Scriptwriting Success: The Art of Writing for the Silver Screen

From Script to Screen

This article is part of an ongoing series examining the Anatomy of the Entertainment Business

Legendary lines.

Terrific twists.

Captivating cliffhangers.

All of these magnificent moments in TV and film history began with a solid foundation: the script.

Scriptwriting is a craft.

And during the early stages of mastering any craft, you need to soak up as much information as you can. 

Understanding the journey from script to screen and how scriptwriting fits into the entertainment industry is not just fascinating—it’s essential.

In this blog post, we’re going to explore the art of screenwriting: what makes a captivating script, how to navigate the industry and where a future in scriptwriting could take you.

Before the Writing Begins 

Studios are always on the lookout to find a project that sparks their interest. One that has that “something special”, and that they can envision making its way to the screen.

Projects that have a proven track record of success are likely to be a hit (such as adaptations of hit novels, plays or comic books)—but fresh, exciting ideas are welcome, too. 

And once a project is chosen, then it’s time for the screenwriter to jump on board.

Scriptwriting: The Fundamentals of Writing Captivating Narrative

When writing a script for film, TV or other immersive media, you’re telling a visual story. 

Unlike writing a novel or essay, screenwriting involves conveying your narrative through audio, visual, behavior and dialogue—showing your audience what’s happening, rather than telling.

Character development

The heart of any story is in its characters: a strong protagonist on a mission. A terrifying opponent to face. A loyal and charming sidekick who never lets you down.

Compelling, complex characters are crucial to your script. The forming of friendships, the breaking of bonds, the overcoming of obstacles—these are all powerful ways to relate to your audience, evoking emotion and keeping them gripped.

During the character development process you’ll likely get input from many other industry professionals. 

Directors work closely with scriptwriters to understand the characters’ motivations, backstories and development arcs, ensuring these elements align with the overall direction of the project.

Producers, especially those involved in the creative aspects of production, might offer insights into how a character’s development could impact the budget, scheduling and marketability of the project.

And of course, actors play a big part in bringing characters to life. Through table reads and discussions, actors can offer insights into their characters’ motivations and suggest adjustments that might make the characters more believable or relatable.

Character development can include:

✔️ Defining clear motivations and goals for each character
✔️ Giving each character a distinct voice and mannerisms
✔️ Introducing flaws to make characters relatable and realistic
✔️ Ensuring character development is evident throughout the script
✔️Utilizing backstories to enrich characters’ depth and decisions
✔️Creating dynamic relationships between characters to drive the narrative

Want some real Hollywood inspiration? Check out Tarantino’s character development process here.

Plot structure

Developing your story starts with your plot structure.  A plot structure should break a story down into small pieces—the major scenes which make up your plot (which some people call a “beat sheet”). Plot structure guides your story from the opening scene to the final resolution. It’s the framework that holds your narrative together, weaving through twists and turns that captivate your audience.  Throughout the development of your plot, collaboration is key.

Just as with character development, input from a whole host of industry professionals will enrich your story.

For example, cinematographers can offer perspectives on how visual elements can enhance storytelling, suggesting scenes that might be particularly impactful on the big screen. Editors bring a critical eye to the table, ensuring that the pacing is consistent and that each scene contributes something to the overall narrative.

If it’s a big production, then you may have a script consultant on the team. Script consultants will use their experience to point out plot holes or areas where the audience’s engagement may wane.

A solid plot structure:
✔️ Starts with a compelling incident to hook your audience.
✔️ Builds anticipation. Remember that your story is driven by tension so use “peaks and valleys,” reach a climax, then offer the solution.
✔️ Includes plot twists to surprise and engage viewers.
✔️ Involves a lot of trial and error. Be ready to get rid of old ideas as quickly as you bring new ones to the table.
✔️ Goes through rigorous rounds of testing. Feedback is crucial at this stage and you want as many honest opinions as you can get.

Dialogue writing

Dialogue writing is all about breathing life into characters, revealing personalities and deepening the plot. If you can master the skill of writing clever dialogue, it’ll take your script from mediocre to masterpiece.
Each character should have a distinct voice that reflects their background, personality and current emotional state.
This not only adds depth to your characters but also enhances the clarity of your story, allowing your audience to follow along through the voices they hear.

Collaboration in dialogue writing can significantly elevate the quality of your script.

At this stage in the screenwriting process, you could find yourself working with dialogue coaches who can help to fine-tune the language to match the era, setting or accents of your characters. This will ensure authenticity, creating characters that resonate with your audience.

Through rehearsals and read-throughs, actors will provide feedback on what feels natural or forced.

You should also consider the power of silence when writing dialogue. Pauses, breaks and the unsaid can convey as much as words, offering audiences space to read between the lines.

Writing captivating dialogue involves: 

✔️ Not being overly critical of a first draft.
✔️ Writing using natural speech.
✔️ Creating active exposition.
✔️ Weaving in some conflict.
✔️Showing, not telling (i.e., not overdoing it with the words)
✔️Edits, revisions and more edits. Script revisions can be a real team effort. Directors, producers, actors—they’ll likely all have a say at some point in the process. 

The Writing Landscape: Pitching, Selling and Navigating the Industry

Get to grips with the industry

The entertainment and media industry is complex.

Learning the inner workings of the industry before you embark on pitching and selling your script is critical.

There are many different roles within the entertainment industry, all coming together and interconnecting in an intricate way. You can read all about the anatomy of the entertainment industry here. 

You’ll have many legalities to familiarize yourself with such as contracts, option agreements and intellectual property rights. Getting up to speed with these will help you to avoid the common pitfalls that often come with the business. 

To safeguard your work and help negotiate deals it’s always a good idea to consult experts such as an entertainment lawyer or a finance expert.

The role of finance in scriptwriting 

Every creative aspect of the entertainment industry comes with practicalities to consider—and finance is one of them. 

As a screenwriter, you have financial rights. And the Writers Guild of America (WGA) stands at the forefront of advocating for those rights, ensuring writers are fairly compensated not only for original work but also for related projects such as sequels, spin-offs or related merchandising.

Funding is also an important factor to consider. 

Once a script is polished and ready, producers embark on creating an attractive production package. This package serves as a beacon for potential investors, showcasing the plot synopsis and detailed budget estimates. 

Pitching your script

A good pitch is key to getting a script read.

There are two types of movie pitch:

Elevator pitch
Imagine you need to pitch your script in the time it takes to ride an elevator (think 20-30 seconds). An elevator pitch is a short, snappy, intriguing presentation of your script’s main components: the hook, the extended logline, comparisons with other films and a strong finish (that leaves readers wanting more).  

Standard pitch
An elongated version of your elevator pitch (approximately 20-30 minutes). You may even be asked to include a pitch deck to accompany your script.

Tips for pitch writing: 

✔️ Make it short and sweet. You can give a big-picture of your film’s premise, genre, and comps, while still being concise. Don’t include any information about yourself—only your project. 

✔️ Keep it clear. Avoid elaborate descriptions and long-winded prose. Clearly introduce the film concept with key elements and don’t go off-piste. 

✔️ Protect yourself. Register your project with the Writers Guild of America or have it copyrighted to avoid anyone stealing your idea.

Selling a script

Selling a script is tough work—a process that requires effort, planning and a dash of good luck.

Gaining traction can be a challenge, as major studios rarely buy scripts from newcomers. But the industry is always on the lookout for fresh new stories, so staying focused and banishing any feelings of negativity is a must. 

Top tips for selling a script

✔️ Find the right fit. Don’t pitch a children’s story to a horror film studio. Research and compile a list of producers who align perfectly with your script’s genre and tone.

✔️ Prepare and practice. Nail that pitch meeting by practicing your delivery and anticipating possible questions. Ensure your verbal pitch is as compelling and succinct as your script.

✔️ Market yourself. Crafting an outstanding script is just one part of the battle. You also need to sell yourself as a brand. Use social media, blogs and screenplay platforms to showcase your unique voice and storytelling abilities. Remember, you’re not just selling a script—you’re selling your potential as a writer.

✔️ Network. Build connections in the industry through industry events, film festivals and screenwriting conferences to meet like-minded individuals and industry professionals. These gatherings are golden opportunities to meet peers and professionals who can open doors for you.

✔️ Partner up. A production company or talent agent can significantly boost your script’s visibility. These professionals can champion your work, ensuring it lands on the right desks and gets the attention it deserves.

Career paths in screenwriting

The path of screenwriting is not purely limited to writing original screenplays.

There are other career avenues for those skilled in the art of storytelling.

Careers such as: 

  • Script doctor
    What does a writer do when their script is in trouble? They call the doctor.

    As a script doctor you’re the troubleshooter brought in to polish existing scripts. This can include anything from minor edits to major rewrites. You’ll need an excellent grasp of storytelling and the ability to work to tight deadlines.

  • Story analyst
    Story analysts (or script readers) are pros at judging script potential for studios and production companies.

    They look at structure, characters and dialogue, offering feedback that helps execs decide what projects to chase. And for scriptwriters keen on cracking the industry, understanding what these analysts look for is pure gold.

  • Showrunner
    As the showrunner you’re the ultimate multitasker, merging the creative soul of a writer with the strategic mind of an executive producer.

    As the top creative boss, you’ll be in charge of setting the show’s vision, steering its story and handling the day-to-day operations.

How The Los Angeles Film School fits in

Our Writing for Film & TV program is an immersive journey into screenwriting.

We’re on a mission to equip young budding writers with all the skills they need to bring their stories to life.

With a fully online program that covers the entire screenwriting process, you’ll learn:

→ How to create compelling and engaging characters that drive your story

→ How to pull together a plot structure that’s solid, unique and built for the screen

→ How to write using industry techniques such as active exposition, character-driven dialogue and dialogue that supports story progression

→ How the many different stages of screenwriting play out to transform your story to screen

Are you up for the challenge? 

Discover our Writing for Film & TV degree