Writing Tutorials

Tutorial: How to Begin When Writing a Screenplay

Tutorial, Writing a TV screenplay: (Research Stage)

When writing a professional screenplay you intend to sell, the first thing you need to do is research. Get your hands on anything and everything you can that deals with your subject and research some more.
I always say in response to why I collect seemingly random textbooks of information in my personal library with

“I don’t necessarily find everything on my shelves interesting or engaging, but one of my characters does–and in order to write them into existence, I must first (in the research stage) know more about their interests and professions then they do themselves.”-Dawson Burdick

In my personal opinion, this stage of writing is the most important and longest step of writing a screenplay or even a novel. But where we differ from novel writing–which paints a picture of a world and gives the reader the freedom to interpret the story as their mind wishes, screenwriters are bound by the ever present reality that everything they are writing has to be seen through a square screen. This may seem like a crutch when first getting started, bit it is only writing with a different end goal in mind and preparing for a complex medium of storytelling that eliminates certain details, but expresses others vibrantly through visual concepts and brings them to life.
One thing that applies to research of any kind, is art of expounding your resources. Yes, this tedious task of seeking valuable information is an art. When reading through a textbook or magazine or news article or even a blog post such as this, take everything; theories, processes, components, ideas, facts, viewpoints, and words of terminology–and single them all out in your research and make sure that you clearly understand and note every detail of each topic until you cannot research any deeper into that subject–then proceed to the next rabbit hole. I cannot express to you how important this is or how many thoughts, stories and characters were born and grown through this technique of expanding your mind to the information and data at your fingertips.

Just because the opportunity and harvest-ready knowledge is there, doesn’t mean it will come naturally or easily to you or assemble itself into a book. The three Ds, Determination, Devotion, and Dedication can be applied to the craft of research and development. Research will assist you greatly and equip you with vital assets you will need on your journey to write a screenplay or novel.

Determination is having the willpower to go against all odds and forces that “Will” try to stop you and persevere when everything tells you that you can’t. Every writer, new and experienced, comes to a point in their career where they have to go on and realize their dream as it becomes their addiction, or they fall to their own traps and have no choice but to turn in the pen. Only we can dictate which outcome will become our reality. Many people say they want to be writers (that is the easy part) or “Claim” to be writers, but never will you see them putting their thoughts and brilliance (which they may or may not have) into writing. You may be the most gifted writer, storyteller, filmmaker, artist, businessman, musician dancer, or stay at home mom, but if you haven’t the determination to truly give it a shot and put in the hard long hours of effort and refuse to quit when it gets tough–which it will–then you deserve to get nothing out of that dream–plain and simple.

Devotion is loving your craft and giving it and those who put everything they have into the craft, the respect they deserve. Every other writer out there is putting their neck on the line and crunching in the effort just like you are, yet you are the one with manuscripts piled in the corner with rejection letters from producers or publishers. Why is this? Well, ask yourself, do you have what it takes? Is your heart in it? Simply put, do you truly believe you can be a writer worth caring about or reading? If you don’t believe in yourself or your work that you spent the last year of your life writing and make the necessary sacrifices to get to your goal, then no high end producer or publishing company will think twice about you or give you a chance. So ask yourself, what is the point of this project? And are you whole heartedly in this thing for the long haul?

Which leads to the final D…
Dedication. This writing thing isn’t just some summer fling, or NanoWrimo competition that lasts a month then you can take a break. Writing is just like a marriage. Don’t commit to a story or characters unless you have 100% intentions of sticking it out until death do you part. There is no stepping away or backing out. It’s just you and your screenplay. This is your path if you should choose to accept it. There is no half effort full of poor ungrounded excuses with “Any” profession or passion. And for the record, there is no going back on marriage if you ask me… (but that is another blog post waiting to happen). If you don’t have a fire burning in you to do something then just don’t do it. No excuses and no compromises, if you truly want something to succeed you have to work hard at it. As good ol’ Nike says.. “Just do it” and I add to that by saying “Just live it!” That applies to all areas of life no matter what you pursue; Career or Profession, your Passion, Relationships, Family Life, and Religion.

It’s remarkable what you can do if you forget the idea of simply Trying and just DO because you believe that you can and there is no other option. You might surprise yourself.

Going back to the beginning, you can’t get to where you want to be without Determination to get started, Devotion to the craft you say you love, and Dedication to learn and master the fundamentals to build a launch pad for the script you are about to write and try to sell.

Best of luck to you all as you research and develop your screenplays. See you next week for our discussion about character development and what makes a true and believable character.

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