Writing a Screenplay: Part 2 of 4 – First Drafts

Photo license.

Writing a Screenplay: Part 2 of 4 – First Drafts

Of all the steps in the writing process, I enjoy the first draft most. I’ve already got an idea for what I’m going to write. I have the steps outlined so I know where I’m going. I don’t have to do a perfect writing job. My mission is clear.

When you sit down to work on a first draft, you know that your day’s word count will be high and you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of the day. Every other step in the process can involve a lot of thinking and revision. In the first draft, you can fly right along.

.The Outline Revisited

I’ll assume you already read part one on outlines and that you’re working on a screenplay. If not, you can still follow along.

You’ve turned your favorite story idea into a script treatment and then created an outline from it. Those first steps were small and easy. They took a lot of thought, but you made it. You have a story worth writing.

Now you can use the outline headings as jumping off points for writing each scene in the first draft. The beauty of a first draft is that nothing needs to be good. Whether what you write is great, okay or terrible doesn’t matter. Nobody except you will ever read it. Forget about quality. All you want to do is pound out your story from beginning to end. You’ll fix things up in the second draft and polish it to perfection in the final

.Just Say It

There can be a strong temptation to speed up the first draft by putting in a little note as a way to pass by a scene that seems difficult. Don’t do it. Write the whole thing. If it seems too tough to write that’s because you want to write it well. Writing it badly is better than not writing it. Can’t think of anything to write for the next scene? We’ll get to writer’s block shortly.

.Keyboard Commenting

While you’re writing, you’ll have lots of great ideas pop into your head. You’ll also realize you need to do more research for some scenes. And you’ll remember you have to pick up some milk when you go out this afternoon. Don’t stop for any of that. Don’t even take your hands off the keyboard. Enter your thoughts as comments right in the text using angle brackets. <It’s easy to come back at the end of your writing day, search for “<” and clean up.> You can go through after and change the text color if it’s staying in the file. That makes it easy to jump past the notes when you’re reading through the document later.

.Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist

There’s been so much written about writer’s block that it seems like it must exist. It’s an illusion. A writer doesn’t know what to write next and they stop writing. That’s called writer’s block. You don’t need to stop writing just because you don’t know what comes next. That’s the illusion.

You may not know what’s next in the scene but you know what the next scene is. All you have to do is write to make the connection. If you’re driving to an important appointment and the radio announces that the freeway is blocked by an accident, you don’t go ahead and take the freeway anyway. You find an alternate route. The same with writing.

Ryoki Inoue, who may be the world’s most published writer, says he solves story problems with dynamite. You can do the same. Force your way through to the next step. Is a character getting in the way of the protagonist’s progress? Have him killed by a drunk driver. What’s that? You need the character later? I guess he’s only hospitalized then. He’ll be out in time for his big scene.

There are a few different causes of writer’s block. Some are caused by poor preparation. You won’t be dealing with those kind of problems because you wrote a story idea, script treatment and outline before beginning. Let’s look briefly at some other excuses for not writing.

Other ideas keep popping up. No problem. You’re writing them as notes as you go.

Another is writing in your head before typing it. Nobody else is looking. Just type it down directly. The second and final drafts are for fixes. Don’t do the fixes before you write. You’ll be subjecting yourself to writing multiple drafts and it will take two or three times as long.

Some writers get stuck on the introduction. Like everything else in the first draft, you can rewrite it later. If you can’t be happy without a good start, write several first paragraphs with a distinct break between them. The start and end of your screenplay really are the most important parts. You should revise both often. But get something down as a starting paragraph and move on with your story. You have a lot of writing to do. There’s no time for hanging out at one spot for a long time.

If you’re physically tired, take a nap. Twenty minutes max or it will feel like morning when you get up. If you’re emotionally tired, get some exercise and it’ll clear right up.

Feeling negative about what you’re writing. If you’re story is any good there’s conflict. That means you’ve got some bad characters in there. Jump to where they play a part and write their lines. When you’ve had your fill of negativity, go back to where you were and continue.

Two related problems are deadline intimidation and your internal editor. Both should be easy to banish. Because it’s a first draft, you can ignore your internal editor. Everything can be fixed in the next draft. The deadline problem also goes away just by writing. If it’s an unreasonable deadline externally imposed you can get revenge by submitting the first draft. With that happy and ridiculous thought in mind, you should be able to speed along. Then do the second draft. You don’t want anyone reading your first.


The formatting of a screenplay is not like a book manuscript. The margins are extra wide and there are different indents for every kind of entry. At the first draft level of your screenplay you don’t need to worry too much about the format. You just need to get it written. You can fix it in the second draft.

More important than the format is what you actually write in a screenplay. There are no long descriptive scenes. You aren’t helping a reader imagine what’s going on. A film is presupposed. You present the bare bones and the producer and director will show the audience the scenes.

Write your screenplay as lines of dialogue with descriptions as one liners. Here is a short example of a screenplay that should be good enough to go on for now. The important thing is not to waste a lot of time on descriptions that you won’t be keeping.

For part three of this series, when I write about second drafts, I’ll provide a list of links to sites that can help you get a grip on the formatting. This series of four articles is to help you get the big picture. The details will be filled out in later articles.


Your first draft mission should be clear now. I didn’t say a lot about writer’s block because it could be an article on it’s own. And there will be a writer’s block article here in the next couple of days.

I’ll be dealing with the second draft next. It’s not as satisfying to work on because you don’t get a good daily word count. If you track your word count it can seem like you’re not getting anything accomplished. But, like all writing problems, there are ways around that. On the plus side, when you review your second draft work you’ll see that you are producing some great material.

Article by Ivan Izo.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s