One of the best ways to learn how to write a screenplay is, yes, to just write one, but if you’ve never written one before, it’s easy to get derailed by the debilitating thought, “what should I write about?” Just write the film or TV show you want to see, for you’ll naturally be drawn to the genre that interests you the most, which, in turn, will help you finish what you started; and, speaking from experience, if you’re not enjoying the story, you’re not going to enjoy writing it, and you’re probably never going to finish writing it.
If you most enjoy romantic comedies, let that be your first script. If you love James Bond films, write one, even if, for legal reasons, you can never earn money directly from doing so. Even without having studied screenwriting, you inherently are familiar with how either of those stories would unfold:
- In the rom-com, you know it’ll be about two people who meet or already know each other, develop a romance that faces challenges, and is resolved in a happy, sad or bittersweet way.
- If you love James Bond, you already know the opening scene will be James making a suspenseful escape from scores of dudes who can’t shoot straight, that he’ll get help along the way to find the bad guy, that he’ll get cool hi-tech toys to use, will be sidetracked by multiple women, and eventually will defeat the bad guy and save the world.
Once you’ve chosen your broad idea, make it personal — that’s what “write what you know” is all about:
- Tap into your psyche to write about an emotionally charged personal experience.
- Have any outrageous friends or colleagues? Inject their personalities into your characters.
Regardless, the important task is to take your vague idea and run with it — treat it as an exercise to practice the craft, to translate your idea into text, to write something and complete it, even if it’s not perfect.
Steven Pressfield’s “Do the Work” is a great companion to help get you through the process, because that’s what writing is — a process to get you through to finish what you started.
In the process of developing the sitcom that will be part of the Aug. 1 staged script reading in Seattle, I found myself continually drawn to something that was completely different from what I had initially developed, and the reality is that, through the process of developing my initial idea, I became more interested in something new and completely different; and, as a result, I’m much more energized about it. Additionally, the subsequent ideas are flowing more naturally and, I think, funnier than the initial idea I was developing.
Anyway, do the work, endure the process, and even if you find yourself running out of ideas, it very well may lead to a completely different idea that will continue to drive your creative passion.