How to Write a Screenplay in Six Weeks
With coronavirus covid-19 keeping many of us at home for an extended period of time, you have the perfect opportunity to finally finish that screenplay! So…where do you start?
Schedule for how to write a screenplay in six weeks
Many new writers get inspired and jump right into filling up the blank page, but this method can be a disaster. Instead, schedule time for research, planning and outlining! Here is a six-week plan for how you can finish that script.
WEEK 1 – Brainstorming and Research
If you already though of your movie idea, great! If not, you can start brainstorming in week 1. Rewatch and think about your favorite movies. Do they share common themes or similar worlds? You can come up with a movie idea starting in a few different ways. Character and Premise might be the simplest:
Who is your story about? What does your character want? What tactics or methods do they use? What obstacles are getting in their way? Why are they interesting? How do they see the world differently from other people?
What has happened to your character (or the world) that must be solved? What tricky situation has your character been thrown into?
You’ll notice that both of these include CONFLICT, an essential element of your screenplay. Try to write about a character who is facing some kind of struggle (be it physical, situational or existential).
If you’re delving into a specific world (or true story) that you don’t know much about, you may also need to spend a few days (or more) researching the facts.
Once you choose a character or a premise/situation, then you can begin outlining.
WEEK 2 – How to write a screenplay outline
Professional writers often give conflicting advice about whether you need to outline your script. But if you’re a new writer, an outline will really help you. Some professional writers have written so many scripts that the structure of a screenplay now comes naturally to them. They may say that they don’t write outlines, but often this is because they’re outlining in their heads.
Perhaps it seems crazy to take two whole weeks for brainstorming and outlining when you’re trying to write a screenplay in six weeks, but we promise that this will actually SAVE you time in the long run!
Outlining doesn’t mean you need to know every single plot point and character decision before you start writing. But try to establish the following plot points of your screenplay:
Act one – we meet your character and learn about their struggle.
Catalyst – during act one, something happens to the main character that shakes up his or her world. Note that this doesn’t mean important things can’t happen sooner!
Break into act two – Your character embarks on a mission or begins a new journey. In some movies, the character has decided to pursue this goal (such as trying to win a sports championship). In others, the character is FORCED to do something, like fight for survival.
First half of act two – Your character faces conflict as they try to achieve their goal. We meet new people and learn of new complications. You might also introduce a secondary B-story.
Midpoint – in the middle of your screenplay, something shifts. Perhaps the character starts trying to achieve something different from what they were trying to achieve at the beginning of act two. In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods stops trying to win back her ex-boyfriend and starts working on a law case. Perhaps there is a new deadline or new problem for your character to deal with.
End of act two – everything goes wrong. It feels like your character will NOT succeed. In Contagion, people are looting and fighting over the cure. The virus is continuing to spread. Mitch and his daughter can’t get to where they want. Dr. Mears dies.
Or, perhaps your character HAS succeeded – but it’s not making them happy, or they don’t want it anymore. In Home Alone, Kevin finally gets what he wanted at the beginning of act one – to be by himself with his cheese pizza – but he misses his family.
Break into act three – your character rallies and tries to succeed again, either at the same goal or a new goal.
Ending – how does it all work out? Is there a twist? A reconciliation?
Now, keep in mind that your chosen plot points are not set in stone. If something doesn’t work in the draft, you can change it! But you have to choose something. It’s daunting when nobody is around to validate your decision, but you can always bounce ideas off a friend or try something else later!
WEEK 3 – Writing act one
Finally, the fun part! In week three, you will start actually writing your script. Some writers don’t like to write their scenes in order; it’s fine if you want to jump to writing your grand battle finale. But start with something! If you’re aiming for a 5-day work week, then you just need to write 5 pages a day to finish act one in a week. A 25-page first act means that your screenplay will be 100 pages overall (25 pages for act one, 50 pages for act two and 25 pages for act three).
Say it with me: Five. Pages. A. Day. That’s it!
WEEK 4 – Writing the first half of act two
In week 4, just keep going! Have fun with the first half of act two. This is where you can put your big set pieces and “trailer moments.” If your movie is a comedy about an FBI agent who goes undercover at a cheerleading camp, this is where we’d see them struggling to wear the outfit and perform the moves. If your movie is about car thieves, we’d better see some cool car chases here (and probably everywhere!).
Here is also where you might start doubting yourself. Don’t give up! You’re more than halfway there! Resist the urge to go back and rewrite a lot as you go. It’s fine to polish dialogue or make small changes as you figure things out, but if you’re obsessed with making act one perfect, you might never get to act two. It’s okay if there are a few dropped threads or things that don’t make sense. It’s okay to include placeholder lines like [insert joke here]. This schedule assumes that you’ll have a FIRST DRAFT in six weeks and that you absolutely will need more time to do rewrites. That’s fine! That’s how the pros do it.
WEEK 5 – Writing the midpoint and second half of act two
Don’t neglect that midpoint! The second half of act two shouldn’t just be more of the same.
After the midpoint is where things really start to go wrong for your character. Let those antagonists win! In a buddy comedy, let your two leads finally confront each other about their frustrations and flaws!
WEEK 6 – Writing act three
You’re almost there!! Think of act three as your big finale, whether that means a gun fight, a car chase, a space battle, or dashing through the airport to stop your love from getting on the plane. It can also be where your character finally has learned something or shifted their method so that things are working. Act three should be connected to act one; whatever was going wrong then has a parallel story beat now. If you’re finding it hard to come up with scenes for act three, then you may need to revisit act one during the rewrite process.
You’re done with the first draft, which is the hardest part! Writing a screenplay at all is a huge accomplishment in itself. You’ve gotten farther than most aspiring writers ever get. Now you have something you can show people and get feedback on. It’s always better to have a flawed but complete draft than a perfect piece of a script.
Are you working on a screenplay? Tell us about your experience in the comments!