So, you want to write a screenplay.
Maybe you’ve read some books on screenplay writing—names like Cowgill, McKee and Field dot your bookshelf. Perhaps you’ve taken some screenwriting classes whether at a local university or community centre. You may have even—saints be praised—read some screenplays.
Great. Good on you. Way to go.
Now, before you type your first letter onto a page, do yourself a huge favour and forget all of it.
Okay, don’t forget it, but definitely shelve it. Put it aside, because almost none of it is useful to you yet.
In short, you can’t handle the truth…and that’s okay.
You’re about to write your first first draft (no accidental duplication there) and your only purpose right now is to tell a story.
Should my inciting incident happen around page 10? Doesn’t matter.
How much detail is okay in my narrative? As much as you need.
When is it okay to use voiceovers? Whenever you want.
None of what you learned really matters at this stage and is more likely to make your job harder than easier. It will become useful, later, when you’re doing rewrites—and you will do a lot of those.
But for right now, all of that information—much of which can appear and may be conflicting—is just a barrier between the blank page before you and the story you want to tell. Or perhaps more importantly, between you and the best story you can tell.
In my experience, it is a 1000X easier to fix bad structure than it is to fix a bad story. (This is not to say that any story cannot be improved.)
If you need three pages of narrative to get you to the first line of dialogue, then write three pages of narrative.
If it takes you 347 pages to tell your story, then that’s what it takes.
If you read yesterday’s pages and they sound like shit, stop reading yesterday’s pages. Keep writing until you’ve told your story.
Contrary to the name of the software package—thanks for the pressure, Final Draft—this is your first draft and it’s going to have a lot of shitty bits and pieces; they all do. I don’t know that in the history of screenwriting, anyone has ever filmed the first draft.
So write like no one is watching; because other than you, no one is. And tell the story you want to tell.
When you finally write “FADE TO BLACK” or “END” or “FIN” (pretentious move, btw), those books, blogs and lessons will still be there to help you get to drafts two, eight and fifteen.
(Please note: When I say ignore everything, I’m also including this blog post. If it is easier for you to tell your story by considering any or all structural and formatting elements, then do so.)
Blaze the trail that works for you, regardless of whether anyone has been down that trail before.