Dos and Don'ts of Screenplay Writing

Dos and Don’ts of Screenplay Writing


Writers are often told that the best way to get their screenplay noticed is by writing it in such a way that it’s marketable. The problem is that this is easier said than done.

If you’re looking to improve your writing skills or learn how to write for film and TV, then these dos and don’ts will help.


Follow the rules of screenwriting. Screenwriters must follow a particular set of guidelines for their work to be considered professional and marketable. These include:

Write in the present tense. This helps capture the audience’s attention from the beginning, making them want to stay tuned in until the end.

Use dialogue that sounds natural and realistic when spoken by characters on screen. Keep things concise by writing short paragraphs and sentences instead of long paragraphs and sentences, so there aren’t any unnecessary words used unnecessarily.

Open with an action scene, not an exposition scene.

You first need to make sure your script starts with something other than an exposition scene. Exposition scenes could be more exciting and help the reader understand what’s going on or why they should care. Instead, open with an action scene that introduces the main characters and their world.

Don’t start with a character waking up in bed. Don’t start with a character sitting at a desk writing a letter. And don’t open with any other type of setup whatsoever. You want to keep things moving forward as quickly as possible.

Write a strong logline for your screenplay.

The logline is a one-sentence description of your screenplay. It should be clear, compelling, and short but not so short that it doesn’t convey the basic story idea.

A good logline will also include an allusion to something in the story that’s not immediately apparent. For example, suppose you’re writing a horror film about two kids who go monster hunting in their backyard at night and they find out that there are monsters. In that case, your logline might say something like this: 

“Two teenagers stumble upon an old house where things go bump in the night.”

This tells potential investors or studio executives what kind of movie you have in mind and gives them some ideas about how they could promote it socially or get people interested in seeing it on screen

keep the story moving forward at all times.

keep the story moving forward at all times. Keep your film from becoming stale or boring. You must keep your audience engaged and ensure they feel like they have yet to see this.

Avoid overdoing it with flashbacks or other flashback devices like explaining things through dialogue. If you use flashbacks in a screenplay, make sure they effectively move the story forward and add depth rather than slowing down pacing by giving too much detail about past events.

Show don’t tell.

The first thing you need to think about when writing a screenplay is your hand moving the camera. Make the audience feel like they’re in front of the screen. Show instead of telling your script.


Use multiple subplots.

Multiple subplots are a shame for the story and can come off as clunky. Adding another subplot just for kicks is tempting. Still, it’s better to focus on one main plotline and let your characters tell the story.

When you have multiple subplots that aren’t connected in any way or if they’re too close together and don’t serve any purpose other than being filler, your script will have trouble keeping readers interested or engaged.

Use flashbacks or voiceovers.

You may be tempted to use flashbacks and voiceovers because they’re convenient ways to tell your story, but they could be better ideas. If you need information that is not in the present tense, go with a flashback or other narrative device instead of using it as part of the story itself. 

For example, suppose your character learns something new about himself through a dream sequence. In that case, that information should either come out naturally during his conversations with other characters or be revealed via dialogue between him and another character who already knows about it.


These dos and don’ts will help you write your next screenplay. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and never be scared to ask questions. Keep writing and keep learning.

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