Screenwriting development slates and focusing on stories that resonate

Screenwriting development slatesHowever arbitrary, the start of the new year is when we’re reminded to make resolutions, set goals, etc., etc., which, admittedly, prompted me to add a new column to my screenwriting development slate — an addition I expect to resonate throughout the year. Wait — a screenwriting dev slate?

Why screenwriters need a development slate

You’re probably focusing on one screenplay right now, and that’s great, but keeping a development slate helps you keep track of all your ideas, and, more importantly,  prioritize them. But are you SMART-ly pursuing your screenwriting goals?

S.M.A.R.T. screenwriting, and smart goals

The SMART acronym, popular in the personal coaching world, stands for:


For more on applying SMART to your regular screenwriting, See Jenna Avery’s excellent article, Get A New Story: Set Smarter Writing Goals.

I highlighted “Resonant” in red because that’s related to the new column I added to my dev slate. I like to use Microsoft Excel for my slate, but any spreadsheet software with sorting functionality will do. Here are the column headers I’m using now:

  • Column 1 – Priority: I use a number format based on the year, followed by a decimal that will stand up to sorting. So, 2015.1 would be the number I use for the screenplay I’m prioritizing over any other 2015.x screenplay. And random ideas for future consideration would have Prio 2016.x or later.
  • Col. 2 – Project: The story’s title, or, if I’m not sure of a title, its working title. Either way, something reflective of the story’s genre and/or theme.
  • Col. 3 – Logline: Typically one to three sentences that capture the main character’s want, need, story goal, and main obstacle.
  • Col. 4 – Genre: See John Truby’s fine article on the importance of deciding the genre of your film.
  • Col. 5 – Status: I use terms that reflect how deeply, if at all, I’ve developed the story: “Concept” tells me I simply made note of the idea; “Story Development,” for taking things a bit further, “Script,” if I’ve got pages written; use whatever makes sense in your busy life.
  • Col. 6 – Resonates why: This is the column I just added — a reminder of why I was attracted to the idea in the first place. This is excruciatingly critical, because if you don’t remember what sparked the idea in the first place, eventually you will abandon it. On the flip side, you’ll remind yourself why you need to focus on some stories more so than others, because the screenplays you need to write most likely will be the most fun to read; and therein lies the path to success.
  • Col. 7 – Comments: This is where I make note of the producers I’ve contacted, or anything business-related.

I use the sortable spreadsheet approach because it helps to filter on specific columns, which then leads to re-prioritizing the list from month to month — and the game here is to keep focused on what resonates with you as a screenwriter.

Mind the all-mighty backup

I use OneDrive and Dropbox to ensure I’ve got such critical files backed up offsite. It’s also useful for transferring files when switching from old computers to new ones, as well as keeping files in sync across multiple devices, like your tablet or smartphone. It’s important to record an idea as soon as you get it, wherever you are, on any connected device.

So, “SMART” the new year off right, with your specific, measurable, achievable, resonant, and time-bound screenwriting goals, keeping it all on track with the help of your screenwriting development slate.


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