Writing a screenplay is similar to writing a staged play, however there are a few differences to consider. Stage plays are acted out in real time, but screenplays offer the ability to time jump, or to use camera angles and shots to create a more curated visual story and experience.
And knowing how to start a screenplay is slightly different than your average stage play. You don’t want to dive in without a well-built outline, you want to be prepared and organized with your story.
- Opening image.
The first image sets the tone of your film. And even in the writing, this must be what you consider before starting the screenplay. Know your themes and find a creative way to introduce your story. Just like with headlines, your first image will grab the attention of your audience.
Next, before plotting more of your story or outline, consider the closing image. Just like the opening image, the closing image holds great value. You may have written an excellent and engaging screenplay, and presented it in a visually stunning way, but if you don’t make the last image memorable – it’s all a waste. Don’t leave your audience confused or disappointed.
- Inciting incident.
Once you have your opening and closing images, consider what event or moment is going to change the course of your main character’s life. What is it that catapults them into a different direction? This one incident in your story should be the focus action, and without it your character would never reach their destination.
- First act break.
Like with a play, screenwriting needs to contain acts. You have 90 – 120 minutes to tell your story and you need to schedule your time and story wisely. This point should mark the beginning introduction having ended. Most, if not all, of your characters have been introduced and you’ve set up the background for your story. Try to place this about 25-30 pages into your script.
- The midpoint.
The midpoint should be, like the word implies, in the middle your second act. Unlike the inciting incident, this should be the point that changes the direction of the story (not that initiates the direction). Think of it as the turning point. Maybe you are exploring good vs. evil. The midpoint may be the time when whoever is experiencing setbacks, finally sees a light at the end of the tunnel. The idea is something has changed.
- Point of promise.
This is a point when your main character should remain, or reassure the audience, about their commitment to their goal. Shoot to have this happen around page 60 of a feature length screenplay, and remember it’s likely already been mentioned – you just need to reinforce the point.
- All seems lost.
This is the moment when your main character should have a big setback or obstacle to overcome. The point when your audience gasps and wonders how the story will end. This should also mark the end of Act 2 and create a good Segway into the climax.
- The climax.
This is the fun part. Now your main character has their final showdown. Regardless of story type or genre, this is the most dramatic point of your story, and the point of no return for your main character. Their story has been building and this is the moment they get what they came for (no matter how it all ends).
- The resolution.
What happened in the climax? Time to wrap it up in your resolution. The ending to a story is just as important as the beginning and middle. Once your main character has reached the dramatic point of their story, now comes time to see how the other characters are reacting and dealing with the storyline.
- Ending credits.
You may not always choose to use credit roll time, however it can be a great time to finish wrapping up the story, or give your readers a little taste of what happens next (possibly a great idea for trilogies). If you do choose to use it, be sure it works with your ending and closing image. Don’t throw it in just because.
Remember to stay motivated and to practice. The more you write, the easier it will be. So why wait? Use these 9 steps as your constant guide and start writing better screenplays today!
Kenneth Waldman is an academic writer at NinjaEssays and a content marketing specialist at AskPetersen writing services reviews blog. Read the latest reviews about Essay Shark and Grade Miners. He regularly creates writing guides and articles for a broad audience. Follow him on Twitter.