Screenwriting Tip #1: Before The Fade In – Know The Screenplay Ingredients

Script photo for effect & example bj GJ

This is just for effect because obviously it would be INT. House – Living room – Day if this were a real slugline (but ignore my rambles and read on)

Hiya, Guys:

Today, I kind of wanted to tell you a story about the little-engine-that-could, rather the little screenwriter-engine-that-could. (And don’t worry it’ll be brief). As some of you might know, and for those who don’t, more than 50% of writing a screenplay or a script comes from prepping and research.  A rough guesstimate would be about 10-15% format and 20-30% is editing/rewriting.

These rules do not just apply for screenwriters or script writers of course. It applies to all writers and our ability to take our ideas and make them real by creating the characters and their worlds. Here’s a food-for-thought question for you scripty-writers: Do you know what the main ingredients in a screenplay are? I mean really know.

It does not have a DP (Director of Photography) or a director calling shots. It does not have an editor choosing how to transition from one scene to another. It doesn’t have an inside voice speaking to the audience telling them how a character is feeling before an action or giving information about a character’s past while the movies in process.

No. The real ingredients of a screenplay are: setting, plot/objective goal, tone, three-dimensional characters, dialogue, active description, slug lines, and a message.  All these parts will prove to be  a bit difficult to tackle at one point or another, but the easiest way to start this journey is to begin with the characters. The characters of the script are the ones who will carry the story the moment you pick up your pen or turn on your laptop.

SW blog post photo for effect & example by GJ

Rarely, are the produced scripts we find on the inter-web  the actual original drafts of the scripts pre-production. They always have extra mumbo jumbo formats and information about the project after production, i.e. camera movement, camera placement, cuts/transitions etc.

I would also like to point out here that when I say screenplays, I mean films. The line between Television and Film has an almost translucent divide. They are very different mediums, but can be very similar. (But I’ll get to that another time.)

SW blog post example photo by GJ

Your characters will carry the story, from beginning to end , on their backs over and over and over again with each edit and revision during the writing process.

The characters are also the ones who will carry your story after you’ve (registered it with WGA,  or copyright it with the Copyright office, always an important thing to check off when you’ve completed your final draft) decided to submit it to a contest or a writing competition.

However, fair warning, if the concept or plot of the script should ever leave the characters behind or take on a mind of its own, then the entire script will suffer. To give a clearer picture: imagine a film rumor you heard about for a production in process or a teaser/trailer you’ve seen for a movie that looks awesome and you were dying to see.

Then, when you were finally able to see the movie all the excitement and buzzing expectations you had suddenly disappear. Or as you’re watching the movie things don’t really seem to fit. I was reviewing a script a recently that had a really interesting folklorist/ mythology concept, but when I sat down to actually give notes, I realized that it was hard to find things to discuss or comment on the story.

In fact, the first thing I remembered thinking was that it was forgettable. It’s kind of like a domino effect: you tip one and the all fall down. Or a Janga effect: you take out the wrong piece and the entire tower falls down, which is not the the actual point of the game (go figure). Or duck-duck-goose when you… Wait, no I don’t think that works here.

Script photo for effect & example for post#2 by GJ

The point is: it’s important to remember that the characters are the foundation of the script. From them we get amazing stories, with exciting plot points, continuous action, edge of your seat tension and side splitting dialogue.  And who doesn’t love side-splitting dialogue?

No one wants to be forgettable, so  you should always try to keep making your characters and their stories memorable in the foreground of your mind when sketching out the outline of your screenplay. Regardless of the genre, indie, action/thriller, drama, comedy or horror,  create strong characters that can carry your work before you fade in.

As always, thank you so much for reading. I hope this post was helpful, or at the very least insightful. ^__^

Until next time,


SW Fadeout 2 for effect and example by GJ