You want to know about Screenplay Structure, eh?
You’re about to embark on the honorable, yet mammoth task of writing a screenplay. Awesome. First, you’ll need to learn about the screenplay structure and how to get that story spine sorted before you even put pen to paper (or finger to key, it’s the future after all). Luckily, we have our expert screenwriting tutor, Adrian Mead, here to help. Adrian teaches the screenwriting masterclass course here at GetFilming. Adrian has built up numerous credits for BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and CBBC and is the winner of BAFTA Scotland and Cineworld Audience Award for his film “Night People”. He has worked in TV, Film, Radio and Animation, both as a writer and Director.
1. Create a title
What is the title going to be of your script? Titles are hard, there’s no way around that. Most screenplays we’ve written or been involved in writing have had at least five titles and that’s fine. You can always come back and change the title when you have completed the script but for now, get a title on the page! Titles have a habit of coming to you at the right time so don’t force it, it will come.
2. Time and Place
Set a time and place that your film takes place in. If you’re writing a screenplay, especially a feature film, you’ll need to know where and when it is based. Without these crucial elements, you won’t know how your characters interact with their environment and your screenplay structure will fall short very early on.
3. Choose a Genre
Is it going to be a comedy? A horror film? A comedy-horror? Choose a genre and nail it. Don’t start writing without deciding what genre of film you are writing because your film (or TV show) will not be specific enough to any one genre and in the end, the script will be confused and so will your audience. Imagine if, in the middle of Halloween, Mike Myers decided to crack a knock knock joke. That would not be fun.
4. Who is your protagonist?
Who drives the story along? Who are we following throughout this journey? You have to understand who the story is about before you write it. Screenplay structure relies on you, as the writer, to know your protagonist inside out. This isn’t really something you can work out as you go along and hope it works out. Of course, the character can evolve and change over time – Walter White, anyone?. Know everything about them, not just their name. Although it is important to have a name too, obviously.
5. What is their goal?
Now you know who is driving the story, you need to know what is driving them. The protagonist, along with any other major character, absolutely has to have a goal. Otherwise you’re not writing a story. What do they want to achieve? What do they want to prevent? They need to be active in some way, if you have a character where stuff just happens to them and they never react or do anything or they never even achieve anything, your story is going to run out of energy pretty quickly.
6. What’s at stake?
What happens if your character fails to achieve their goal? What are the consequences? What happens if they fail. It was pretty clear that in Armageddon, Bruce Willis’s goal was to save to the world. What happens if he fails? BOOM.
7. Obstacles and Conflict
Whatever your genre, you need to have things going on in your story, you need conflict. You need a reason why it is hard for our protagonist to achieve their goals. Obstacles create conflict, if you have a character that is trying to achieve something and stuff keeps getting in the way or people are in the way, it creates conflict. Overcoming that conflict in a way that represents your character is how you create a story.
8. What is your theme?
We’re not talking about adventure or thriller or comedy, that is your genre. What is your screenplay about? That also doesn’t mean what happens in your screenplay, that’s the story. The theme of your screenplay is going to be deep, man. Think of any film, was is about a massive, poorly designed boat or was it about love? It was about love.
9. In the end…
Nail the end of your script. The screenplay structure relies on your knowing where you are heading. You’ll hear a lot of screenwriters say the hardest part of any script is the ending and there’s a reason you hear that a lot…because it is. What does your protagonist do to bring about the resolution of your film?
There we go, that’s how you begin to figure out the spine of your story. If you nail all of these elements before you start writing your screenplay, you’ll have a coherent and well structured screenplay. If you want to learn more about writing a screenplay, our Screenwriting Masterclass by Adrian Mead is available instantly. The course contains over 3 hours of exclusive content specifically for new screenwriters wanting to learn the art of screenwriting from a working professional.
Let us know your elements to screenplay structure in the comments below.