Admit it, writers of the world: we all share the same fantasy. We revel in it at night as we drift to sleep. In the morning, stumbling to the coffee maker, we drool at the very thought of it. Day in and day out, our lust for it knows no bounds. You know what I’m talking about: The Perfect Writing Routine.

This mythic routine is the schedule that will streamline your days and ramp up your productivity to astronomical levels. It’s the heaven-sent bevy of habits that will banish writer’s block and cure imposter syndrome and finally get that weird…

Some screenwriting projects clarify their destiny as a pilot or feature before you even have the chance to boot up Final Draft. Other times, the process is a bit more evolutionary, as when a writer realizes they have just too dang much story for a two-hour movie and shift gears toward a television series. While mismatching form and content can become a complete nightmare, here’s the wake up call you need to understand the differences between pilots and features.

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The basics

First, let’s assess the most obvious difference between pilots and features: page length. It’s by no means the be-all, end-all of…

My friends and I hold a weekly, Zoom-based game night. It’s rowdy, competitive, and truly awesome. Not only has it been a quarantine sanity-saver these last many months, but because I happen to have some pretty cool friends, it’s also provided valuable insight into the creative processes behind everything from podcasting to 3D printing to role-playing games.

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Recently, two of these friends revealed just how much time they devote to creating backstories for their Dungeons and Dragons characters. (Picture at left: what I assume my friends look like on D&D nights.)

Representation isn’t the be all, end all of anything, but it does matter — culturally, artistically, and, yes, even practically. Almost every single day I see a “Script Wanted” ad in my inbox that specifies a desire for LGBTQ-, BIPOC-, and female-driven stories. These kinds of scripts are increasingly hot commodities as the marketplace catches up with the facts of diversity and cultural hegemony. However, as I’ve written before about gender, these identities aren’t empty labels to be switched at will. Humans are like tapestries, and when you weave in a certain color or material, it shifts the appearance and…

The budding screenwriter’s attraction to the short film genre is understandable — after all, why commit to 100 pages when a mere 10 will suffice? Commonly, beginning writers extend these constraints on physical breadth to emotional depth as well, rendering their short scripts superficial and thematically empty. The path forward involves a bit of philosophizing, a touch of mathematical thinking, and a boatload of humility.

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The ‘twist’ isn’t enough

I know, I know. Your crafty twist on page 8 is precisely why you sat down to crank out your small, shining cinematic gem in the first place. What if the ‘innocent’ child turns out…

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Tony: Ayanna, may I have your phone number? Ayanna: Sure, Tony. It’s (484) 555–5555. Sara: Do you want my phone number, too, Tony? Tony: No, Sara, I only want Ayanna’s phone number. (Author’s note: Don’t write your dialogue like this.)

Ah, dialogue. A stirring monologue or witty quip from even a mediocre film can embed itself as a cultural touchstone for years. And yet, beginning screenwriters often seem lost when it comes to dialogue, too often relying on filler lines and saying the “quiet part” (also known as subtext) out loud. …

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Nothing feels longer than the hours (or days or, god forbid, weeks) between the moment a writer hands over their screenplay to a fresh, uninitiated reader and the moment the screenplay is returned, various criticisms and critique in tow. Simultaneously, nothing works faster than a writer’s mind as they talk themselves down from hoping the reader will love the screenplay, to liking it, to being unoffended by it, to just simply finishing it.

Finding good feedback is hard. And to be clear, by good, I do not mean positive. Platitudes and smiles won’t get you or your screenplay very far…

Alright. So you’ve got your first (or second) draft of the 14 Day Script ready. Are you feeling ready to show off your work to friends and family? Or have you maybe been contemplating submitting your work to a screenwriting competition?

Thankfully, there are quite a few ways you can absorb a reader’s attention with just one page — and keep their interest burning all the way through to your script’s end.

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Ensure professional grammar and formatting

It should go without saying. Unfortunately, experience has shown me that instead, it bears endless repetition: check your work for basic grammar, spelling, and formatting errors. I know…

Whether you’ve written a sprawling sci-fi epic or a cloistered suburban drama, giving your screenplay a consistent visual language is non-negotiable if you want to attract audiences and absorb their attention. Unfortunately, amidst the hubbub of action and dialogue, a story’s sense of place can be easily forgotten, especially by new screenwriters. Here are some tips for fabricating a world that feels as real as the one in which you and I live.

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A cautionary tale

Having a vivid imagination doesn’t automatically translate to the page. I once read a script that included elves, magic, zombies, and cursed royal regalia; I turned the…

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Maybe it happens during a glittery New Year’s Eve bash. Perhaps some years, Labor Day on the lake brings it to mind. Other times, it arrives on your birthday, sure as the day itself.

I’m referring to the often annual moment when we look back at the accumulation of minutiae — at the fine lines on our faces, the rearranged furniture in the living room, the list of silly nicknames we keep giving to our pets— and finally, all at once, see the overlooked details of our day-to-day, now bound together into an entity we can identify conclusively as change.

Stephanie Schellerup

screenwriter and script analyst.

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