Screenwriting Series: Episode 01 - How I Start Writing A Film Script

Getting Started On Your Screenplay

1. How do I decide on a topic or theme for my script? For me, it always has to have some root in reality.

There must be something about the story or the characters that I have seen or heard in real life. What touches you emotionally? What issues are you passionate about? Have you met somebody who really fascinates you? Those are the little seeds that grow into an idea. For example, one of latest short films, The Flu, came from a true story my friend told me about when she’d just had a baby and her friend came over to help her but fell ill and she had to look after her and the baby instead. I loved that story, it made me laugh. I can’t start writing a script until there is something that clicks into place that has a connection to something real in my life. 


2. I like to work with dialogue a lot, especially these days. So what I’ll do is I’ll write the dialogue just straight up. Type, type, type. Then I’ll stop and I’ll read it - out loud to myself.

I’ll walk around reading it, listening to it and the second I hear words that don’t flow I’ll edit them and then say the lines again and edit again until I’m happy with it all. I really like the sound of words and I like dialogue that sort of bubbles against each other. I like pauses and breaks being part of the flow so sometimes I’ll write those in. Then once I’m happy with the dialogue I’ll go back and start adding in actions and names and little details.


3. I always start with my favourite scene in my film.

This could be any scene in my film. It could be at the end, in the middle or at beginning, anywhere, but it often tends to be a scene that is important to me emotionally or is an important moment in the scope of the story. 

The reason I start with the scene I love is because it develops my love and my passion for the story. It’s like spending time with the person you love - it fosters more love and more excitement for the project. And trust me - you are going to need every bit of love you have for your script because now comes the time to work on your structure. This is when I outline a structure for my plot. I don’t stop until I have a really strong clear skeleton of a story. There are different formats you can use to guide you along this. Just make sure you have a really strong middle and a really strong ending and don’t leave it alone until you are really happy with it. You can tell when it’s a good plot because up until the moment you get it right you will have a sense of doubt about the story structure. You will think, oh I wonder if that part will be boring or ask yourself, will that section be interesting and make sense. When you have a strong skeleton,  with every section worked out well, you won’t be worried about whether it will work - you will know it will.

4. I don’t write names.

Most of my first drafts don’t have character names. They are either titles ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ or ‘A’ and ‘B.’ This is because I like to write the dialogue before I have even properly developed the characters. Don’t get me wrong, you do need to develop your characters but for me, writing their dialogue is how I start to get to know them. Just the way you would find out more about a person the more you listen and watch them. I just like to write a stream of dialogue between characters before I put in any actions or names. 


Make a list of stories you've heard from friends or family that have resonated with you. Find topics and themes that have a truth for you. Make a list of these topics, themes and stories and see which ones spark a film idea.