10 Things You Need To Know About Writing A Screenplay

If you want to write the perfect screenplay, just as you would like to bake the world’s best cake, there are certain ingredients you need for the recipe to deliver ideal results.

All writers get lonely, lost, annoyed, frustrated and muddled during the process of writing a story and need to take a road home to their writing selves.

That road is The Write Journey, a journey into the heart and soul of the story, into the craft of writing, and ultimately into the art of storytelling. 

Following in the tradition of 23 years of extensive workshops throughout South Africa, and courses internationally, The Write Journey is an interactive course for writers who would like to write a screenplay for a feature film or television and is ideal for novelists and playwrights.

The Write Journey is your journey from the moment of first love, falling in love with an idea to the moment of saying: “I do”, signing a contract with yourself, a commitment that will ultimately result in a story the world wants to experience and enjoy.



Your idea must have a solid premise and concept to lay the foundation of your story. Whereas the premise focuses on the central dilemma and central conflict that form the basis of the story, the concept or logline focuses on character and action: a character in a place doing something and wanting something.

Before you start developing the idea you have for a story, you need to know what genre you want to set your story in, and what type of story you want to write. Genre is simply the category you choose to write or the type of story you want to write; this can be a drama, romance, action-adventure, science fiction, comedy, horror, musical, documentary, or a well-balanced mixture of different genres (An action-romance, a horror-comedy)



Once you have something you want to write about (Idea), defined the Premise and Concept, and know what your Genre is, you need to know what the intention, objective or controlling idea – theme – of your story is.

Feed your talent. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. If you have not lived an idea, should you write it? Yes.  Do research. Gather your material any way you can. Preparation and research are essential to the screenwriting process. As you research and explore material relevant to your story, you will discover surprising information that unlocks story possibilities and lifts your ideas to another level.



Fully explore and develop the people who live in your story. All memorable and successful films have one thing in common.  Not genre. Not budgets. Not even a good story. They all have memorable characters that have become part of our culture. In film, or in any fiction/non-fiction, the best stories are told within the context of human relationships; it is not so much what happens on the screen that affects us, but what happens to whom. Great stories are about characters we care about.

A story without structure has no storyline; It wanders around, searching for itself, and is dull and boring. It does not work. It has no direction, no line of development.  Screenwriting structures come in many shapes and sizes; there is no one method that suits all. The structure is the foundation of storytelling, and although many have claimed to break it, it always exists in the background of every strong narrative.



Structuring the plot of a great story is distilling from all the elements of writing – the premise, concept, characterisation, theme, story, dramatic action, obstacles, etc – a set of story events that builds suspense, and utilises surprise and logically makes sense. The plot must follow the rules of logic and still remain unpredictable, it must work on the emotions of the audience/reader without being manipulative, and must weave together outer story problems with inner character dilemmas. The plot takes the audience/reader on a journey and when it arrives at its destination, the tale it has told stays with you and leaves you enriched.

There are 13 structural points /structural signposts that will help you to write a solid story outline, ensuring that theme, character, and plot are united. It is an organic process rooted in Classical Design (3-act structure for screenplays), and is ideal for novelists to structure the chapters of a novel, or if you want to adapt your screenplay into a novel. 



Write a story outline. The function of your story outline is to identify the story events (scenes) of the most important events in your protagonist’s life. You are not writing a full treatment, but outlining your story. The magic of the story outline is that it reveals what story you are writing. A story outline for a feature film will have an average of 40 – 50 story events. If the outline only has 20 or fewer events, you are writing a short story/film, and if the outline has more than 100 events, you are probably writing a trilogy or even a TV series!

Use your story outline to show you what story you are writing.

Once you have completed your story outline you will complete a scene outline to build and dramatise each story event and to explore the exterior and internal lives of your story. Your scene outline will Identify the line of dramatic action, complete with a beginning (set up), middle (confrontation) and end (resolution),  reveal the opening and closing story values, Identify the turning point, explore the characters in each event: Who drives the event, and who causes the resistance or conflict in the scene?  What is the motivational action of each character?  Identify the internal and external conflict and amplify the theme?


Now it is time to write your screenplay

There is a moment in the development process that separates an idea from a screenplay. A single moment that starts a journey of self-discovery, creativity, frustration, and joy.

All of it leads to one moment and that moment starts with the letter F. FADE IN

Write those two words on a blank page and you are a screenwriter. Better than that, you are a screenwriter with a purpose.

A screenwriter committed to a story worth telling.