Getting Started: 5 Things Every Beginner Needs To Know

Thursday 4 July 2019

Today's guest post is covering the top 5 basic tips every beginner screenwriter needs to know. So, whether you're just getting started, interested in starting or need a short refresher on the basics - John Hamilton has you covered! 

Let's hand over to John for our mini refresher on what EVERY beginner needs to consider when they start writing their very first project.

I recently started the journey towards becoming a professional screenwriter, and this article shares my top 5 tips. 

1. Concept 
2. Character 
3. Outlining 
4. Structure 
5. Format
All I’m sharing is my perspective as a new screenwriter.
What is right or wrong? What is good or bad?

There are no set rules, but to break into today’s industry, you need to know some guidelines. To get closer to the answers you seek, research and learn, reach out to other writers, read lots of screenplays, and network with producers, directors, and actors.
Your role is part of a collaborative team and its success depends on how well you perform your job. It all starts with you.
So, write, then rewrite.
There, I said it. The R-word, but this is where the gold resides.
Dig deep and you'll find it but only when you rewrite. 
The first thing I work on is the idea of the story.

Simply put it's, who is the hero (or protagonist), what's the one thing they want, and who (the antagonist) is stopping them?
The first versions are simple, but if the story has merit or speaks to me, I let it ruminate.
I try to make it unique and not cliché but must have a hook. It helps to have stakes and a great twist, too, something ironic or compelling.
Then, that helps me create the one or two sentence logline. 
Out of the logline appears the main characters, but the hero drives the story.

From here, they interact with secondary characters. All secondary characters must directly relate to either character, plus move the story forward.
It helps if I build a profile for every main character and secondary character. Including their ages (range), attributes, physical descriptions, helps when writing their behaviour and finding their voice. Action and dialogue.
For the main character, the most important thing is their flaw.
What's their inner motivation? Why are they who they are? 
Even though my first story was written without an outline, since then, every story starts with one. It creates a path from beginning to end.

From the logline, I expand it into three paragraphs as the synopsis.

Each paragraph brings the hero closer to the goal. The final paragraph includes the climax, where the hero may or may not reach their goal.

From here, I expand the paragraphs and flesh out the story. Then, I pluck out scenes, assigning them a place in the script.

What follows is writing a scene headline (slugline) and a paragraph of who, what, where, when, and sometimes why, for each scene.

Or, I use bullet-points with a sentence or two for specific action or dialogue. 
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end, or three-acts.

For me, I've chosen to build a structure using Blake Snyder’s, Save The Cat, Michael Hague’s, Six-Stage Plot Structure, and other gurus' advice.

My scripts start with a total page target. For instance, features are 100-110 pages long. Depending on the genre, it can be 90 to 120 pages.

I loosely tie specific pages to plot points, though I try to stay within a range. The First Act is simple for most writers. But be sure to set the goal and tone.

The Second Act challenges most new writers.

Remember to let the protagonist drive the story forward. They need to face and sometimes overcome obstacles but also fail.

I divide the second act into two equal parts. The first is where the pressure builds. The second is where it boils over.

In the Third Act, the climax is where the hero’s goal is either accomplished or not. This is called the payoff. The resolution can be the end of the payoff. 
Before, I’ve used many apps and tools to format my scripts.

Now that I've bought Final Draft, I like it. The rule is one-page per one-minute of screen time. The margins are a set industry standard. The outer margins, as well as those within the script, should be adhered to exactly.

Scripts are thrown out by readers and producers solely over the wrong formatting.
So, don’t become one of those numbers. 

I hope you found the above information engaging and enjoyable. It's aimed mostly for new screenwriters but could be a refresher for others.

Figure out your writing process and stick to it!

John Hamilton has a talent and passion for screenwriting. He’s written several scripts since 2017 before acceptance into a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a career focus in film and/or television and other media. He also enjoys video games and comics. To see John’s work, visit

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