What is screenwriting? What is the job of a screenwriter and what does a screen writer do?
If you’re looking for the answers to these questions, you’ve come to the right place.
I wrote this article to discuss screenwriting. I’ll also explain how you can start your career as a screenwriter.
Table of Contents
Screenwriters write the stories that unfold in movies and TV shows. They’re the core of what you see on screen.
Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or a commercial, the visual elements and the dialogue playing out are because of a screenwriter. They write scripts, hash out dialogue, and detail how to execute scenes.
Screenwriters have many responsibilities outside. They do more than draft scripts, write dialogue, or dictate scenes.
Here are some of a screenwriter’s responsibilities.
A screenplay writer digs deeper into a story idea and develops it further for the screen.
Screenwriters can work on their own ideas or the ideas of a production company.
The initial framework has five elements:
- Conflict (and resolution).
Screenwriters must add these elements into a framework to make a compelling story.
A screenwriter writes stories in script or screenplay format to make actions and dialogue easily discernible.
If the screenplay is an adaptation of a book or short story, the screenwriter must translate the story into a script for either a feature film or TV show.
Screenwriters create dialogue according to what’s already written and expand it to cement major plot points in the original material.
A screenwriter also pitches ideas for a movie or TV show. Screenwriters make plenty of pitches to increase their chances of working with a production company or film studio.
A screenwriter ensures everything in the screenplay meshes together nicely.
The visual elements must align with the plot and dialogue for the script or story to make sense.
A screenwriter’s job doesn’t end when they complete a screenplay. They must be available for revisions and rewrites that a producer or director requires.
Here are some genres you can focus on if you decide to become a screenwriter.
If you’re a fan of films like Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon, you might enjoy writing action and adventure screenplays.
Scripts in this genre require fast-paced writing and an abundance of fight scenes.
They must also be descriptive to ensure that everyone working on the movie or TV show understands the action sequences.
You need a good sense of humor to succeed as a comedy scriptwriter. Comedy writers who work on sitcoms have a keen sense of the humor that comes with everyday life.
Many comedies are funny because of the amusing situations that mirror real life, not the jokes in the story.
Drama is one of the most challenging genres to write about since you often must delve into emotions and the human psyche.
Drama scripts need to evoke emotion from the audience to be effective.
Harry Potter, The Witcher, and The Lord of the Rings are examples of fantasy movies and TV shows.
Like these examples, many other fantasy stories are adaptations of books.
Fantasy scripts often have supernatural or magical elements.
Horror has many sub-genres you can use in your writing, including ghost stories, demonic possessions, and slashers. Sometimes, this genre can cross over into fantasy, like the popular TV show Supernatural.
Romantic comedies (rom-coms for short) are one of the most enduring genres.
Romantic comedy stories often follow a simple formula.
- Boy meets girl.
- They try to get together, but conflict arises.
- A resolution allows them to end up together.
Sci-fi is another genre that often crosses over into other genres.
For example, The Thing is both a sci-fi and a horror movie.
Thrillers can be challenging to write due to the many plot twists and unexpected story beats. The most effective thrillers are those with mystery elements.
Cowboys, guns, horses, and the wild west are usually at the center of this genre.
Westerns were more popular in the 1950s and 1960s. However, there are still many good modern westerns, like Django Unchained and The Revenant.
Here are the various scripts a screenwriter can write.
Adaptations come from existing stories.
Screenwriters can adapt short stories, novels, comic books, and even video games into movies or TV shows.
One of the most well-known adaptations today is the Marvel cinematic universe, which owes its existence to several Marvel comic books.
Many aspiring screenwriters became household names with original story ideas.
George Lucas was virtually unknown before Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, a movie he wrote and directed, was released in theaters.
The Star Wars saga was George Lucas’s original idea.
The challenge of writing something original is developing a unique idea. You can create an original zombie apocalypse story, but it would still likely be a story that millions of people have already seen before.
A pitch often uses intellectual property you’re authorized to use and can help you get work in the movie or TV industry.
You can also create pitches for ideas if you’re already a writer in a TV series.
Screenplays are scripts for movies and TV shows. They dictate what unfolds onscreen, hence the name screenplay.
These scripts include instructions for what the audience is supposed to see.
A spec script’s purpose is to show your mettle in scriptwriting.
Aspiring screenwriters often consider a spec script an audition piece.
Storyboards are scripts in visual form.
Screenplay writers use storyboards to provide visualizations to possible investors and clients of how a story unfolds. Commercials and animated movies and shows often use storyboards.
This script is for TV shows. Writers create standalone scripts when they need a filler story because the lead writer quit and the studio hasn’t found a replacement.
Standalone scripts involve the same characters but may not follow the series’ main storyline.
A shooting script is like an instructional manual that members of a film crew use. Shooting scripts help guide technical staff on the props, camera angles, looks, and costumes to use in each scene.
A screenwriter and a scriptwriter share some similarities. However, you’ll find that they’re pretty different when you delve deeper into their roles.
Scriptwriting focuses on dialogue and the messages that actors must convey. It doesn’t include the actors’ movements, expressions, and environments.
On the other hand, screenwriting includes all the activities surrounding a scene, such as sound effects, camera angles, and settings.
Screenwriting is a more precise method of scriptwriting since it provides instructions. It often includes plot points, plot development, character development, and more.
Do you want to become a screenwriter?
Here are the skills every aspiring screenwriter needs before they can even consider writing screenplays and becoming a screenwriter.
A screenwriter must possess excellent writing skills.
You should have a good command of spelling and grammar rules and know how to tell a story through writing.
Skills in writing conversations, movements, emotions, and expressions are essential, regardless of the language you use to write.
Before writing scripts and screenplays for a TV or film production company, you must develop your writing skills.
As a screenwriter, you must be able to express your ideas verbally.
Since pitching your screenplay ideas is part of your job description, having the skill to explain your writing to others is crucial.
You’ll need to share your vision and communicate your ideas to those who will provide you with the outlet. This list includes producers, directors, and heads of film production studios.
Developing new ideas for movies, tv shows, and commercials and expressing those ideas through writing requires an affinity for creative writing.
Remember that creative writing is different from other types of writing. A person may be a high-level newspaper journalist but fail at being a screenwriter, and vice versa.
When you possess a mind for creative writing, you can quickly develop original ideas and articulate them on the page.
Creativity isn’t an inherent quality. Cultivate yours by watching movies, reading books, and observing your surroundings.
Open your mind to possibilities in storytelling by getting inspiration from everything you see, hear, and smell around you.
You’ll often experience rejection as a screenwriter, whether writing a screenplay for a movie or creating a storyboard for a commercial.
Patience is crucial because not everyone will share your vision.
You need persistence if you decide to write scripts for a living.
You’ll need the resolve to keep going when suffering from writer’s block or hearing from other people your idea won’t sell.
Tenacity can help you get far in this line of work.
Here’s what being a screenwriter entails.
- Develop original ideas.
You’ll find this task particularly challenging because another film or TV show has likely already used what you thought was an original idea.
- Back-up ideas with facts.
People can easily research whether a plot or idea is plausible. Research your ideas and try to back them up with facts to allow your story to work. Even the most outlandish science fiction stories have some factual basis.
- Create believable characters.
Create well-rounded characters whom people can believe. You can base them on the people in your life, historical figures, and even celebrities.
- Work out the storylines for each character.
What are your characters’ motivations? What’s in their past and their future? Why are they who they are?
- Rewrite and rework scripts.
Producers, directors, and studios rarely accept scripts as is. They often require you to tweak certain characters, plot points, and scenes. You’ll need to revise your work according to what other people want to be successful in this field.
How much screenwriters earn depends on many factors, including your employment history and experience (the TV shows or movies you wrote), market trends, and the genre you’re writing.
However, screenwriters can make approximately $10,000 to $150,000 annually.
Established screenwriters who’ve written several successful TV shows and movies can earn millions.
Unless you already have connections in the industry, finding work as a new screenwriter can be rather challenging.
Here are some avenues to help get your foot in the door.
Companies looking for fresh talent who can create interesting stories for movies and TV shows sometimes sponsor contests for budding screenwriters.
Join a contest to showcase your skills and try and enter the industry.
There are websites with job listings for screenwriters.
Here are some examples.
- The International Screenwriter’s Association (ISA)
- Freelance Video Collective
- Screenwriting Staffing
These sites will help you find work in the entertainment industry but expect low wages if you’re a beginner.
Furthermore, some sites require you to become a member first or be a part of a writers guild before you can apply for jobs.
You can also scour the career pages of production companies like Netflix, NBC, CBS, and similar companies for possible gigs as a staff writer or full-time screenwriter.
You can also try looking for jobs with production companies specializing in your chosen genre. For example, Disney specializes in sci-fi (Star Wars) and fantasy (the MCU). Meanwhile, Blumhouse Productions is a company known for producing horror films like Insidious, The Purge, and The Invisible Man.
I hope my article helped you decide whether or not screenwriting is the correct career path for you.
If you’re determined to become a screenwriter, you should learn to develop a unique style and tone in writing.