How to Write a Play or Film

Introduction: How to Write a Play or Film

Ever wonder how George Lucas wrote the Star Wars epic? What about how the audience gets sucked into an Andrew Lloyd Webber play? This Instructable will break writing a play or film down into easy steps to help you on your way to becoming the next Spielberg or Sondheim.

Step 1: What You'll Need

To write a script, there's really not much you'll need, and none of these things are all that had to come by.

You'll need...

  • First and foremost, a great idea.
  • Something to write this idea down with. I'd recommend a computer (or a type-writer if you want to feel elegant). A notebook or paper-filled binder will also do fine, but will require more tolerance for hand cramps and more attention to detail.
  • Time and patience.

Some optional things include...

  • A pen or two.
  • Note cards (We'll get there later).
  • Some kind of notebook that you can carry with you.
  • A friend (or twenty) with some extra time on their hands.
  • An honest, opinionated person (in my case, my mother).

Step 2: Your Great Idea

What constitutes a great idea? Well, that's entirely up to you. What's great to one person may not be great to another. The great thing about today is that you can use the internet to get your movie (or play) out to millions of people, and some of them are bound to love whatever you do.

"Well what if I can't come up with a great idea?" you say. Well in that case, go to others for inspiration. Maybe your friend had a dream last night that they think would make a great screen or stage play, but they don't have the time or know-how to turn it into one. Just look around and you're sure to find something that interests you.

Hopefully, though, your brain happens to be wired more toward this sort of thing (in which case you, like me, are probably awful at math, and I am deeply sorry for both of us), and you've got what seems like an endless supply of ideas running through your head.

No matter the case, you have a decision to make: What kind of story will your script tell? Will it be a hilarious comedy? A heart-wrenching drama? A scream-inducing horror? Maybe a fantasy epic? Or maybe even some combination of a bunch of genres. The possibilities are endless.

In the optional tools, I listed a notebook that you can carry with you. That's in case inspiration strikes in a random place. Maybe that business-looking mom whose kid is rolling on the floor crying in Wal-Mart is the exact kind of character you want as your lead. Write it down before you forget!

Tip: Fanfilms are a great "starter." It's a universe that's already been established and can be further explored. If you're planning on putting it online, just be sure you follow copyright laws correctly. I'm not responsible if you post your awesome Harry Potter film to Youtube and get hauled off to Azkaban.

Step 3: Fleshing Out Your Story

Honestly, this step could be in Step 4's place, and vise-versa. That aside, let's talk about fleshing your story out. Remember those note cards I mentioned? And those pens? Here's where those come in. So you have your basic idea, and you have a really really cool scene in your head. But how will it fit in? This is why we have note cards. Write the scene down on a card and set it aside. Keep brainstorming for scenes you think you'll like and write each one down on a card. When you have a good number of scenes, start laying them out together in an order you like and that will progress your story well. Shift them around, mix and match, etc. Find a combination that you think is perfect. Once that's done, you just have to fill in the spaces in between and add the details.

As a general rule, there are four parts to a story: exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. Exposition is the background information your audience needs. Where are they, what kind of people live there, etc. Rising action is what gets the ball rolling toward ....the climax!...which is the big event, the part that has the audience on the edge of their seats. Then we have falling action, which is what happens after the climax. But feel free to play with things, you don't need a formula.

Tip: The whole note card thing isn't totally necessary, but can be helpful. Even if you don't want to do this, I would suggest writing a plot summary down somewhere, either in a notebook or on your computer.

Step 4: Your Cast of Characters

Like I said, this could go where Step 3 is. It just depends on how you like to work.

One of the most important aspects of any story is the characters in it. A great story has characters that feel like real people with emotions, agendas, and everything in between. Is your protagonist a kind, pure-hearted princess, or a more sarcastic but still morally good super hero? Or maybe both?

Is your antagonist a ruthless sadistic killer who came out of the womb ready to murder? Or are they simply a normal person who was pushed too far?

These are some of the questions to ask yourself to start making characters come to life. You can also base characters off of people you know. Maybe that coworker who just really likes to show people her cats has the same personality as your protagonist's mother. Or maybe your English teacher is just a small-scale version of a vicious tyrant. Anything goes, as long as there's depth.

Tip: Try to avoid flat characters. For example, don't have a villain who runs around murdering people just because he or she can. Give them a reason, even if just being able to is their reason. Ledger Joker was a great example of this. His reason to be bad was just because he likes anarchy. And we love him for it.

Step 5: *Musicals*

Just an interjection. If you want to write a musical, be prepared for more work. If you're writing for non-profit or just for fun, you can probably get away with using songs from other shows, artists, etc. and just changing the words to fit your story.

If you're writing to get this thing produced, or if you just really want to make things difficult for yourself, you can write your own songs or hire someone else to do so for you. You have fun with that.

Step 6: This Is Where the Fun Begins

Ok, so you've got it all planned out. Great story, great what? Now, you get into script writing! Yay!

Instead of explaining formatting, I'm just going to give you some tools to use.

This link is everything you need to know about formatting for a film script:

This link is how to format a stage play:

And this link takes you to a page for Celtx:

Celtx is a free software that allows you to write a variety of things including, but not limited to, stage and screen plays. They may have switched to online support only since I've downloaded it, but I'm sure you could find an actual download via a quick Google search (though I'm not sure how legal that is).

Step 7: Things to Remember and Author's Notes

Just a few reminders...

Every person is different. And since a script is a product of a person, every script is different. Because of this, there are limitless possibilities here. Just explore.

Formatting is important, especially if you plan to sell your script. If you don't want to download Celtx or find another program, you'll have to format it by hand; which is possible, but tedious.

Stage and Screen are similar formats, but not the same. Mind the details. For example: In a screen play, you could write "John walks in," or "John enters the room," or "John appears," etc. For stage, you would say "John enters..." It's the simple things that make a difference.

All those people I brought up in the first step? They're your proofreaders and editors. They'll find mistakes for you, and probably give you feedback. Make sure to put that one really honest person to good use.

Author's Note:

Sorry about the lack of photos. I wasn't exactly sure how to depict all of this originally.

If there's any interest after this one, I may put out an Instructable on how to actually start filming a script you've written and what all would go into that process.

This was my first Instructable, so I'm open to thoughts and constructive criticism.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! Hope you enjoyed!

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    2 Discussions

    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    Nice tutorial. I always thought that it might be fun to write a play.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks! I'd personally encourage you to write one, even if it's just for fun and will only be read by a few people. It's a good hobby and is something you can be proud of.