It’s a long and lonely road, but it’s worth the journey

Description of Course

Beginning Screenplay Writing is a short-term course that intends to be practical, experiential, and motivational for building an original screenplay. The course intends to facilitate creative skills-building, reflection, and growth through self-discovered, self-appropriated learning-by-doing. The class facilitates a creative journey of self expression, and it guides the student to find an authentic voice in screenplay writing. This class aims to help a student design a plan of action, build characters and scenes, hear readings of original dialogue or voice-over narration, and to “pitch” an original creative vision.

What does it mean to build an original screenplay? What’s the difference between building a screenplay and scriptwriting?

Building an original screenplay is different from writing a script. A script is usually headed for production with specialized technical and creative work, while a screenplay probably is not going straight into production, and it is subject to change.  It is a fine technical distinction but significant nonetheless—building a screenplay and writing a script diverge as two different processes with different purposes. For example, when building a dramatic or documentary screenplay it might not be possible or necessary for the screenplay writer to know the ending of the story. The story and its screenplay are in the process of being built or constructed.  Conversely, when writing a professional script for media production or performance it is essential for the writer to know the ending.  In this course, we are focusing on building your screenplay, developing it step by step , whether or not your story has an ending.

All writers understand that writing must be done alone, privately, over long hours.  What do we do in class? How can the class help me to grow as a writer?

Our class is a chance to produce original work, and to hear it read out loud in a supportive creative environment.  The class also intends that you learn useful skills and ideas that facilitate your growth as a writer. This class could be helpful for adapting an existing work or for creating original work from the beginning; plus we will read, listen, discuss, and interactively share our thoughts, ideas and impressions.  Beginners welcome! 

What is the starting point for screenplay writing? How does a student get started as a writer?

Start by introducing a time and space for your writing, bringing it into your daily routine; then write freely, curiously, mindfully, and consistently. 

For this class, you are building an original screenplay. You will build your screenplay from the beginning by writing a few sentences about your story idea(s), then progress by developing more complex characters, objectives, and scenes, developing backstories, and writing/editing a series of scenes that form a sequence or Act; or, alternatively, if you are interested in non-fiction stories you might build a two-column AV script for documentary or corporate productions; or you might explore other text-based  models for media production or performance. In this class you are free to explore styles and formats through a creative process of learning, writing and rewriting, reading the work of others; reflecting upon your growth and pitching your vision and story ideas to others.


LEARNING UNIT 1 The big picture: Building the story and a screenplay

Assignment 1: Write an essay of any length to clarify your purpose–what do you want to do, say, and realize? What do you hope to learn in this course Why are you taking the course? What do you want to do and learn?

Purpose and discussion

This essay is about you. Expressivity, flexibility and a willingness to change, and having open-minded response to new ideas and possibilities are the recommended best strategies at this point as you write about your work. Write clearly and help the reader to understand how and why you intend to move forward. Always recognize that change is a good thing that might happen.

Write your essay by freely associating in first person voice, prompted by some of these question(s): What kind of a screenplay do you want to write? Why are you passionate about your project? How do you anticipate your audience could experience your completed work? What do you aspire to accomplish as a creative screenplay writer on this project? How do you plan to move forward from this starting point?

How often should I write? Can I schedule my creative writing? How can I motivate myself to write?

Try to experience CREATIVE FLOW as you write. Seek intrinsic motivation. Do your best to build a routine that allows you to keep going forward productively. This class is intended to help you at early and important points in the screenplay writing journey. The aim of this course is to help you work toward a plan of action that leads to intrinsic motivation, productivity and creativity in your writing.

Assignment 2: Describe your story in a few paragraphs (aim for about one page).

In your essay, clarify your understanding through writing about your ideas, connections, and vision. In assignment 2 I recommend that you identify the research and knowledge that might be relevant to your story, but it is also important that you write freely.

How long should my description be?

Have no concern about page length at this point–don’t worry about writing too much, but do aim to write plentifully–then edit those pages and paragraphs to one page. Continue to polish your project description for future use.

How can I write about my project in a general way? Research, development, purpose

As you write about your project I suggest you consider the model of the Four Domains. This model could be useful as you generally locate and describe your project.

It is important that you build knowledge and understanding by asking important questions: What is the intended audience? What is the anticipated market for your work? Is your story educational, commercial, entertainment, artistic, social development media, or something else? What are the differences and similarities in the various Domains? How do each 0f the Four Domains interact, intersect, or overlap in your project? For example, what does “entertainment” mean to you? Does entertainment infer mere diversion or folly, or something more? Think deeply and express your vision.

I already have a 3-act story structure with characters developed, plus I have been writing scenes, how do I move forward?

Perhaps you have you already clarified a beginning, middle, and ending of your story, and you know who are your main characters and what do they individually want or need? Through readings and rewrites is conflict palpable in each scene? If you have reached this advanced point, one way to move forward is by pitching your project and polishing your short description, rewriting scenes, clarifying the story structure, and continuing to make outlines of each Act (assignment 3). Whether you are a beginner or a master, scene-writing is a constant effort in addition to the descriptive writing.

Printing of the one paragraph description is recommended, but optional. Discussion in class.

What if I don’t know the whole story yet?

If you don’t know your whole story yet, that’s OK and why you are here in this course–

1) I advise you to do a lot of introspective writing (you might even try proprioceptive writing!) to flesh out your main story, situations, and ideas for scenes.

2) continue your skills-building by writing two-person scenes with dialogue and conflict (assignment 4-5-6)

Assignment 3: Create lists, timelines. and/0r outlines about your characters and story. Whether you are writing a dramatic or a documentary screenplay it is always beneficial to create lists, timelines, and outlines of potential characters/interviews, basic storylines, areas of interaction, potential conflict and emotional range. Lists and outlines are useful or your reference. Print and bring to class if you wish, but this is optional.

LEARNING UNIT 2 Improvisation, treatments, outlines, and scenes

It’s time for you to determine the best step forward in in your journey through the land of screenplay writing—is it best for you to improvise some situations or scenes to get some new ideas for your characters and story? is it best to dive in and start writing a scene? a treatment? can you do both at the same time?

In this Unit you will write a scene with your main character interacting with someone else. Integrate dramatic conflict in the dialogue. We seek dramatic conflict in the dialogue and we want to learn something about your characters as they interact.

Assignment 4: Write and re-write a scene with two characters having a conversation in three pages or less. The scene should have only two characters in dramatic conflict. 3 page maximum. Print and bring to class for reading.

In conclusion, Assignment 4/Unit 2 asks, “what’s at the heart of this story or scene? what is the primary conflict of the (main) character with the other character? what are the needs or wants of each character in the story and in each scene? how do I “show” or express conflict through dialogue/sound?

LEARNING UNIT 3 Dramatic conflict, actions and character motivations; turning points, the mid-point crisis, Aristotle’s Poetics and the three-act story structure

One should always read and re-write the work to achieve greater clarity about the best direction forward. Just write with regularity and with your imagination as the main sources of inspiration. The objective of Creative flow can be a useful motivation for consistent, experiential writing.

How can I improve what I have written?

We can only improve our writing skills through reading and rewriting. Stop writing for a moment, then with some regularity you read the work out loud, sometimes recording audio if it helps you to study and respond as you rewrite; listen to the sound of your words then do a re-write, and then keep on going, ad infinitum until your story, scenes, characters, and structure are ready for scripting and formatting. The class is intended to support and encourage you in this creative journey.

Assignment 5: Write and re-write two more scenes with two characters in each scene–EXT/INT, LOCATION, and TIME indicated at the top of scenes–six pages or less for two scenes. Print your work in progress, as you wish, so we can share and discuss in class.

Continue writing scenes and/or project descriptions, reading and listening to your work. reading the work of peers, editing and rewriting, pitching and presenting your vision, plan, and work as much as possible.

Extra credit: Watch/study a film, any film, and try to visualize and describe its story structure framework using Syd Field Three Act Structure.

I also recommend you select a film that has its screenplay included in RESOURCES so you can do deeper analysis.


Assignment 7: Pitch your story and screenplay to the class in five minutes.

No matter where your story is situated in the building process, it is important that you are continuing to explore, rewrite and pitch your ideas. By rewriting and by pitching, you can integrate what you have done in the course’s previous assignments. It is also important that other knowledgeable folks read and comment about your work as often as possible.

What does it mean to “pitch” my project?

In a few short minutes, speak in depth to the class about your project. Integrate the work you’ve done so far and express your vision for the story, describing the passions that drive your commitment and plans. Help each of us to focus our attention upon the essence and details of your story and project–convince, describe, persuade and motivate us to love your story and project–how could an audience relate to it? Do you seek funding? Collaboration? Why should your story and screenplay become a film or other performance? What do you need, want, and seek? In the pitch tell us about your story and the main character’s objectives. Describe and seek and ye shall find. It’s OK to use notes or other presentation tools as you pitch your project, but it’s better if you just speak knowledgeably and informatively from your heart.

What can I do when the class is over?

All students, beginning or advanced, are encouraged to take the class multiple times. In between classes, your goal should be to integrate what you have done in the course’s previous assignments. No matter where your story is situated in the building process, it is important that you are continuing to explore, write and rewrite and pitch your ideas. It is important that other knowledgeable folks read and comment about your work, at least on occasion. Keep writing and never quit.