The Official Writing Help Thread

The Spider-Bat

Jun 5, 2005
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The Official Writing Help Thread

Welcome. This thread is about anyone and everyone who wants to be a writer and doesn't know where to start. Also, veterans can come here to learn a thing or two and help others.

What to write?
The first thing you want to do is decide what you want to write about. Prehaps you want to write a dark film noir like Sin City. Prehaps you want to write about a fun or funny story such as Donald Duck. Or maybe you want to addapt a movie. The sky's the limit.

Now that you have your topic you have to decide how you want to write it.

This is copied off an article that will help you as it helped me.

Below is a short and concise - but hopefully useful outline on how to write a script. It is by no means comprehensive and is a mish mash of various teachers' and theorists' ideas and work. See this as a simple crash course. Hope it helps. Here we go.

Writing a script (especially a feature length one) is not as easy as many seem to believe it is. Compared to the novel or traditional prose, the script is a unique animal. Ultimately most see a script as not a thing in itself but rather like an architect's plan for a building. In the same way that a building's plans are not the building itself - the script is ultimately an aspiration towards making a film. However increasingly scriptwriting is being considered by some as an art unto itself and one that is often read and appreciated regardless of whether it is produced or not.

There are a considerable amount of rules and conventions you are expected to follow when writing a script. Some are annoying and some are downright stupid. But if you want to have your script read you should try and follow as many of these conventions as possible. Script readers, commissioning editors and producers who have an intimidating pile of scripts on their desk tend to first throw "unconventionally" formatted and styled scripts straight into the dustbin without even reading them. To them this is a time saving way of weeding out the amateurs from the professionals or serious writers. Never make it obvious you're new to the game - even if you are.

Many of these conventions are largely based on Classic Hollywood Realism - the style of the vast majority of American films. But even if your script is to be the ultimate surreal, Dadaist, art-house experience, conventional wisdom tell us that it's nevertheless useful to learn these "rules" anyway. The logic is that you've got to know the rules before you can subvert them.


The first thing to do is to work out what your script is going to be about. This is your business so figure it out yourself. (Although bear in mind what is written below because it does impact in the type or idea you will want to develop). Then you need to create a plot - i.e. basically what happens in your story and in what order.

The traditional Hollywood script plot structure is often called the three-act structure. Another way of looking at it is what I call the "balance-imbalance-balance" concept. These concepts work pretty much the same - focusing primarily on a central character. The Balance/Imbalance/Balance structure works in the following way. (We'll call our central character "X").

1 - Balance: This is the initial state of your main character: X is a content dog trainer living with her dog Shoop. She avoids men because of previous affairs gone sour.

2 - Imbalance: A challenge or obstacle is foisted onto our hero which she undertakes to do something about. This changes her life: Shoop is stolen by a rival dog training company. Lonely and her spirits low, X spends her time searching for Shoop. She begins to lose customers as a result. Along the way she meets a helpful, sensitive policeman with buns of steel who embarks on the dog searching journey with her. Eventually she and Mr Buns of Steel track down Shoop and rescue the canine.

3 - Balance: Things are restored back to order but with something gained: Having rescued the dog, X returns to her life of contented dog training now with the addition of a well hung policeman in her bed. She has also overcome her fear of taking romantic risks. Together with the help of her beau her business has taken off like never before. Our hero has learnt something and gained from the experience. In other words she has developed.

The most dramatic elements occur in the "imbalance" section. The challenge and what our hero does to overcome it is the "meat on the bones" of our story.

If I were to ask what X's primary challenge is, you might say that it is to find her dog. I might disagree and say that her primary goal is actually to overcome her loneliness and fear of men. In this way scripts can have different levels of meaning.

X's story could be a comedy, a serious drama and even a feminist comment on the way women are expected to conform to patriarchal society in which life without a man is seen as meaningless. It's your choice.

Now how does the plot become a script? Follow the easy steps below.

Clearly write out your concept in a couple of lines: eg: "This movie is about "X, a happy dog trainer whose life is thrown into disarray when her faithful doggy companion Shoop is abducted by a rival dog training company." This sets out what your story is about as well as who your primary characters are. You should also try and figure out if this will be a comedy, a drama or horror story. This is called the "genre" of the film. (Producers need to know this or they get very confused.) However today we see more and more mixing of genres in the same film. No dialogue should be added until STEP SEVEN

Write a paragraph outlining the story in a little more detail - this time adding in a few more characters and important events. Get a stronger feeling for how the thing will play out. We find out X has actually been rather lonely, we learn that there's a hot policeman in there too and there's a climatic shootout towards the end when Shoop is rescued. One could call this paragraph a short synopsis of your story.

Write a longer outline of your plot. Depending on you, this can be anything from two to twenty pages. (You can also break this step into more steps and write increasingly longer outlines before proceeding to Step Four.). This pretty much establishes the basics of your plot and many of the twists and turns that may take place. Some also call this the "beats" of your script. You can add in stuff about the bad guys, who they are and their motivation for their actions.

Take your long outline and begin to break it up into one-or-two line paragraphs. Each paragraph should be a particular unique event. Eg:

What once was:

"X is woken up in the morning by Shoop's long tongue in her face. Later X drives to her dog-training school with Shoop panting in the back."


Paragraph one: X is woken up in the morning by Shoop's long tongue licking her face.

Paragraph two. X drives to her dog training school with Shoop panting in the back.

Fill in more paragraphs to make the story flow well and add any other paragraphs needed to fill out the story and expand elements that need it. The paragraphs should include more detailed actions on how things happen.

Turn these paragraphs into scenes. The concept of a scene is very difficult to explain and almost needs to be intuitively understood. I've never seen an adequate explanation or definition to-date. It helps a great deal to read as many scripts as possible to get a feeling for this. Nevertheless, roughly, a scene is an event that happens in a unique place and time. E.g. The paragraph description:

Paragraph Sixty Five X arrives at the factory and after looking around discovers Shoop's dog leash in the bathroom.

Could be broken down into:

EXT. ABANDONED FACTORY. DAY X looks up at the front of the abandoned factory. A sign atop reads "NUWARE TILES". X walks up to the front door and opens it.

INT. ABANDONED FACTORY FLOOR. DAY Walking through the dark factory building it becomes clear that there is no-one here anymore. Rubble and trash are strewn all over the floor.

INT. ABANDONED FACTORY TOILET. DAY X opens the door to a filthy toilet and looks in. About to walk away she sees something. A dog's leash. Bending down she picks it up and realises that it is Shoop's leash.

INT/EXT: This refers to the location of the scene. If it is inside it is INT (for interior); if it is set outside it is EXT (for exterior). This should be followed by the location e.g. ABANDONED WAREHOUSE.

DAY/NIGHT: This refers to wether the scene occurs in the day or night. This follows the location.

Start filling in dialogue as well as more detail under each scene. You should have a first draft completed by the end of this process.

STEP EIGHT, NINE, TEN, ELEVEN etc... There's a corny but valuable saying about writing that goes: "Writing is not about writing - but about re-writing". The first draft will almost always be ****. It's in the refining, re-writing, re-plotting and fine-tuning that great scripts get made. Congratulations - you've written a script! Now wasn't that fun?


In order to gauge more or less how long a film a script will make (very useful for producers), there are certain standards in formatting. Avoid these at your own risk. Americans especially are very rigid about this. These standards allow us to measure a script's length by saying that: "a page of script equals roughly a minute of screen time". This is a very rough guide (often action films scripts are short but take longer on screen than a dialogue based script) and not to be completely trusted.

You should use Courier (or New Courier) Size 12. This is a fixed-width font, which many believe makes it easier to read. You'll be surprised how picky some readers are about this.

Should fall between 90 to 120 pages. Anything longer and your chances of being read begin to diminish. Dumb huh?

Avoid numbering scenes unless it is a shooting script which will only be seen by yourself or when actually shootingthe film. Script readers don't like them.

A script layout should look something like this. Some will demand exact measured layouts but few are very sticky about exact distances from margins etc. (Note that it is difficult to display exact layouts on web browsers - this is only a rough guide.)

Fred walks up to the fiendish looking man in the suit. The fiend holds a dog collar in his hand. Fred aims the gun at the man.

Where is he?

Where is who?

The place is surrounded. If you
don't give me the dog, we'll take
him the hard way. Your choice.

This one is a toughie. It's very hard to teach dialogue. One has to develop an ear for the way people really speak and not how we think they speak. Listen to people from various backgrounds and in various situations talk as often as you can. You'll probably notice that people are not very eloquent in general. They don't express themselves very well vocally and a great deal of what is NOT said is just as important (often more so) than what is said. Bring these thoughts to your scriptwriting process. And again read lots of scripts and watch many films to become more sensitive to dialogue.

An important thing to remember is that scripts are the basis of the visual medium of film. An old adage is: never say what you can show instead. In other words if a character is angry don't have her say "I'm angry!", show it to us. E.g. have her smash a window with a chair instead.

There is almost always a central character in a Hollywood movie. That is because Hollywood films work on the basis of the audience being able to identify with a character and his or her experiences. More than one central character tends to confuse the viewers (at least according to many studio execs).

Characters are expected to be three dimensional and rounded. By that it is meant that we should get a sense of their history and how it has affected them as well as understanding why they do what they do (usually called Motivation). (E.g. X avoids men because of a previous heartbreaking episode). This is based on the idea that we do things for knowable reasons. Modern psychology came up with this somewhat naïve notion. However we rarely actually have access to the full reasons why we, others (or ourselves) do what we do. Nevertheless Hollywood believes otherwise.

This convention often leads to some awfully contrived scenes in which characters reveal really corny back-stories and traumatic past events. This is also called "exposition" and is very difficult to write without being obvious or corny. Exposition should happen organically and without the audience realising it. Some filmmakers such as David Cronenberg don't allow us to get close to their characters and we rarely know why they do things except for the obvious. Unlike in most Hollywood films we are not participants in Cronenberg's films - but voyeurs watching the action from the outside.

Nevertheless it often helps to create back-stories for your characters. These are basically histories for your characters - their life experiences, social and economic background etc. This doesn't have to all be obviously present in the script but helps to craft more real characters.

Part of having a three dimensional character is that we see him or her develop across the course of the script. They should change in front of our very eyes. Again remember these are all conventions for a conventional style of film.

Camera Directions
It's usually not appreciated that you include camera movements in your scripts. There are ways of getting around this in sticky situations. Sometimes it can't be avoided. Tarantino's scripts on the other hand are full of camera directions. If the script is going to be pitched to outside producers and script-readers try and avoid it. If you are going to direct the thing yourself than go ahead and put them in.

The most useful advice I can give however is to read as many scripts you can lay your hands on - either on the Internet or at your local bookstore.

The author of this article is filmmaker Luiz De Barros.
Luiz runs the prestigious South African Independent Film Site.

The best way to learn how to write a novel is simply to read one. Look at the style, the format, the dialouge. Just read and learn.

The Comic Book

Ok. This is how a comic book is written. There are two ways. Page by page or plot.

Page by Page

This is how most comic books are written.

Here's how the page is set up.

This is where the number of the page goes.

This is where the number of the panel. Panels are the boxes that pictures are in.

What happens in the panel, the setting, the characters, the camera.

The dialouge is the words that your characters say. This is how they are set up.

BOB1: Is this a good idea?
FRANK1: Of course Bobby. Why?
BOB2: It's just that-

This is the the boxes that are either the narriration or now are used as the character's thoughts. They are set up like the dialouge.

If you are writing for a character or characters that you created it's advisable that you now write a short description of the character. Include simple things such as appearance, clothing etc.

Now you should write the main plot of the story. Write maybe one or two pages on just how the story proggresses. Include plot twists and developments.

Time to Start!
Well you've got everything. Now you just have to write it. And don't worry you will probably go through many drafts of the story, everyone does. Also I find it hardest to write the beggining, so after I'm satisfied with it I can move on to the story.

Final Words
I want to thank you for reading this and if you have anymore questions about anything, feel free to ask.

-Good Luck.
Hey this is pretty cool man. Might I make a sugestion, though?

How about we, if you guys are up to it, have like class sessions? I mean like, a think tank. We could set a date for it, maybe it'll last an hour or two, and we could take turns asking questions and sharing opinions, much like the guys at do.

It's just a thought. Also, we can also just come and hang out, talk about projects or concepts we're working on.
Hey, I just wrote the first five pages of my comedy. Oh one cares. Oh, well...I guess I'll just go play.
Hey, I just wrote the first five pages of my comedy. Oh one cares. Oh, well...I guess I'll just go play.

I care. post the damn thing. I'm partial to good dark comedies, though. I wrote one and won two awards for it.
JLBats said:
I care. post the damn thing. I'm partial to good dark comedies, though. I wrote one and won two awards for it.

You can win awards on the hype?
The Spider-Bat said:
You can win awards on the hype?

Not on the hype, it was a provincial award for excellence or something.
It's on my hollywood screenwriter thingy, I'll try. You guys are witnesses that this is my story, and it's copywrited. Be back in a flash.
Here it is. It's the first draft so it may suck...



FADE INTO an upscale and very elegant restaurant. Waiters and staff scurry around with serving trays and such to serve the various patrons that pepper the establishment.

We then focus on one couple in particular, a young man and a young woman. They seem to be very young, maybe in their early twenties at the most.

The young man is LUKE, 22, he's smart, confident, and basically your average kind of guy. The young woman is VERONICA, 21, beautiful, smart, and confident. She's the apple of Luke's eye.

So, how's this for our 3rd anniversary? I think I did pretty good, if I must say so myself.

It's great. But how are you gonna pay for it?

I think I'm not going to. Just slip away to use the bathroom, and sneak my way out. Then, you could do the same thing, and meet me outside at the car. What do you say?

Sure, we do that anyways.

(raised eyebrow)
We do?

Veronica smiles.

I think I want this night to be special. There's something I wanna tell you. Uhm-
(takes a sip of wine)
-all my life I've always...looked for that perfect someone, perferably a female, I could share a connection with. A companion, someone I could be with and never want to leave.

Luke, if you wanted to get into my pants tonight, all you have to do is buy more wine...

No, it's not that. Well, I wouldn't mind...but, that's not what I'm trying to do. Okay, where was I...
You are that companion. That someone, I don't want to leave, the person I've looked my whole life to find and...uhm...there's something I want to ask of you...

You want oral, is that it?


Well, I mean, we have been dating since freshman year and-

-No! I don't, well...look that's not what I'm trying to get at here.

Does it envolve any kind of sex?

I don't know.

Then what the hell do you want?

Will you let me finish, please?

Veronica leans back in her chair as if telling him to proceed with what he's talking about.

What I'm trying to say is-

A WAITER walks up to the table with a phone.

-Sir, a Mr. Thompson?

With a sigh, Luke takes the phone from the waiter, who walks off.

(into the phone)

ERIC (filtered)
Hey man, can you bring home some whipped cream and a few scented candals?

Eric, I'm kind of in the middle something here?

ERIC (filtered)
Well, I mean the freaking store is like on the way home, the least you could do is stop by and get a few things...

Eric, I'm about to -you know with, Veronica...

ERIC (filtered)
What in the restaurant?

Well, it's what had in mind.

ERIC (filtered)
Okay, whatever. Just don't forget the whipped cream and scented candles, okay.

What do you want that for? Hello? Hello? Eric? He hung up on me!

So what we're you going to say?

Luke exhales sharply and takes a longer sip of wine.

Okay, here it goes. Veronica, will you-

A cellphone rings.

Oh shoot, let me get that.
(She answers her cell)
Hello? Oh, hi daddy. Yeah, I'm fine. Just eating dinner. Really? That's great! What does mom think?

Luke looks around the room, impatiently.

I'd love to come down and celebrate! Yeah, that'd be great.
(she notices Luke)
Hey, I hate to talk so short, but I'm going to have to let you go, okay? Okay. I love you, too. All right, Bye.

Veronica hangs up the phone.

What's your problem? Do you know how often it is that I get to talk to my father?

I'm sorry, babe, but I think this is a little more important...

Okay, what is that's so important?

Luke drinks the last of his wine. Exhales more sharply, and shakes his head, wildly. He claps his hands togther, as if getting his head in order, then looks up and smiles at a bewildered Veronica.

Okay, here it goes. Veronica, will you-

Her cellphone rings, yet again. Veronica scoffs as she looks down at her cellphone's caller i.d. Luke, has had it. He snatches the cell phone and throws it into the champagne bucket.

-Will you marry me!

Veronica stands their, mouth agape. The cellphone still rings. She doesn't know what to think or what to say.

Luke pulls out a small jewelry box and opens it. Inside lies a stunning, diamond engagement ring. Veronica melts, once her eyes fall upon it. She looks up at a desparete Luke, who wears a smile. Veronica smiles, too.

She looks up at Luke, her eyes are starting to well up.


Oh, thank god.

Luke takes the ring out and gets onto one knee in front Veronica. He takes her and places the ring onto her finger. She pulls his head in for a passionate kiss. They pull away. Suddenly, there's an appluase.

Luke and Veronica turn to find the whole establishment has watched the entire scene. With an half embarassed, half joyful expression, they both smile and kiss each other once more.

SOFT ROCK music starts to play. The we...



SUPERIMPOSE: THE WEDDING in white letters, that fades into the shot, as the music continues to play. Then, as the final opening credits roll, we...



Luke wearily walks towards the apartment, a grocery bag in hand. His tux is in disarray. He walks up to the door, there are noises coming from with. Music blaring, laughing. The usual. Luke rolls his eyes and knocks on the door, hard.
I like it a lot. It's very funny so far. I could see it as a movie. GREAT JOB MAN!
Pretty good, but you need to cut exposition down a little. The first bits of dialogue, where he talks about sneaking away? Might try cutting it down. It seems a little forced right now. I like that you aren't using a set-up-punchline system and the humor basically comes from character, but some of it gets a little murky and one liner. Overall, 8/10 so far. Pretty damn good.
Also, when he proposes, it doesn't mean enough to us. Maybe don't start at the restaurant. Or maybe do some cut-aways to their past relationship.
I'm slow, explain.

When it begins, we don't know the characters. It's too quick. Add a nice slow build up, with him buying the ring, etc. It gives a nice dramatic irony when we know and she doesn't. And to make us feel for the characters, maybe throw in a cutaway to when they first met, something like a quick cut of 9th grade and him snapping her bra strap in gym class or what not.
I agree. That's what I had in mind. And when she says "freshman year" she refering to college. Their in their twenties. Thanks for the advice.
If he suggests, however, that they were in high school when they met, we get a little more depth to the relationship, and perhaps a scene somewhat like this:

Do you remember the first time we met?


Young Luke snaps Young Veronica's bra strap, showing through her thin gym shirt. She gasps in horror, falls to the ground in agony. Luke points and laughs.


...I have a vague recollection...
It was going to be R anyway. You mind if I use that?

Anyways, hers's what I kind of got going.

We meet Luke, Eric, and Kyle (you'll meet him later) in the first grade where Luke meets them at the same time we do.

-fast forward-

They are in highschool. We see that Luke has just broken up with his girlfriend, she broke his heart. Then he meets Veronica. I think I might change it to where Eric does that to her, and Luke shields her from view or something and helps her out. Through the story Eric and Veronica hate each other. We akso see Luke and Veronica's relationship blossom.

-fast forward-

Were at the Post-College stage of their lives (i.e. present day)

We seem him buy the ring and tell Eric about it. Eric's happy for him. ( I know it's weird because he hates her, but, he's really grown up. Okay, he's grown up a little bit.) Also Eric and Kyle are like gigalos, they go from girl to girl, night after night. They don't work.
Sounds cool, you can definitely use it. I just love it when characters meet under awful circumstances.
Okay, I'm gonna work on it somemore. I know this sounds kind of dumb, but by cut the exposistion what do you mean. Am I putting to much info in it? And also, what would you suggest: Doing in the order of the outline above, as a flashback, like you stated I'm open to both ideas. Oh and anyone fell free to put in some criticism and insight, thanks so far, Spider Bat and JL.
Okay, I'm gonna work on it somemore. I know this sounds kind of dumb, but by cut the exposistion what do you mean. Am I putting to much info in it? And also, what would you suggest: Doing in the order of the outline above, as a flashback, like you stated I'm open to both ideas. Oh and anyone fell free to put in some criticism and insight, thanks so far, Spider Bat and JL.

In the beginning, it isn't even that it's expositiony. But it seems like it. You need to integrate the comments about sneaking away without paying into the dialogue a bit better. And I recommend you do it as a quick flashback in the restaurant scene. It'll add some spice and break up the scene nicely. Maybe he did it, and not Eric, but he did it because Eric dared him. Maybe we find that out later. You could tie that quick flashback into more flashbacks later, explaining the interpersonal relationships. Just some thoughts.
Also, how's the dialouge? I think it's the best I've written. What do you guys think?

Hey thanks for the insight, I'll try and do that.
Also, how's the dialouge? I think it's the best I've written. What do you guys think?

Hey thanks for the insight, I'll try and do that.

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