Screenwriting Essentials

This tutorial is composed of a series of articles, all aimed at the beginning or student screenwriter, each of which will take you through a different critical step of writing a screenplay. If you read each section and apply the information to your own ideas, you may, in a very short time, be the proud parent of 100 or so pages of three-hole-punched joy. There is no requirement to read them in order, and depending on your needs, you can browse them at your leisure; either as an intensive course, or skim them as a reference. At the bottom of this page is a link to an

Rushing through the process isn’t going to serve you or your screenwriting skills. The more time you take in the early stages, particularly when laying out the structure of your story, the better the overall work will be. From beginning to end, the process should take anywhere from three months to a year, depending on how much time you can devote to your script. Expect to do multiple versions of each stage. Screenwriting is rewriting–so get used to it!

Basic Screenwriting

The Story

  • Growing the Idea
    How to come up with and flesh out the seed that becomes your story.
  • The Basic Outline
    Screenplays are made or broken in the outline stage. Once you’ve got a screenplay draft, you can fix minor problems, but major problems are almost always irreparable. This section will help you understand the components of a strong outline.


  • Character
    The substance and secrets of building realistic, dimensional characters.
  • The Character Questionnaire
    This fill-in-the-blanks template will help you flesh out a character’s statistics, including appearance, biography, psychology, morality and much more.
  • Writing Effective Dialogue
    Who are those people, and why are they saying those things? An investigation into the art and workings of cinematic conversation.


  • The First Act
    Practical and painless approaches to constructing a solid first act foundation for your screenplay.
  • Unlocking Act Two
    Simple structural clues to the second act heart of your screenplay.
  • The Third Act Crunch
    Conclusion, collision, or confusion – how does it all come together at the end?
  • Anatomy of a Scene
    What are scenes really for? How do they work? How do they fit in to the larger whole of a screenplay?
  • Screenplay Style
    Style is a rarely examined yet essential facet of storytelling for film. Yet it can distinguish your work and help it stand out above other, less-remarkable screenplays.

Script Study: “The Matrix”

  • Part I
    This detailed analysis of the screenplay to this hit sci-fi/action flick will show you how structure and character work together in a neat, tightly-interwoven package. Also revealed is how the story follows the classic Hero’s Journey structure.
  • Part II
    How the last half of “The Matrix” builds to its satisfying climax.
Advanced Screenwriting


  • Breaking Free of Genre
    The complications and forms of genre break weaker screenwriters, and suck them down into a death-sprial of cliché and thin character development. Here are numerous ways how to modify and revivify the stale forms of genre to create new, original material.
  • Conflict in Genre: Not Just the Bad Guy
    Writers often neglect to maintain conflict in a genre piece because the good guys all get along. Avoid the trap.

Myth, Symbol, and Philosophy

  • Theme: The Soul of Story
    Understanding and applying theme to your own screenplays is essential to creating work of impact, relevance, and duration — and indeed, the line between competence and greatness.
  • Submerged: The Story Beneath the Story
    A detailed examination of the role that symbols and symbolic meaning plays in screenplay storytelling, via a thorough look at the many layers of theme and idea contained in “Alien.”
  • Know Thyself, or How to Avoid Becoming a Hack
    Only writing that originates from self-knowledge and experience can approach greatness.


  • An Actor’s Perspective
    By looking at your screenplay as would an actor, you can gain deeper insight into your story, and especially your characters.
  • Steal This Idea!
    Hollywood is a seething den of thinly-disguised plagiarism. So what’s stopping you? Here’s how to make idea-theft work for you.
  • Variations in Screenplay Format
    Script format is not as rigid as you might imagine, and you can give your own taste and creative quirks free reign.