This semester 15 students enrolled in my Intro Scriptwriting course at the University of New Hampshire. It’s a three-hour class that meets once a week. During that time we read scripts, talk films, screen movies, and discuss story-telling techniques and screenplay rules.
As a reader of screenplays submitted to various competitions over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the scripts penned by writers who have obviously studied their craft. The tales that jump to the front of my queue are the ones that have compelling characters with clear and defined do-or-die goals. Where they are up against believable odds, and find logical solutions to their problems. The best screenplays also share one major trait: they adhere to proper screenplay format.
If you’re going to write a screenplay, it’s important to study screenwriting. Just as an architect must study for years before being able to create comprehensible plans for contractors, a screenwriter must learn the intricacies of the art form in order to pen a solid screenplay that can serve as a blueprint for a director and her crew.
There are many great books* and programs available to students of any age. I first studied in the Online Professional Programs at UCLA and later earned my MFA in Creative Writing with a focus in Screenwriting via the low-residency program at Goddard College. In addition to classes at UNH and at New England College, I’ve taught workshops ranging from two hours to two days for the NH Film Festival, the RI International Film Festival, and the NH Writers’ Project. So you see, there are countless programs to choose from.
So…you want to be a screenwriter? Second rule: study your craft.
*One excellent reference book is Paul Argentini’s Elements of Style for Screenwriters: The Essential Manual for Writers of Screenplays. Read that and as many screenplays as you can.