Screenwriting basics are usually pretty well-known: proofread, write with a professional screenwriting software to make sure you’re formatting is correct, and generally try to keep your story engaging.
However, there are some other basics that may seem normal to some, but are often overlooked in early drafts by writers new to the industry.
Here are three tips to keep in mind for those of you starting out:
- Don’t make your characters’ names too similar. If you have an opening scene about Dan, Danielle, Daniel, and Dave, your reader is going to get confused – fast. There are times when similar names serve a purpose, either for comedy or another narrative tool, but try to vary your characters’ names as much as possible. Generally, if you really want to avoid confusion entirely, start at A and go all the way through Z before restarting the alphabet when naming characters.
- Don’t use too many lines on the page without interruption. This applies to both dialogue and action lines. Keep in mind that you’re writing a screenplay, not a book – so your action lines should be split up. The general rule of thumb, these days, is 3-5 lines per paragraph (not a hard and fast rule, but a nice guideline to make sure you’re not filling the page with chunky text). As to dialogue, remember you’re writing a screenplay. It’s meant to be seen – and visuals are vital. Keep your visual descriptions engaging, and break up lengthy chunks of dialogue, so we know what the characters are doing – not just what they’re saying.
- Don’t forget sluglines. When you move from one location to another, put in a slugline to indicate a new place. It’s well worth the time to go through and do this, for both your reader’s sake and the sake of your production team. It’ll save everyone time and be much less confusing than otherwise.
Most of all, enjoy the process! If you’re passionate about your idea, it will come through on the page. For more tips on getting past readers, check out this Writers Store class: Getting Past the Hollywood Gatekeepers.