by Gina Vanname
profession needs tools. You can't build a house
without the basic hammer and nails. You can't
trade stocks without a broker. Basketball players
need hoops and a ball, skiers need skis and snow,
artists need brushes and paint... you get the
what tools does a screenwriter need in his or
pen and some paper? A dependable computer? Yes,
an excellent start. But if you're going to write
screenplays, professionally or as a hobby, you
will need to start building and customizing your
Since screenwriting is physical you will need
a typewriter or a computer with writing software
and lots of reference books.
Since Screenwriting is a craft you will need
education, training, and lots, and lots, and lots of practice.
Since screenwriting is an art you will need
every experience you've ever had, every story
you've ever seen or read, everything thing you've
ever heard, and everything you feel passionate
or emotional about... all these personal experiences
need to go into your toolbox.
wrote my first screenplay when I was five, won
my first Oscar at twelve, my second at fifteen,"
said the busy kid. "What can you possibly
write about at your age?" asked the stranger.
"Life," said the kid. "But you
haven't experienced enough life," the stranger
said. "Oh, but I have," said the kid,
"You see, I can remember all of my past lives."
tools are your personal experiences and observations.
Obviously, this is not something you could physically
buy and stick into your imaginary toolbox, but
it is a very important necessity for all stories.
The more you know, see, hear and feel, the more
you can draw from as you write. But don't be scared
off, it takes years to accumulate these types
best way to further develop these types of tools
is to listen to EVERYTHING, absorb and process.
The most evil or vilest person in the world has
a point of view. As a writer, you will need to
understand different perspectives that may contradict
your values and beliefs. The more open you are
to understanding other people, the deeper your
characters will be. There is no right and wrong
in character development - just point of view.
This is why most writers are born analysts.
has been said, "Write what you know."
As your personal experiences and knowledge base
grows (unfortunately, with age), you will begin
to expand your intangible tools and reach new
levels of writing.
Reference List for more info)
could write a better movie than that one. I've
seen hundreds of movies, it's easy," said
the avid movie-goer. "Okay, go ahead,"
said his friend. Months later... "Are you
done with your great screenplay?" said the
friend. "Almost, I'm still working on page
tools are developed through your screenwriting
education or training and practice. If you don't
have a college degree in screenwriting (and most
don't) workshops and self-teaching through screenwriting
books are the next best thing.
recommend that beginners take at least a couple
of classes in screenwriting, preferably, a workshop
type of environment, where you can read and discuss
other people's work. You can learn an immense
amount of stuff from reading and discussing other
writers' under-developed screenplays. It is much
easier to see why other screenwriter's are doing
it badly, then to see your own mistakes.
important to learning the fundamentals of screenwriting
are the fundamentals of universal story structure.
Original story structure comes from folk tales,
fables, and myths. If you can take a class that
teaches these things, you will be way ahead of
of your screenwriting education will come from
books, and boy, there is no poverty on this subject.
I would recommend reading at least two books on
each story and character development and one on
Reference List below.)
crafting tool is lots and lots of practice. Rewrite,
rewrite, and then rewrite some more. The more
you practice the better you become. Screenwriting
IS a craft, and as any other craft, practice makes
the easiest of the bunch to accumulate. Physical
tools include something to write with (duh), a
computer if you have one (with writing software)
and good reference material. Don't skimp when
building your reference collection. Yes, you will
need to buy most of these books. Some don't come
cheap. Start slowly, one book a month. You need
to have these books at your disposal at all writing
Reference List below.)
advice... go out and live a little (and bring
a tiny, little note pad with you). And when you
come back -- write about it!
a relationship, get divorced, go on a trip, snuggle
up with a book on profiles of serial killers or
journals on a safari to Africa, whatever you need
to know how to deepen your characters and generate
are some books I recommend that will narrow your
search through the plethora of screenwriting book
titles. Character and story are always intertwined,
but I've listed (in parenthesis) what I believe
is the stronger focus of the book.
Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri - This
is not for everyone. The book was written in
1946, specifically for playwriting, but I highly
recommend it for screenwriting. Its depth of
information converts over well for the screenplay
format. (Character Development, Story Structure)
Poetics - Aristotle IS the master. He was
the very first to research and analyze story
structure. The fundamentals haven't changed.
Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell - This book is not the easiest read, but explains
the hero's journey by using the classic myth
structure. (Story Structure, Character Development)
Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler -
This is like the "Cliff Notes" version
of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Its content
is taken directly from it, sifting out a lot,
and focusing on myth structure for screenwriters.
But like "Cliff Notes" it waters down
the intricate details. (Story Structure)
Fire from the Gods, by James Bonnet - Also
based on Campbell's research on mythic structure,
but it also examines the structure of fables
and fairly tales. It will help you apply these
golden forms to you own writing and give you
a new insight into story development. (Story
Structure, Story Development)
From the Heart, by James Ryan - A unique
approach that will help to write a character-driven
screenplay. (Character Development)
by Syd Field - Known for converting plot
points to page numbers. It is a good basis to
begin learning screenplay structure, but WARNING
-- be careful about plopping your plot points
onto pre-established page numbers. This rigid
form of writing makes formulaic and wooden screenplays.
The American Heritage Dictionary
Ah, how I love my thesaurus. Your writing software
may have a thesaurus, but you won't be sorry
spending the cash on a good thesaurus when you
realize it IS your little helper. I recommend
Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus - Comes in
paperback and has a section they call Concept
Index, which can come in handy when seeking
The Synonym Finder by Rodale - I have
to admit since I bought this, it's the thesaurus
I've been grabbing first.
This fabulous compliment to your toolbox will
give that thesaurus an extra edge. I recommend:
Random House's Word Menu - It's organized
by subject matter and has juicy sections that
list terms for Verbs of Speech and Expressions,
Character and Behavior, and specific words for
describing specific professions and fields.
And has a thesaurus on terminology and jargon.
Strunk & White's The Elements
of Style - This is the classic of grammar
Action Grammar, Fast, No-Hassle Answers on
Everyday Usage and Punctuation, by Joanne Feierman
- An easy reference handbook.
The Chicago Manual of Style
You'll never again be at a loss for choosing
character names, nor will you be unaware of
the name's genesis. There are books with last
names as well. How else can you know that your
character Kendrick is of Anglo-Saxon descendants
and has "royal ruler" attributes?
Also books on myth names and encyclopedia's
of God/esses. Especially useful for Sci-Fi and
Fantasy writers. *Added by Rachael Cailliach
There are plenty of books on slang, some are
specialized slang: street slang, hospital slang,
sexual slang phrases, as well as general slang.
Slang books are 'dope' for dialogue.
While you don't need a library of other writer's
scripts, it comes in handy to reference them.
Sometimes, you just have to read how they wrote
it on the page.
Each screenwriter swears by the software they
use. I've used Final Draft for years.
All you really need in a software program are:
Formatting options and a good spell check. The
formatting options saves time on typing indented
margins for your characters and dialogue. It
makes it super-easy to insert character names,
locations and make global changes to your margins,
characters, or even change your page count with
a couple of clicks.
If you don't have the money for a good software
package, use any word software and program your
macros (and Styles) according to standard screenplay
Book (for those without software)
The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats
(Part 1: The Screenplay), by Cole/Haag -
This book tells you how to set up your margins.
It also goes into what fonts to use, how to
write scene headings (sluglines), title page