The DIY / low-cost way of BEGINNING to learn the screenwriting craft

September 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

I was writing an email to a colleague. Got into the subject of screenwriting. Then I thought about what I learned in the past year and five months. So, here is a variation of that summary I wrote in that recent email. It’s like the bare essentials… it’s the DIY / low-cost way of beginning to learn the screenwriting craft.

And it goes like this:

1.) Read lots and lots of screenplays to learn the format. Use a reading quota for best results. For format reference, you can use this (from Nicholl Fellowships screenwriting resources):

Or google the specific questions or use resources like or

If a book must be purchased, even accidentally, I say go for a screenplay format/style book. I personally use The Screenwriter’s Manual: A Complete Reference of Format and Style by Stephen E. Bowles, Ronald Mangravite, and Peter A. Zorn, Jr. as a go-to book for suggestions to keep things consistent (NOTE: I realized this book is pricey as frak (~$62.38 vs. ~$14.80). So here is the cheaper version but essentially the same material minus the two appendices — sample log line, treatment, and sample step outline) (I bought the expensive one because of the reading list from the Scriptwriting Program I graduated from. It was marked down as “mandatory” but actually it was “optional.” I liked it a lot so… I kept it.) 

Although I haven’t used or read it, The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoriative Guide to Script Format and Style by Christopher Riley is recommended by John August (I got this tidbit of info via

2.) Write 3-4 pages of script every day and you’ll end up with 90-120 pages in ~30 days (my experience from the late Script Frenzy challenge) (RIP Screnzy T_T). Superman mode: 6 pages/day, script in ~20 days, etc. Think of the possibilities! But realize that — 

3.) the INITIAL draft is really a stinky vomit draft. Push it out your system as fast as possible. A slow vomit can choke you out. Save yourself from that suffering. Make a nasty mess first and clean it up in the next draft(s).

4.) You need time management skills to keep the daily writing and reading flowing. But you also need the self-discipline to lock it in place. It is said, from rumors and word of mouth, to make or break a habit takes about four to six weeks. This also means every single day of those weeks.

Here’s a method that can help with productivity as told in this video I found:

5.) Practice may or may not lead to perfection, but it will help you evolve and progress as a writer. Both the writing and your confidence. I was watching the Sheldon Turner episode from the Dialogues series and his self-discipline routine is incredible. He sleeps for four hours, wakes up at ~4 AM, writes for an hour, works out for an hour or two, and then writes some more. But in the beginning, he wrote twelve separate screenplays before he was comfortable and confident to let someone read his thirteenth.

6.) Story structure can be summed up in a circle, as written in tutorials (six parts) by Dan Harmon

7.) (optional) To learn more about the theory of drama — study Aristotle’s Poetics. This came up many times… the personal notes I wrote from listening to Israel Horovitz, a Scriptnotes podcast (#41) from John August and Craig Mazin when they talked about screenwriting gurus, and the BAFTA screenwriting lecture from John Logan

8.) Learn to consistently fall in love with what you do. Keep the good vibes. Push away the negativity that can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy about yourself or your work.

That’s pretty much the bare bones for craft. The art of screenwriting is the element that only you can supply. Here is a neat video clip of screenwriter Max Landis (son of John Landis, writer of Chronicle and known for his intoxicated/vague recollection of The Death and Return of Superman), talking about screenwriting and Hollywood at Dubai Comic Con. It wasn’t planned, just a casual spew of words:

For bonus reading stuff, here is a recommended two part article that Film Critic Hulk wrote about screenwriting on Badass Digest. Part one and part two. Note: he writes in all-caps and with the voice of Hulk (because, duh, he IS Hulk) so stick with it and you will be rewarded.

Cheers… until I find more things to say besides yammering about the same shit over and over and over and over and over and over…


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