Screenwriting 101

Writing a screenplay sounds simple enough. Right? It’s actually fairly simple. Honestly. But writing a compelling screenplay that gets a reader past the first page or so is a different issue altogether. Gaining enough interest to see your screenplay produced and actually made into a film is an entirely different story.

The two most important parts of a screenplay are story and characters. Aside from a solid theme, a legit sensible plot, believeable dialogue that moves the story forward, but that’s all. Simple. ūüôā

We’ve been at this a while now and we’ve boiled this down into a simple process that we believe will help you get started, get unstuck, remove the block, or add to your story or characters.

Outside Arcadia Script

Introduction

Our first class in the art and craft of screenwriting is in sculpting. Yes, sculpture. Hang with me here. This is life-changing information. A great sculptor doesn’t start by polishing the stone or carving the ear of the human figure. That would be foolish. First, the sculptor decides the size of the granite needed. Then he or she chips away the corners, gets the stone to the rough dimensions. Then she steps back and thinks, “That’s far too large for my statue of a child.” So she chips away again until the size feels right. Then they take it a step farther and chip some more off. As the child takes shape, they reassess and make decisions. Is this the right size? The right height? And so on. Eventually they are chiseling out the eyes, the nose, an ear, a toe. It took a while to get here but she took small steps along the way to ensure there would never be a moment to destroy the work and start over from scratch. If a sculptor’s process wasn’t something along these lines, she couldn’t afford another piece of granite. Paper, on the other hand, is not expensive and you’re using pixels anyway, right? But your time and effort is the most valuable limited resource you own. I’ll equip you with a process that helps you to never spend years writing a screenplay or ever scrapping your work and starting from scratch again. Why? Because that just stinks.

What is Art?

I would define art as simply “a created thing of beauty.”

  • Created. Someone made it. ¬†
  • A thing. It’s tangible. Something you can hold, touch, smell, feel, hear, display, taste, or view.¬†
  • Beauty. This is subjective for certain but true beauty moves us deeply and invokes an emotional response.

As we continue through the lessons, we will learn about:

  • Professional Screenplay Format
  • Screenwriting Apps and Software
  • Outlining / Beat Sheet
  • Screenwriting Resources
  • Competitions
  • And more¬†

Screenwriting Lesson One

Our first lesson in screenwriting introduces the student to story conception and starting well. You will use secretly chosen aspects to aid in starting a story of your own using our story generator. So grab a pen or pencil, download and print out the worksheets or do it digitally. Just do it.

Story Generator

Pick random numbers for genre, protagonist, antagonist, setting/location, and a story element to include. All chosen totally at random, the student is then challenged to solve the problem, incorporating each of the story structure elements into a general story idea. After each student presents an off-the-top-of-your-head story, we let the dust settle then dig into the Save the Cat Beat Sheet. 

Choose a Genre (1 to 15)
  1. Sci-Fi
  2. Action 
  3. Western 
  4. Mystery 
  5. Horror 
  6. Drama 
  7. Comedy 
  8. Adventure      
  9. Noir
  10. Romance      
  11. Fantasy 
  12. Historical 
  13. Satire
  14. Thriller
  15. Mockumentary
Choose a Protagonist (1 to 23)
  1. Pickpocket     
  2. Thief     
  3. Gangster    
  4. Teenage Boy     
  5. Teenage Girl       
  6. Twins     
  7. Teacher     
  8. Coach     
  9. Cop     
  10. Detective     
  11. Soldier     
  12. Hunter     
  13. Doctor     
  14. Farmer     
  15. Mechanic     
  16. Veteran          
  17. Old Man     
  18. Old Woman   
  19. Secret Agent      
  20. Spy     
  21. Prisoner        
  22. Security Guard
  23. Gambler
Choose an Antagonist (1 to 20)
  1. Monster        
  2. Government     
  3. Principal     
  4. Robot     
  5. Aliens     
  6. Gang     
  7. Burglar    
  8. Thief     
  9. Detective     
  10. Soldier     
  11. Hunter     
  12. Doctor     
  13. Scientist    
  14. Assassin     
  15. Spy     
  16. Mechanic     
  17. Hospital     
  18. Animal Hospital      
  19. Security Guard      
  20. Prisoner 
Choose a Key Setting (1 to 22)
  1. School      
  2. Ball Field     
  3. Woods     
  4. Wilderness     
  5. Home
  6. Ocean     
  7. Phone Booth     
  8. Factory
  9. Office     
  10. Lake House      
  11. Farm House     
  12. Space     
  13. Ocean     
  14. Island     
  15. Iceberg     
  16. Cruise     
  17. Prison
  18. Church       
  19. Courtroom     
  20. Warehouse 
  21. Video Game
  22. River
Choose a Key Story Element (1 to 40)
  1. Marriage      
  2. Divorce      
  3. Dating      
  4. Storm     
  5. Dare     
  6. Apocalyptic Event       
  7. Skating Rink     
  8. Lots of Money       
  9. Robbery        
  10. Stolen Car       
  11. Jewelry       
  12. Bomb       
  13. Gun
  14. Music       
  15. Concert      
  16. Wreck      
  17. Explosion       
  18. Dynamite      
  19. Knife      
  20. Blood     
  21. Boat    
  22. Book     
  23. Ring     
  24. Cloak     
  25. Sword     
  26. Crystal Ball     
  27. Computer     
  28. Time Machine      
  29. Video Game
  30. Large Truck      
  31. Camera     
  32. Professor     
  33. Judge    
  34. Jury    
  35. Puzzle      
  36. Fight       
  37. Game
  38. Natural Disaster
  39. Illness
  40. No Money

Character Generator

Each character must be engaging, mysterious at some level, and conflicted. Writing a unique yet realistic character can be difficult. This exercise will challenge you to accept a character as he or she is, before you command them, as the author, to do as you say.

Choose a Positive Adjective (1 to 10)
  1. Kind
  2. Generous
  3. Complimentary
  4. Giving
  5. Brave
  6. Responsible
  7. Loving
  8. Genius
  9. Physically Strong
  10. Positive Outlook
Choose a Negative Adjective (1 to 10)
  1. Thief
  2. Liar/Dishonest
  3. Angry
  4. Egotistical
  5. Dismissive
  6. Annoying
  7. Rude
  8. Grumpy
  9. Disobedient
  10. Dumb
Choose a Neutral Adjective (1 to 10)
  1. Mysterious
  2. Blunt
  3. Cynical
  4. Poor
  5. Wealthy
  6. Aimless
  7. Defeated
  8. Scatter-brained
  9. Quiet
  10. Accepts the Challenge
Choose a Secret (1 to 10)
  1. Alcohol / Drugs
  2. Odd Weakness
  3. Former inmate
  4. Great Loss
  5. Great Gain
  6. Committed a Crime
  7. Crazy Family
  8. History / Backstory
  9. Disease
  10. Forgetful
Choose a Guiding Ideology / Philosophy (1 to 10)
  1. Can’t Kill 
  2. Lawful
  3. Strictly Religious
  4. Can’t Lie
  5. B&W worldview
  6. Must kill
  7. Family First
  8. Faith & Country
  9. Power Hungry
  10. Protection of Life / Way of Life

Character Development

This is the audio from our Film School 101 Character Development discussion on March 14, 2023.

Character Development

by Robb Rokk aka Robb Smith

Table Read and Pre-Production Talk

This is the audio from our Film School 101 Table Read and Pre-Production discussion on March 28, 2023.

Character Development

by Robb Rokk aka Robb Smith