How to Write Your Screenplay in 24 Hours
We all know that sitting in front of your computer agonizing over every word is nearly always counterproductive, not to mention crazy making. So let’s start over--by taking a solemn oath that you’ll never again sit down without knowing what you’re going to write before you sit down.
But first let’s analyze what you’re trying to construct when you write a screenplay. It’s not the nebulous, monumental, or overwhelming task our procrastinating imaginations like us to believe. It’s simply producing 115 written pages—with not that much writing on each page, at that.
It helps to have an idea of how many pages you type an hour. That way you can budget time accordingly. For example, if you can type five pages an hour and can allocate two hours a day on weekdays (take weekends off to recharge your batteries and let the story build up pressure in your mind), that means you’ll be able to produce 10 pages per day or 50 pages per week. At that rate, it will take you exactly 12 work days (allowing 2 days for those last 15 pages)--a total of 24 hours of actual writing.
Schedule the same time to start writing each morning or evening, and swear you’ll spend the two hours—timed on a stopwatch—no matter what interrupts you.
Before you sit down the first time, ready yourself for battle by making sure:
1. Your story is already well-worked out in your mind—even it takes a week of walking on the beach (without writing) to get it there.
2. You’ve read four or five of your favorite screenplays based on movies that did well at the box office. Consult boxofficemojo.com to make sure the ones you choose did well; and consult www.script-o-rama.com to download the screenplays free. Studying screenplays from successful movies not only inspires you, but reminds you what to do and what not to do.
3. You remember that a screenplay is nearly all action, and action consists of either physical action (she slams the door behind her; when she turns around he’s holding a gun) or active dialogue. Start by asking yourself what are the obligatory actions of your story, the actions without which the story makes no sense. Those are the ones you use to fill in the blanks, above, estimating where they should come in the story.
4. If you need help deciding what goes where in the story, reduce all the most important actions, whether they’re physical or verbal, to a single 3x5 card for each. Make all the cards you’ll need for your screenplay, and I can tell you from experience that you’ll rarely need more than 100. When you’ve finished the cards, sort them in terms of where in the story they should go. Then re-sort them with the power of hindsight (gained from doing the first sorting).
5. With cards in order, you’ve gone through them one more time making sure your story flows.
6. Your computer is working so you can be ready to start your clock on the actual “writing.”
Now you already know what you’re going to write, so it’s time to sit down and just do it. At this point you should have such a clear idea of where your story is going it should be a lot easier to write your screenplay than if you were simply sitting down and writing a brand new story from a blank page.
No stopping to worry about research, spelling, or even grammar—that can all be checked automatically by Final Draft when you’ve gotten the draft down. You do that checking on Work Day #12. No excuses!
Dr. Ken Atchity taught “Writing Your Screenplay in 10 Weeks or Less,” at UCLA Writers’ Program for years, where he was Distinguished Instructor. In addition to producing over thirty films, Dr. Kenneth Atchity (Georgetown B.A., Yale Ph.D.) his twenty books include A Write’s Time: A Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision (ebook: Write Time); How to Quit Your Day Job and Live out Your Dreams; Writing Treatments that Sell (with Chi-Li Wong; ebook: Write: Treatments), and Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business. His more than thirty films include Meg, the Emmy-nominated Kennedy Detail, Hysteria, Erased, Joe Somebody, and Life or Something like It. His companies serving writers include www.thewriterslifeline.com, www.storymerchant.com, and www.storymerchantbooks.com. His his teaching sessions can be accessed at www.RealFastHollywoodDeal.com, Master Class in Achieving Your Dreams, and Master Class in StoryTelling. For updates on writing, visit Ken Atchity’s Blog