Top tips on becoming a screenwriter

12 Jan 2017 BY Karen Quinn

6 mins
Script Writing
Script Writing

When people think of a career in film, often it's director or camera operator that first comes to mind. But before anyone can even start thinking about filming, there needs to be a screenplay - and that's where the screenwriter comes in. Karen Quinn is a professional screenwriter, and below she offers her top tips on getting started on a career in writing for the screen.

I love telling stories. I guess that's one of the reasons I decided to become a writer. I also love a good film, so it was a logical step for me to start writing for screen. Before all that, I wanted to be a doctor, a roadie, and a chocolate consultant (let's face it, who wouldn't?). I also liked the notion of working with wild animals, like lions, so I could look into their eyes and they would look into mine in a loving, "I don't want to eat you, way". 

My point is, the thought of becoming a screenwriter may not have crossed your mind just yet either. That's okay; when thinking about getting into filmmaking it's not the first job you think about. It took a tutor to say to me in university, "you know, you should maybe think of writing", before I realised I could actually write. So for this article, that's my job - to help tell you that you can too. And I'm going to give you some top secret hints on how to get started.

Hint One: Have a story to tell

Writers are storytellers; what you need for your screenplay is a compelling story. Figure out what your story's about before you start scribbling away. Ask yourself the following questions: Who are your characters? What do they want and why do they want it? And most importantly - what's standing in their way? Writing is all about conflict. We can't have characters just going on a journey, without any monsters or obstacles blocking their path. Where's the fun in that?

Hint Two: Formatting

When the moment comes that you are putting your screenplay in front of a producer, you want to make sure it's looking its best. For screenplays, they have to be presented a certain way. The best thing to do is use formatting software that suits you. Preferably something that's free - like Google Docs with the Screenwriting plugin - so you don't have to beg your parents to help support your new artistic adventures.

Hint Three: Don't be afraid of feedback

So, by now you will have written your Oscar-worthy screenplay. The next step is to get some trustworthy people to read it. Be open to all feedback - positive or negative. Remember that they only want to help you. The more your screenplay is challenged, the better it will become.

Hint Four: Competitions!

There are loads of really cool competitions and film festivals for young people out there. The trick is to find ones that suit you, and apply. By winning or being shortlisted, you get some recognition for all your hard work. Plus, it helps to make your screenplay really stand out. Competitions are also a great way of keeping yourself motivated, and occasionally film producers do read winning and shortlisted scripts. Did I mention that they're also incredibly fun?

Hint Five: Lights, Camera, Action!

Do you have a friend who likes directing? Maybe another who just loves to act? Then why not team up, and film your screenplay? I have worked with lots of young people who've made some amazing films on their mobile phones. By making your film yourself, you're also developing further skills that may be useful for a career in the industry. It's also a great way to get people talking about your screenplay.

And thats it! There are loads more hints I could give you, but I don't want to reveal all of my magic powers. What I would say, is that although screenwriting is incredibly fun, it's also a career with a lot of rejections, so you need to have a pretty thick, rhinoceros-like skin. Also, just because I studied Creative Writing at University doesn't mean that you need to do that too - the beauty of writing is that people will always listen if you have a good story to tell. The only way to develop those good stories is to keep writing. The more you write, the better you'll get. So you can work as a doctor or a lion-whisperer or a chocolate-lover, just as long as you make sure to write in every spare moment you get!

So have fun, and get writing! 

Karen was a finalist in the Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award in 2014, and again in 2015. She has also been shortlisted for the Red Planet Prize in 2014. In 2016, Karen's short film, Lady Death, was shortlisted for the Jameson First Shot competition, organised by Kevin Spacey. Her short stories have been featured in publications as well as on national television. Karen also has her own writing blog: www.threebagsofsugar.com

Karen Quinn

Karen Quinn, Screenwriter

Karen Quinn is a writer and tutor, based in Belfast and Donegal. She graduated from Queen's University Belfast with a Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting). Karen also has her own writing blog: www.threebagsofsugar.com

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