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A Guide to Script Writing

Posted on: April 5, 2022

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get your stories from idea to stage or screen? It all starts with putting your pen to paper — or fingers to the keyboard — to write a script.

Script writing is at the heart of all audiences’ favorite stories. Whether it’s an indie gem or classic blockbuster, the screenplay is where the magic starts. However, before you begin writing scenes or dialogue, it’s essential to build the fundamentals so that you can not only start a script but actually finish it!

Inforgraphic showing 10 steps to write a script

Read on to learn more about each step in your script writing journey.

How to get started: script writing

How to get started: script writing

Every script begins with a story idea — that first spark of something that you want to create for future audiences. Yet, an idea isn’t enough to sustain the whole script writing process.

Instead, writers must first consider what they want viewers to take away from their story. Some questions to consider, include:

  • Is there an underlying theme or message?
  • Are there certain motifs or symbolism that could enhance your story’s goals?
  • Is there a specific genre that you want to stick to?
  • What should the audience take away from your story?

Once these questions are answered, a screenwriter can begin to process and outline their story’s structure to reach these goals. This story will form the content and heart of the script. After all, this is where the writer gets to create new worlds and bring characters to life.

Next, a script writer should research what type of script format is best for their chosen medium. There are specific formatting rules for writing scripts for television, radio, movies or stage, so it’s essential that the writer understands these expectations and follows them.

Script vs. story

There are key differences between a script and a story that a script writer must be able to distinguish. Scripts are based on stories, but a story isn’t a script.

Unlike a script, a story doesn’t have to provide a detailed account of each and every character, their movements or every moment of dialogue. Instead, as a story progresses, its prose begins to build a story with much left to the imagination.

Meanwhile, a script has to be highly detailed. When creating a script, each character has to be detailed to explain their personality. Similarly, every setting is outlined and dialogue can make up the bulk of the writing. Action lines and camera direction are both written out explicitly where needed. Very little is left to the imagination of the reader because the goal focus is to guide a real-life production.


Screenwriting for Different Genres

Screenwriting for Different Genres

Get insights into writing across different genres such as horror and comedy, and for medias including film, television or web series. This enlightening guide contains expert advice gleaned from our various books. Ideal for aspiring or professional screenwriters looking to enhance their skills. 



Develop your idea: Character and world-building

Develop your idea: Character and world-building

This is the fun part of script writing: Developing each character and creating the world setting.

A common question is whether an outline is necessary before writing a script. And the answer is no, but it’s extraordinarily helpful.

A writer that chooses to pre-write saves time in the writing process in the long run, which can help get them to the finish line of writing the script — rather than losing steam halfway through.

Creating your characters

What is your protagonist’s journey? This should be the question that guides how you build your main character. If you want an ensemble cast, this question should be applied to every major player to help flesh out motivations and plot points. Some questions that your character sheet should answer:

  • Who is this character?
  • What is their personality?
  • Why are they in the story?
  • What motivates them?
  • Do they have an important backstory?
  • How do they relate to the other characters?

A top tip: Figure out what your characters want and then make it hard for them to get it. This builds conflict that will carry the story and add obstacles to overcome.

Each character should feel real with decision-making skills that align with their personality and backstory (even if irrational). If a writer is worried that certain characters are falling into cliché, this is the moment to tweak things until they fit the story better. Test out what happens when a character’s sex, age or occupation is changed. Does it remove the cliché? Or better yet, does it turn it on its head?


World-building can be workshopped simultaneously with character creation. After all, the two often go hand in hand. This is how you determine the setting for each of your script scenes.

For example, if you’re writing a fantasy feature film drama set in space, it’s important to determine how different locations will affect your characters and their scenes. Will it be mostly in a confined airship? Is there exploration of other planets? Does this story follow our understanding of the universe and physics?

Alternatively, you may be outlining a realistic, historical fiction tv script set in 18th century Scotland. In this case, research is necessary to determine real locations and how they’d appear to characters during this time. In this case, your creative control may be dictated far more by historical facts and research — unlike for a fantasy film drama set in space.

As you build your world, answer these questions:

  • Are there specific world rules that will affect characters?
  • How do the characters relate to this setting?
  • What is the history of the world?
  • How do people communicate?
  • What does nature look like? Or architecture?

Writing down any and all details before you start your script draft can help whittle down potential frustrations down the road and keep you on track with your deadline.


Scriptwriting for Film, Television and New Media

Scriptwriting for Film, Television and New Media

In this book, writer and filmmaker Alan C. Hueth explains how to write a script and get noticed. It covers multiple script formats, including drama and comedy in film and TV, short films, commercials and PSAs, news and sports, interview shows, documentaries, reality shows, and corporate and educational media, including interactive multimedia.



Script writing structures

Script writing structures

Overall, the script writing structure generally sticks to the common three-act structure:

  • First act: Establishes the main protagonist and sets the scene. Usually ends with a major event or “inciting incident” that jumpstarts the story.
  • Second act: The protagonist has a main goal, but must face obstacles to reach it. Usually, this is where the main character reaches their lower point.
  • Third act: This is the climax of the script; The protagonist achieves — or maybe fails — their main goal, bringing resolution to the story.

This three-act structure may also be substituted for a five-act structure that similarly outlines when the build, climax and final resolution will occur.

However, a script needs to have more than this classic story structure. Each scene needs to have its own reason to be included in the overall narrative. Similarly, the timeline has to be determined:

  • Are there flashbacks?
  • Is the story told in chronological order?
  • Will there be time jumps?

Answering questions like these can streamline script structuring and prevent future confusion when outlining. Keep in mind, the script’s structure should always serve the story and characters rather than vice versa.

Certain films use complex movie script structuring to show a character’s unique perspective — think Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”. This type of script structure is rare though and shouldn’t be used if it doesn’t serve a purpose to the overall narrative, characters and messaging of the story.

Important note: A script’s structure is different from its format. Scripts need to follow industry format requirements. Meanwhile, the overall narrative structure can be altered to best fit your story. There are many online script writing software options that can help you follow the correct script template.


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Scriptwriting for Web Series: Writing for the Digital Age 2E

Written by an experienced scriptwriting professor and two award-winning web series creators. This jargon-free book provides invaluable professional insights on writing both short-form and long-form webisodes, as well as production, promotion and copyright aspects.



Getting from your first to your final draft

Getting from your first to your final draft

The time has finally come, you’ve finished your first script draft. Now, what?

For many, this part is the easiest, while others find it to be the hardest. At this point, it’s time to effectively rewrite or improve the first draft that you’ve spent so many hours workshopping and finishing.

Oftentimes, this is where certain scenes and characters may be cut to streamline the script into a concise second, third or final draft. (There isn’t a set number of drafts that a script writer has to work on before reaching the final product.)

Below are some screenwriting tips to get the script to its final form:

Get constructive feedback

At this point, the script writer knows the story intrinsically and understands what the main message is — but will the audience get it? Asking other writers, editors or trusted friends to take a look and send feedback is the perfect way to get fresh eyes on the script.

Screenwriting is a solo endeavor, but perfecting your draft doesn’t have to be. Allow others to provide constructive notes, which will ultimately improve the writing and final draft. This is a sensitive stage, so be sure to only entrust the draft with those whose opinion you value who will also give notes respectfully and supportively.

Take a step back

If a writer is too entrenched in their current script, it can be difficult to identify where potential improvements can be made.

A good practice is to step away from the current draft and perhaps lend a helping hand on other projects or scripts. This doesn’t mean abandoning your script, but rather allowing at least a day or two to personally detach from a project that has taken so many hours of writing.

Even a short break can help writers edit more clearly.

Repeat, as needed

Rewriting is a key step toward the final script, but it shouldn’t take too many alterations. If major portions need to be re-thought, it may be necessary to pull back and go back to the drawing board.

Similarly, not all feedback needs to be applied to rewrites. Script writers don’t have a hard and fast rule to follow when it comes to creating a final product. Instead, it’s up to the main writer to go with their intuition on whether the script is fully complete or not.

Next steps: Script writing resources Next steps: Script writing resources

Interested in honing your script writing skills? Whether it’s for film, television, radio or stage, below are two resources that can help you on your screenwriting journey: