One may paint like a Picasso, one like a Rembrandt, the third like Van Gogh, but each describes the same rose. Likewise, different authors will tell the same story in dramatically different ways.

Working out the right premise as a writer

Before the script structure comes the premise.

The construction of an effective dramatic narrative always begins with that of an assumption. The premise is the catapult for your story. It always begins with the question “What happens if …?” The Duden defines the term analogously as: “first sentence of a logical chain”.

Many premises start out as a very general idea or notion – for example, a giant shark attacks a bunch of swimmers and the protagonist has to kill the shark. It sounds cool, but it’s too generic to work – it lacks detail and specificity.

Unfortunately, this is also the point at which many aspiring screenwriters already stop thinking further about the premise. They never develop the ideas beyond the first broad strokes. This results in scripts that are characterized by shark-on-man and man-on-shark action, but never really tell stories.

New writers are often afraid that everything has been said before. Of course it was, but not by you.
Asha Thorn Festival

When you’re thinking about a premise in screenwriting, you have to go beyond the general. You need to make your concept as detailed and specific as possible. This, so that your premise correctly depicts the arc of the entire story you want to tell.

In the case of our screenplay example (based on the feature film “Jaws” by Spielberg):

When a giant shark attacks a swimmer in the waters of a small New England beach town, the local police chief wants to close the beaches and hire a professional shark hunter to track down and kill the animal. But town leaders – concerned that news of a shark attack could scare off summer tourists and jeopardize the town’s income – urge the man to keep quiet.

He agrees. After the shark kills more tourists, the police chief finally stands up to the mayor, closes the beaches and goes after the predator.

This is a much more powerfully developed and much more specific premise that not only echoes the idea, but also gives a sense of how the film will feel. With such a premise formulated, you can work as a writer. On such a basis, one can write the script as an author with a clear conscience.

How do I write a screenplay? 10 tips from author and cult director Quentin Tarantino (video in English) | © Outstanding Screenplays / YouTube

screenplay writing guide: Quentin Tarantino /

Instructions: Working out your film or series plot

Once you have the detailed premise worked out, you can start building your plot. The plot is nothing but the dramaturgical course of action. It doesn’t show a snapshot, but the development of a story over the course of a story. In the process of writing a screenplay, there are certain elements that every plot must contain:

Instructions: What are compelling plot elements in the film plot?
  1. a promising incident
  2. a first major conflict
  3. an ascending plot curve (with suspense, surprise and reversals)
  4. a second major plot line
  5. a highlight
  6. dissolution

In concrete terms, this could look like this for the main character in your film script:

Example: Structure and construction of the development of the main character
  • The protagonist (the main character) is introduced to his specific world.
  • Something happens (the “triggering” incident) that provokes a crisis that sends the protagonist and the narrative in a new and wholly unexpected direction. That’s the first big plot twist.
  • As a result of the crisis, the protagonist develops a strong sense of purpose.
  • The protagonist sets out to achieve his goal. Along the way, he encounters and overcomes a series of increasingly difficult obstacles, usually including resistance from a strong antagonist (who also has a goal – one just as strong as the protagonist’s, but in direct opposition to it).
  • As the protagonist overcomes these obstacles, he gets closer and closer to his goal.
  • But then he encounters an obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. This obstacle often appears as an unexpected surprise.
  • The protagonist’s quest derails as he tries to get over the hurdle. He fails. Seemingly permanent. All hope seems lost. That’s the second big plot twist.
  • When things seem to be at an impasse, something happens to inspire the protagonist to rediscover himself and return to his original purpose. With renewed vigor, the protagonist finds a way to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacle (often through a climactic showdown with the antagonist). Eventually, he reaches his destination.
  • At the end of the story, the protagonist – as a result of his experiences in the story – undergoes a profound and lasting transformation (fulfills a dream; solves a long-standing problem; has a change in attitude, philosophy, or personality; etc.).

Once you have the plot worked out, and only then, can you further structure your storyline when writing the screenplay.

Select genre for writing the screenplay

Genre Categorized Movies. This categorization allows the viewer (and in screenwriting, the screenwriter) to know what kind of movie they are getting into. Placing a film in a particular genre or category does not diminish the quality of the film.

Genre has nothing to do with originality or creativity. Categorizing a movie in terms of genre indirectly helps in shaping the characters and story of the movie. The design determines the action and the best setting.

Genre is defined by four elements or parts:
  • Story: what is being told? What is the message behind it?
  • Plot: how is the story told? Linear? Parallel? Fast? Slow?, etc.
  • Characters: what drives the main character (“hero”) and their antagonist (“villain”)?
  • Setting: against what background (city/country, contemporary/historical, etc.) is the story set? What is the context to the viewer’s life world?

You can remember this with a simple formula:

Story + plot + characters + setting = genre

These core elements distinguish the genres from each other.

Some genres have their own subgroups (subgenres). Well-known genres are the crime film, the war film, westerns, spy films, adventure films, science fiction, horror, fantasy, biographical films and mystery films. Drama can also be considered a genre. However, not all writers agree with this, because the topics of a drama are very broad and general.

Pro tip

Each genre has its own specific rules. To get your screenwriting plot down on paper, you need to know these conventions. A film that follows a genre helps the film find its audience. Genres are labels that make it easier to find your way around. You can find more details about the genre here.

In the Western as a screenplay example, the main character or protagonist is an individualist who rides into town for a reason. The characters and the stories are simple. The interest is in the developing story, which has many action elements.

The war film is different. It revolves around the inner conflict with the main character’s approach to war. The characters and the story deal with central issues such as loss, death or freedom. The action can also take place far away from the front.

Horror movies are also about inner conflict. However, these must be solved not to restore the external state (peace), but to defeat the monster.

Many films use different genres (so-called genre mix). The adventure film can also be a spy film. The thriller also a science fiction film. Most of the time, however, the focus is on one genre.

Film noir, thriller and action films are not really genres. This is more about directorial style. These types of films are distinguished by the staging, camera work and editing. They accentuate a genre of film, but do not define it.

Musicals and animations are also not considered genres, but rather a type of production. Nevertheless, this kind of film has also been called a genre for decades.

Create unique characters for movies or series

All ideas are only as good as the characters that drive them. Characters are the people (also called movie characters) who appear in your movie. They are the criterion that separates great screenplays from merely competent screenplays – and the talented writer from the craftsman.

There are a lot of things you can work on to improve and refine the script and your craft: structure, dialogue, formatting, scenic writing. If the characters don’t work out, script writing will not only be a cramp for you, but also a struggle.

Characters have to drive everything that happens in your movie. Whether the main characters are humans, aliens, animals, or robots: To write great characters, you need to know what the world looks like from their point of view.

You have to step into the shoes of the movie characters and see the world from their own perspective. Only when you know that, only then can you know how characters instinctively act and react in any situation. Authenticity grows out of this. Regardless of whether you’re writing a drama or a comedy.

Pro tip

Persuasive characters are always active. Not passive. They are always on some kind of journey – physical, emotional, psychological or otherwise – and always trying to do or get or achieve something. This results in dilemmas, decisions and conflicts.

Good characters are the nourishment you need as a screenwriting writer for your movie script.

The main characters in your movie may not be like all the other characters. Even though they may have traits and facets that we recognize in other characters (and people). Something has to lift them above average. It is this quality that makes her the main character.

  • What is special about the figures?
  • What are the things that make them unique?

Your characters need to be emotionally engaging. As viewers, we spend a lot of time with your characters. We’ll see what they do next.

Movie audiences want to be afraid for the safety of the movie characters. Or laugh at their mistakes. But: the audience doesn’t have to like or admire the characters.

Pro tip

Protagonists who do miserable things can be engaging and compelling movie characters. But to do that, they need an emotional life that we can empathize with. Characters need vulnerability – a chink in their emotional armor or an Achilles heel, a blind spot that makes them universally human.

Characters are the heartbeat of every great movie idea, every great story, every great screenplay.

How do I write a screenplay? 10 Tips for Writing Screenplays by Martin Scorsese (Video in English) | © Outstanding Screenplays / YouTube

How to write a screenplay: guidance from Martin Scorsese

While you may not get all the things right in your first screenplay, if they’re characters that we as an audience really want to spend time with, then you’ve got something special.

Why the choice of narrative perspective is key when writing a screenplay

Narrative perspective refers to the point of view from which you tell the story to your reader. There are different kinds of angles to each story. You’ll have to decide which one is right for you when you’re writing the script.

You can only decide whether your perspective on events is consciously or unconsciously chosen. Remember, you can ‘t write without perspective.

Guidance on the choice of narrative perspective
  • An objective narrative is neutral. She’s looking at the story in your script from a factual point of view.
  • The subjective narrative perspective tells the story from the point of view of one person in your film. It is more emotional than a neutral account of what happened. That’s why you find them in every feature film almost without exception.
  • If there is a narrator, he usually speaks as an omniscient person about the events.

Your script can also switch between different narrative perspectives. In assembly, this is often demonstrated by the use of parallel assembly.

For a short film, it’s best to choose one character’s point of view and stick with it – that is, stick with a single narrative perspective. In most cases, the point of view is that of the character with whom the reader is most likely to identify.

This also applies in general and to Feature-length films: Children’s stories usually have a narrative perspective and a main character that roughly matches the age of the target audience, and most (though not all) stories of films and series aimed at a female audience are therefore told from a woman’s point of view when writing the script.

In a longer plot, you can switch between multiple characters’ points of view if the story requires it. Please note the emphasis in the previous sentence, “When the story requires it.” While it may not seem like it at first glance, this decision is as critical as it is important.

Pro tip

Jumping back and forth between points of view and characters can be a difficult task, especially for beginners. Therefore, do not take the work with different narrative perspectives lightly.

If you want the audience to identify strongly with your main character, to experience the events of the story as that character experiences them, you must try to stay in that character’s point of view for the duration of the story.

If you intend for the viewer to understand why this main character is in danger without even realizing it, then you may need to additionally access another person’s point of view. The same is true if you want to show two sides of the same story (ex. B. from the opposing perspectives of two people in love. Or if, for clarity or better understanding, you want to tell something that happens but your protagonist doesn’t know about.

Either way, in each character’s point of view, you can only report what that character can directly experience. Or what he deduces from other characters’ reactions or learns from talking to other characters.

Instructions: Using the 3-act structure when writing a screenplay

Effective dramatic stories follow a basic structure in screenplay construction. This three-part structure is not a surefire recipe for success. But it helps to think through your story logically and according to dramaturgical criteria. Fail at that, and you’ll probably hit a wall with the story, too.

The classic 3-act structure divides the plot into three acts. The classic three-part film dramaturgy is structured like this:

Act 1

Act 1 introduces the starting point of the protagonist’s dramaturgical arc. When the protagonist transforms from a coward into a hero over the course of the story, the first act introduces the protagonist as a coward. This is the only way a call to action and transformation into a hero can happen later.

What happens in Act 1?
  • The world of history is presented.
  • The protagonist (main character) and his antagonist (antagonist) are introduced.
  • An incident serves as the story’s trigger. He becomes the person whose story is told, from everyday life.
  • The sudden event leads to the first major plot twist – a crisis. This steers the protagonist and the narrative in a new and unexpected direction.

Act 2

During the 2nd act of the story, the protagonist executes his plan to overcome the problems he faced in the previous act. Along the way, he encounters a series of increasingly difficult obstacles.

What happens in the second act?
  • The first major challenge presents the protagonist with a dilemma to solve.
  • To solve this dilemma, the protagonist develops a goal to achieve.
  • The protagonist develops a plan to achieve his goal.
  • He begins to execute his plan.
  • The protagonist finds it difficult to carry out his plan at first, but eventually finds his way and makes progress.
  • As the protagonist overcomes these obstacles, he gets closer and closer to his goal.
  • He simultaneously begins to change from the person he has been at the beginning of the story to the person he will be at the end of the story.
  • But then the protagonist encounters an obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. His quest to achieve his goal seems to be permanently failing.

Act 3

It is only after the beginning of Act 3 that the protagonist overcomes the problems. And with it, as a rule, the resistance of the antagonist. This is only possible because the main character in the film has learned to overcome her inner demons. With this and the self-knowledge that comes with it, energies are released.

What happens in the third act?
  • All hope seems lost.
  • But then something happens that re-inspires the protagonist.
  • With renewed vigor, the protagonist continues to pursue his original plan. Or he abandons it and develops a completely new approach.
  • The protagonist finds a way to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, usually through a climactic showdown with his antagonist.
  • The protagonist eventually achieves his goal (or fails to, if that’s what the story requires) and completes his personal transformation.
  • As the story unravels, the protagonist does something that shows the profound change he has undergone over the course of the story.

Any creatively successful dramatic narrative from Hollywood usually follows the paradigm of the 3-act structure. If you don’t believe it, pick a great movie and analyze its setup and structure!

Set Turning Points / Plot Points

Turning points (also known as Turning Points or Plot Points ) in screenwriting can occur in the plot or in a character’s emotions. They denote that moment in a scene when the action takes a new turn.

Pro tip

Turning points and sharp changes in direction can also occur without direct confrontation. That’s why turning point scenes for characters can be their own realizations that change the character’s behavior. Such as making an important decision (yet without acting). Or recognizing the truth about a situation.

The point in your narrative at which the protagonist or narrator reaches a turning point is determined by the dramaturgy and structure of the script – and at the same time is interrelated with these factors. Turning point and dramaturgy influence each other.

Of course, a turning point must organically precede from the plot. Otherwise, a turning point is not credible. If you’re telling about a police chief who has a panic fear of the water and who nevertheless decides to fight the great white shark on the ocean, you have to show us in advance not only the fear of a confrontation with himself, but above all the factors that make the police chief change his mind in a believable way.

Film scripts usually have between 90 and 120 pages. There are usually five important events – or turning points –in screenwriting: Turning points.

Pro tip

The first turning point usually occurs about fifteen minutes into the plot. Then we’re at about page 15. He’s the first big turning point in the story. The characteristic for this is a triggering event.

The normality of the main character’s life is radically broken by the first turning point. This is how the big dramaturgical arcs start, which suck the viewer into the further plot.

Instruction: Set Plot Points correctly
  • Towards the end of Act 1, around page 25, comes the first Plot Point. So far, the story has gone in a certain direction. But now this one is grabbed, shaken and set on the course that will shape the viewer until the end of the film.
  • By the end of the first act, the audience realizes what the main character must do to put his world back together.
  • The middle of the script, around page 45, is an anchor in the vast sea of the second act for any screenwriter writing. For here follows another turning point. This time the needs of the main character are brought to the fore. Often this is done by introducing a new character who forces the main character to sharpen his focus on the target.
  • At the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3, the story is now at page 60, there is a crisis point for the main character, and a next plot point. This is the moment when the main character in the script definitely gets fed up with all the obstacles that have been put in her way so far. The world has been a dark place with little light. The final turning point leads the main character to finally take the action that will finally solve his problem.

There is usually an internal or external clock “ticking” in a good movie story: the time is running out for the main character to complete his mission. Or the options for action suddenly diminish rapidly. The protagonist must therefore concentrate more than ever on his goal. Or die.

The climax is the biggest scene in the film. It is the final battle between right and wrong. The struggle between good and evil. The main character wants to regain control in Act 3. She saves herself and her own loved ones. And for good measure, often the whole world.

As a screenwriter, how do I write good scenes for film and TV?

A scene is the combination of time, place, and action you use to frame and show an important moment or event in the story. In order for your story to move forward, scenes are inevitable. Scenes where things are just explained are not scenes because nothing really happens.

Readers and audiences experience a story as the author entices them on a journey while writing the script. Each author works with a structure of different files. Usually there are three.

In film dramaturgy, the act is a noticeable shift or split in the dramatic flow of a story. This is determined by the convergence of the dynamics of character, theme and plot. Each act is composed of a certain number of scenes.

Pro tip

Something significant has to happen in every scene – no matter how catastrophic, minute or subtle. So ask yourself: in what ways does this scene advance my story? What is the significance of this scene for history? If you can’t answer either of these questions, overturn the scene.

Scenes show the conflicts and tensions, dilemmas and decisions, actions and reactions of the characters that drive the story. But scenes are not just about what is explicitly shown. Great screenwriting requires subtext: things going on beneath the surface of the story, quiet conversations that exist beyond what is said.

How do I write a screenplay? Always ask yourself the following questions before each scene you want to write:

Instructions: How do I write a film scene?
  1. How does this scene affect the characters in the film?
  2. In what ways is the scene linked to the preceding plot elements?
  3. What consequences does the scene have on subsequent events in the story?
  4. What impact does the scene have on the overall universe of the story?
  5. What happens in the scene beneath the surface and beyond the text?

Scenes are not isolated individual parts. The juxtaposition with the preceding and following scene is crucial. The position within the story and the effect on the other scenes is always part of the function and effect of a scene.

If all your scripted scenes look similar, sound the same, and feel identical, your story will be boring as hell. Each scene needs a specific and unique purpose in the story. Only when you can name the function of each scene are you on the right track!

How do I write good dialogue?

Always write the dialogue at the end. Anything pictures can say, you have to say with pictures. Dialogue has a different function. He is neither off-commentary nor the voice of the narrator.

Dialogue isn’t just about what characters say. More important is how they say it. What matters is what a character expresses through what they say. Dialogue is not only logical. It mustn’t be him.

Good dialogue makes clear what people do not want to say or cannot say to their counterpart.
Robert Towne

Characters, like people, do not express themselves in perfectly coherent grammar. Spoken language is not written language! Great characters have a recognizable voice in a movie script.

Characteristics for coherent dialogue
  • Tonality, grammar, details and tics are all part of the character and their expressions.
  • Dialogue must be individual. It is an integral part of the character. Strong character voices are authentic.
  • A character’s voice is not a mouthpiece for anything else (including the screenwriter). Unless being a mouthpiece is an essential part of the character and story. Therefore, avoid characters who make long speeches or make big statements that don’t ring true.

If your character has an accent or speaks dialect/slang, write it that way. But be sparing and specific with it! When this character first appears in your script with dialogue, mention his accent.

But avoid strong or illegible accents. You write so the reader understands you! Professionals like to use only a few select, typical words and terms that only that dialect would use.

Pro tip

If the only reason for dialogue in screenwriting is to convey information, think again. That is not the task of the dialogue. Dialogue isn’t just about the words on the page of your script. It’s about the things that aren ‘t said. It’s the silence that speaks volumes.

So the “spaces” between the words are important: the subtext is crucial.

Scriptwriting: Getting into the Story

Knowing where a story you’re telling begins is inextricably linked to how the story ends. You don’t need to know all the details of the ending. But you need to know where the story is going.

What kind of ending are you trying to achieve? Tragic, comic, romantic, exciting, terrifying, bittersweet, ambiguous?

Knowing where you’re going means you can craft the best, most compelling and meaningful scene to start with.

The beginning of a story has the task of immediately grabbing the audience’s attention. The beginning must touch “the ground under the feet” of the viewer. That doesn’t mean an action sequence – it means starting the story by showing the characters in action. You make it clear who the characters are and what they do.

When writing a screenplay, don’t worry about preparing the story. Don’t try to “set them up” or artificially introduce the characters. Start in the middle of your main characters’ lives. The only exceptions are tales in the style of “Once upon a time”.

Be careful with background stories. You can get caught up in that all too easily as a storyteller. Don’t explain too much and too clearly what has already happened before the audience is immersed in your story.

Pro tip

If there is something important that the audience needs to know about the past, bring it into the present action and drama of the story. Find a focused entry point into the story. You don’t have to introduce every character, theme, and plot right away.

At the beginning, introduce us to those characters in your story that we as an audience really need to be interested in your story! Only after you have to move the story forward can you surprise the audience and shift up (or down) a gear. When writing your script, come up with something meaningful for the beginning of your story.

To do this, you can especially have your characters step out of their comfort zone:
  • Let them want something unattainable.
  • Show how the characters fail at this.
  • Ask them a problem.
  • Or present them with dilemmas.
  • Make their world different. Give them reason to act. Whether it’s to keep a small, but personally super intimate, important matter a secret or to save humanity as a superhero.

You see, the most important thing is to think through and plan your story carefully before you start writing.

Make sure you know how and where your story begins, what happens between the beginning and the end, and how the story ends. Outline the sequence of events in broad plot lines. It’s like a puzzle. Ask yourself in which order you put the individual parts together.

Think about when the viewer first recognizes patterns. Consider whether the spectator should be mistaken in his conclusions or whether his findings should lead in the correct direction.

How do I write a screenplay? Get out of your computer, take a walk in the woods and look at your characters and ask yourself if they are driving the plot. If that’s not the case, and your characters are driven by the story (instead of the other way around), then there’s usually something going wrong with your story. If you recognize this now, you can take countermeasures.

Scriptwriting: the middle as a bridge

A good beginning can be exciting without us having to see the reasons for it and the characters’ motivations yet. By the middle part of the script at the latest, that has to change. If I don’t understand the initial situation and the basic constellation of the characters for too long, I as a viewer lose interest in the further development of the story.

That’s why with many scripts and stories, the biggest challenge is in the middle of the story. The middle is the stretch that connects the beginning with the end.

Pro tip

The middle section of a script usually takes up more time and space than the beginning and end combined. Making that bridge dramatic or comedic takes a lot of thought, even more planning, and some effort.

Once you figure out where to start and where you want to go, you have to find the most appropriate way for your characters to get from one point to the other. In the action movie genre, you can expect top-notch action, suspense and danger along the way from beginning to end. If it is a detective story, the viewer wants to get closer to the solution step by step. In a love story, we assume that obstacles are overcome on the way to love blossoming.

Pro tip

The most important thing in screenwriting is that the writer doesn’t have the characters walk along a straight line as they go from the beginning to the end of the story. The shortest way is not the most exciting! The journey to the destination must not be too easy for the characters. Otherwise, you risk boredom.

A certain amount of “clutter” is tension-producing. But unlike his characters, the author can’t get lost in the process.

As a screenwriter, you are allowed to manipulate characters, events, actions, and consequences, but you must always be in control of them at all times throughout all phases of the script’s construction. You must always bring apparent incoherence and confusion to a climax and conclusion. You get to (yes, have to) make things difficult for the characters. At the same time, it is important to maintain the momentum of the story for the audience. The “mess” therefore needs to be carefully planned.

Never forget to surprise the audience!

  • What do viewers want to see and what do they need to see?
  • Which text passages can you leave out?

Make the audience see the story, characters and events in a new light!

You have to inspire your viewers and readers! That’s your job as a screenwriting writer.
  • Do the characters develop and change enough?
  • Do your characters remain trapped in their behaviors in an entertaining or tragic way, but still want to escape their fate?
  • Does their journey in your story go over valleys and peaks, into dead ends?
  • Are there moments of clarity that trigger a domino effect? H
  • Do behaviors and actions have serious consequences for your characters?

If you can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, your story will “stick.” And so is your audience.

Scriptwriting: In the end remains the end

One of the great challenges of screenwriting is the ending of the story. Many times this is a disappointment. Trite, unsatisfying and predictable. The ending must not be predictable. It comes as a surprise. If we can anticipate what’s going to happen and how we’re going to get there, it’s not a surprise. It’s just boring.

What kind of impact are you trying to make on the audience with the ending of your story? Are you following the starting point and the journey you took with us and the characters?

Pro tip

Good endings feel inevitable. They are what must follow after all that has gone before. Ask yourself: Does the ending really offer what you imagined at the beginning? Or you’re just happy to wrap up your story after 90 script pages?

Great movie endings satisfy the audience. That doesn’t mean just making the viewer happy and being obvious. This satisfaction feeds off not having frustratingly open or ambiguous endings.

Pro tip

The perfect movie ending means bringing your characters to a point of understanding and realization about themselves. Comedy characters you can keep trapped in their myopia in the process. Great endings are always the result of all the actions that preceded the ending.

Bad movies fall flat in the end. They just stop without any real sense of closure or satisfaction.

  • Great endings create an echo.
  • Bad endings implode. They annoy the audience instead of respecting them.

At the end, when the viewer turns off the TV or leaves the cinema, the ending is remembered. It’s the last and most recent experience he’ll take from your film. The same goes for the reader of your movie or series script. But this one also decides whether your words will ever become film images.

What does texture mean when writing a screenplay?

The word texture refers to the condition of a surface. In screenwriting, by describing things properly and giving concise details, you can give the reader (and later the audience) a sense of life, of the world, and of the authenticity of your characters in your script.

Tutorial: What is Texture in Filmscript?
  • Some authors use a lot of description to create texture, others very little.
  • There is no right way.
  • But when you use so much description that the momentum of the story slackens, it’s too much.
  • Long descriptive passages often draw too much of the reader’s attention. You’re distracting from the story.

Telling every detail of a character’s description and background, down to the number of freckles on their ear and where the person bought their blouse (Galeria Kaufhof Berlin-Alexanderplatz, reduced from €78.00 to €38.00 because of a slight stain on the sleeve) is unnecessary. It just confuses or distracts.

Sometimes young writers decide to add credibility to their story with lots of detail. We how to defuse an explosive device in an unconventional way. Often these details are important for the development and comprehensibility of a plot. Nevertheless, scenes with technical information should remain short. You don’t write a manual on how to pilot an airplane as a layman.

Pro tip

When there is so little detail that the characters or settings are bland and unnoticeable, it’s too little. In this case, the reader emerges from a scene knowing nothing of a character’s age or physical appearance or outlook on life.

Aside from reducing the length of such descriptions, you can greatly improve texture in screenwriting by paying attention to word choice.

Instructions: How do I improve the texture?
  • Read your script through completely once and circle any words that could be stronger.
  • Then replace one half and delete the other half.
  • You shouldn’t rely on an online thesaurus for this. Because otherwise you run the risk of replacing a boring word with a more complex and even more boring one.
  • The word you need to look for is often not a synonym. But a word that has independence and expressiveness.

A common reason a scene or sequence can get stuck or lose its focus is that the author loads it with too many adjectives. The beginner thinks that if one adjective is good, three adjectives must be even better. That’s wrong! Combining adjectives causes them to make your words fight each other, one devouring the other until no effect remains.

When you combine several adjectives, at least two of them usually have a similar meaning. Example: “She was a quiet, introspective, shy girl”.

Create Screenplay Template
You can write for film and television anywhere | © Photo: freepik

Creating a screenplay means: rewriting

You’ve fleshed out your idea, figured out what a brilliant experience it is to create characters and write a script. Your story is neatly structured, brought to scenic life and the characters brought to life with love. You’re holding a script in your hands and it feels good.

Still, you don’t have more than a draft yet! That’s exactly what it is: a draft.

This is a dangerous moment for you and your film. Now you gotta hit the brakes. After all, when you’re writing your screenplay, you’re too close to it to judge it harshly and critically.

Screenwriting is like ironing. You go back and forth a bit, smoothing things out.
Paul Thomas Anderson

Screenwriting is rewriting – whether on the page or in your head, over days, weeks, months or years. To write and rewrite, you have to give your story time and space.

Print out your script, put it in a drawer or on a shelf, and force yourself as a writer to leave your script alone for at least a few weeks, if not longer. You need to be able to read it fresh and new later. To lose your subjectivity, you need time. Only then are you ready to look at your book as objectively as possible.

It’s not easy. But you have to do it. Please note the following best practice when you first pick up the script again after the break.

Instructions: How do I revise my own script?
  • First, find a quiet, undisturbed space. That’s where you read your script in one go. This, without stopping to take notes. Read your script the way someone else would read it with no prior knowledge of your work. Afterwards, ask yourself honestly what you are thinking, what you are feeling. Think about whether the story works for you. Think about where potential problems are and whether your message in the film is clear enough.
  • Second, you put the script away again afterwards for at least another day. After that, you sit down and start “digging”. Make notes about scenes and lines on each page. If there is someone you can trust, ask for honest, intelligent and useful feedback?
  • Third, read your script out loud to yourself. Let the characters speak and speak in their voice. Writing a screenplay always means reading.
  • When you start using the big red editing pen for script construction (red is a good color for this job), don’t look at individual words. Screenplays are not novels, short stories, poems or rhetoric. A word alone counts for nothing.

If you’re very lucky, your script is a tool in a production process that involves numerous other people. They will all have something to contribute to bring the words you have written down to life.

That’s why never assume that what you’ve written is genius. Maybe it is. But great writers tend to assume the worst so they can do even better. Take a cue from that.

15 typical beginner mistakes when writing a screenplay

Typical mistakes when writing a screenplay for the first time
  1. Writing a film for a producer, director or actor, rather than an unknown reader from the film business, is a mistake.
  2. Personal writing usually leads to ambiguity in writing. The writer already has an idea of what X or Y adds to his script creatively. Unconsciously, a vision emerges.
  3. Characters are described with excruciating detail. Physical descriptions, including race, height, clothing, etc., are far less important than most writers think. Leave the costume to the costume designer. And don’t limit casting unless it’s important that your character has blue eyes or is of Korean descent. What matters is the soul of the character. Rather than too many details, add a few words that sum up that character’s flaws, desires, or personality.
  4. Characters with androgynous or interchangeable names don’t work in screenplays. Consequently, the reader won’t pay as much attention to your characters as you do. Choose unique, memorable names without confusing the reader.
  5. Scenes start at the very beginning of the scene. Not in the middle. Yeah, a lot of conversations start that way in real life. But as a movie, it’s boring.
  6. When writing the script, start with the scene in the middle of the conflict. Always get in as late as possible. On the other hand, make sure you leave the scene before everything is settled. That’s how you build suspense and increase the reader’s lead.
  7. Your characters say exactly what they mean. In contrast, subtext is missing. Work out a backstory for each of your characters; but mask it. Remember that most people (except children) rarely, if ever, say exactly what they mean.
  8. Too many characters are introduced to the reader in too short a time. It’s like at a party: if the host tells you the name of all the guests at once, you won’t remember a single name. But if you meet two or three people first and then move on to the next small group, it’s much more likely that you’ll get to know everyone and that people won’t leave you cold.
  9. There’s not much conflict. A lack of serious, life-changing conflict is the enemy of any screenplay, both on a scene and story level. The feeble attempt to add a hint of mystery or controversy via a minor character is not enough.
  10. Characters don’t have to fight all the time. But underneath each plot thread, there must be a source of tension that is created, amplified, or temporarily resolved (to lead to the next conflict).
  11. An unimportant character is weighted too heavily. If a character only has a few lines, they don’t need extensive sentence descriptions or even a name. In short, you don’t want readers to waste their energy on characters who are just extras in your story.
  12. The worst thing you can do wrong as a writer when writing a screenplay is to give the reader exactly what they expect.
  13. Clichés are taboo. Yes, we’ve all seen movies with clichéd, dated, predictable, ridiculous or boring characters and dialogue. This does not mean that we want to repeat this experience again voluntarily. The reader wants to be surprised by your plot and by any dialogue.
  14. If you write something we’ve seen a million times, change it. Invent something that is new … or even the exact opposite of what we expect.
  15. When you have the most amazing story in the world, a few typos won’t make a difference. But when typos are on the first page, it doesn’t give you much confidence that you’re in good hands as a reader. The reader (usually a producer) wants to see that you worked carefully on the script and gave it your best shot. If you’re unable to tell the difference between “your” and “you’re,” you should ask a proofreading service (or an eagle-eyed friend) to correct your script.

The correct formatting and page numbering

A screenplay has between 90 and 120 pages. When writing the screenplay, please always use

  • Courier as the font.
  • and is the font size 12 PT.

There is a good reason for these specifications! A correctly formatted script page in Courier font is equivalent to about one minute of running time / plot time in American paper format in cinema or on television.

How many pages does a screenplay need to have?
  • The average page count of a screenplay is between 90 pages and 120 pages
  • Comedies tend to be on the shorter side (90 pages or 1 ½ hours)
  • Dramas often last longer (120 pages or 2 hours)
  • Short films are usually between 10 and 25 pages long (10 to 25 minutes)
  • A series episode comprises between 30 and 55 script pages

Screenwriting software like Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Outline, and Montage (see below) frees you from the need to learn the rules of formatting and the intricacies of margins and indents.

The cover of your script

Just like writing and formatting a screenplay, there are very specific rules (especially in the US) for binding and presenting a script. This helps the reader quickly focus on what’s important: the story.

Instructions: What belongs on the first page of the script?
  • The first page is the title page, which is also written in Courier 12PT font.
  • No graphics on the first page of the script!
  • No pictures either! You’re a writer. Not art director or location scout.
  • On the first page only the title of your script belongs, with the note “script by” and your name in the middle of the page.
  • Add your contact details at the bottom left or right.
  • In the lower left or right corner you can also enter a copyright notice. It is not necessary.

Avoid including date information on the title page. It may well be that your script will be put aside. If the book is picked up again later, nothing makes your script look older than a date stamp.

Screenplay programs and software

Screenwriting software makes creating an industry standard script simple and straightforward. That’s programs like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter put your screenwriting words into the right screenplay format so you can focus on a well-told story, not working on margins and spacing.

There is also a wide range of drafting and development software available to help you organize your thoughts before you start writing. Popular software for story development are

  • Save the Cat: a program that focuses on the proven methods of successful screenwriter Blake Snyder
  • Dramatica Pro: a step-by-step guide to the storytelling process.
  • Contour: a character-based structuring system

If you want a program that combines story development and formatting, check out Movie Outline, an all-in-one development package that uses step sketches for script writing, scene creation, and editing. It contains both outline and submission tracking features.

What is a spec script and production script?

A “spec script” literally means you’ve written a script without an assignment. That means no one paid you to write the script. You write in hopes of selling the script to a producer later.

A professional writer is an amateur who has not given up despite his failures.
Richard Bach

Once a script is purchased and you work for pay, your script becomes a production script.

The production script is the film production version of the screenplay. It contains technical instructions, such as notes on film editing, shots, cuts and the like. In it, the scenes are numbered.

Subsequent revisions are marked with a color-coded system. This allows the film production (usually the 1st assistant director) to work with the director to more easily determine the sequence of scenes for the most efficient use of resources.

Pro tip

The biggest mistake any new writer can make when writing a screenplay is to write a script full of production language, including camera angles and editing transitions. Even if you’re listed in the as a writer, you’re not a director. But booze is booze and rules are rules.

If you want to not only write a screenplay, but direct it yourself, try your hand at being an independent filmmaker.

In summary

You need to know

  • To write a screenplay, you need three things: talent, knowledge of the mechanics of storytelling in film, and perseverance.
  • A professional screenwriter usually works between 6 months and a year and a half on a script for a feature film.
  • There’s a reason why writers in film are among the highest suicide rate occupation in Hollywood. A rule of thumb is that only one in a hundred screenplays makes it to film. This is – mind you! – around experienced writers.

Screenplay Contract Template

If you need a contract: first time congratulations! Because that means you have someone who wants to buy the rights to your movie script. Or gives you an assignment for screenwriting. Both of these are already a level of achievement that many writers unfortunately fail to achieve.

Book recommendations

The list comes from the recommendations of the Writers Program of Universal Pictures

  • Adventures In The Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood, by William Goldman
  • The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby
  • Art Of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives, by Lajos Egri
  • The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), by Phil Cousineau and Joseph Campbell.
  • Rewrite, by Paul Caitlin
  • Save the cat! The Ultimate Screenwriting Book, by Blake Snyder and Kerstin Winter
  • The Screenplay – The basics of screenwriting. Step by step from concept to finished screenplay, by Syd Field and Kerstin Winter
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, by Robert McKee.
  • The Odyssey of Screenwriters, Novelists, and Playwrights: Basic Mythological Patterns for Writers, by Christopher Vogler and Frank Kuhnke
  • Writing Screenplays That Sell (The way to write), by Michael Hauge

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Gabriela Weingartner
About Gabriela Weingartner 24 Articles
Gabriela Weingartner ist überzeugt, dass der Autor Patrick Süskind recht hat, wenn er sagt: »Man muss gescheit sein, um in der dummen Sprache des Films eine Geschichte klug erzählen zu können.«

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