A college graduate with an English literature degree sits at a desk staring at their laptop looking stressed. Above the laptop is a thought bubble showing a film clapperboard on a movie set.

Can You Become a Screenwriter With an English Degree? The Surprising Link Between Literature and Scriptwriting Success

Bob peeked nervously over his graduation cap at the sea of parents, friends, and fellow students assembled before him. On one hand, he tightly clutched his hard-earned English degree, the supposed key to unlocking his dream career as a Hollywood screenwriter.

But Bob couldn’t help but wonder – was his English degree enough to make it in the competitive world of film and television writing? Could he really become a screenwriter armed with nothing more than his bachelor’s degree in English?

It’s a common question for many aspiring writers – can an English degree alone provide the necessary skills and experience to launch a screenwriting career?

On the surface, it would seem that majoring in English literature provides limited practical training for crafting screenplays and writing for the visual medium of film.

But while an English degree alone may not be enough to jump straight into professional screenwriting, the skills gained from analyzing literature and honing your writing can provide a solid foundation for that career shift.

Key Skills Gained From an English Degree That Translate to Screenwriting

While English programs focus on interpreting literary works rather than creating original stories, many of the core competencies developed are crucially relevant for aspiring screenwriters:

A person reading the book The Elements of Style and typing a script called The Great American Screenplay on a laptop.

Writing Skills

The most obvious transferable skill from an English degree is refined writing ability. Learning to analyze literary works across genres and styles exposes you to a broad range of impactful writing techniques.

Dissecting what makes an effective narrative, gripping dialogue, and dimensional characters provides a masterclass in strong writing principles.

Practicing argumentative and persuasive writing also strengthens your ability to logically organize ideas and make a compelling case – all necessary for crafting a tight screenplay. Death by a Thousand English essays and research papers forge concise yet creative writing skills.

Literary Analysis

Analyzing literature across genres, time periods, and styles trains you to recognize effective plot structure, impactful character arcs, compelling themes, and nuanced symbolism.

Understanding what works and doesn’t work in existing narratives is the cornerstone of crafting an original and engaging story in a screenplay.

A graduate wearing a cap and gown sitting in a theater seat with thought bubbles of literary analysis notes surrounding them.

Breaking down literary pieces to their core elements also helps you understand story progression and how to impactfully guide the audience through plot points, reveals, and cliffhangers.

Critical Thinking

To thoughtfully critique and interpret literary works requires strong critical thinking skills – a vital asset for screenwriters. Screenplays hinge on logical character motivations, clear sequencing of events, and narratives that hold up to scrutiny.

A magnifying glass looking at a page from a literary critique book next to a movie script page.

As an English major, you build critical thinking muscles dissecting an author’s implicit and explicit intents, analyzing cause-and-effect in narratives, and forming opinions backed by textual evidence. This crossover skill empowers you to construct air-tight story worlds that resonate.

Creativity and Imagination

While studying established works, English programs also push you to tap into your own creativity through fiction, poetry, and narrative writing workshops. Unleashing your imagination to produce original stories, characters, and worlds is the essence of screenwriting.

An open fairy tale book transforming into a glowing lightbulb.

Flexing your creative muscles and sharing your unique perspective through writing projects as an English major provides a foundation for eventually crafting that next great film story.

Relevant Courses to Take as an English Major

Beyond the standard literary surveys, critical analysis, and writing workshops, English majors aiming for screenwriting can tailor their coursework to gain more relevant skills:

Fiction and Creative Writing Courses

Fiction workshops and seminars focused on short stories, novels, and narrative structures are directly applicable to screenwriting. These courses emphasize original storytelling and character development as you experiment with plot, dialogue, setting, and literary techniques – all important elements of scripts.

Film Studies and Media Courses

Film studies classes provide exposure to analyzing scripts and dissecting the elements of successful movies from both literary and cinematic perspectives. Media production courses can also offer hands-on experience bringing stories to life visually.

Classic movie posters for films like Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and 2001: A Space Odyssey

Theater and Drama Classes

Theater coursework helps you understand narrative structure and storytelling for the stage. Analyzing performances and dramatic writing provides insight into developing compelling characters, subtext, and effective dialogue that translates to script writing.

Additional Screenwriting Training to Complement an English Degree

While an English degree lays a literary foundation, those serious about screenwriting should supplement their education with specialized training:

Take Dedicated Screenwriting Courses

Screenwriting workshops, classes, and seminars focusing specifically on script and teleplay writing techniques are a must. These courses drill into screenplay formats, story structures, dialogue, character development, and writing for the visual medium.

Attend Film Festivals and Industry

Events Immersing yourself in the world of filmmaking by attending film festivals, writer’s rooms, screenplay competitions, and industry networking events can provide invaluable exposure to the business side and connect you with established screenwriters.

Network and Make Connections

Who you know is critical to getting a foot in the door, so networking to make connections with producers, directors, agents, and other writers goes a long way. Join writing groups, follow industry leaders on social media, and look for mentorship opportunities.

Consider Internships or Entry-level Jobs

Gaining real-world experience via screenwriting internships, writer’s assistant jobs, or production assistant roles can demystify the industry. This hands-on training lets you observe professional writers at work and better understand career pathways.

Tips for Launching Your Screenwriting Career with an English Degree

If you’re serious about screenwriting, an English degree alone is not enough – you need to complement your education with practical experience. Here are some tips:

  • Read Screenplays Voraciously. Get your hands on as many scripts as possible across genres and formats, from indie arthouse films to big-budget action movies. See how professional writers successfully structure narratives, develop characters and write visually.
  • Take Additional Screenwriting Classes. Local colleges, writer’s workshops, and online programs offer screenwriting-specific training. Continuously improve your script-writing skills.
  • Write Daily. Like any craft, excellent writing comes through practice and repetition. Set aside time to write daily, even if just a page – consistency leads to great work.
  • Attend Local Film Festivals and Industry Events. Connecting with working professionals provides invaluable mentorship and networking. Look for regional festivals, writer’s groups, classes, and conferences.
  • Consider Internships or Entry-level Jobs. Look for opportunities to learn from the inside at a production company, writer’s room, agency, or studio. Take on screenwriting assistant or production assistant roles.
  • Hone Your Unique Voice. Figure out what stories only you can tell based on your background, interests, and perspective. Your distinct creative voice will set you apart.

Examples of Successful Screenwriters With English Degrees

Still not convinced an English degree can pave the way to a screenwriting career? Here are examples of successful professional screenwriters who started as English majors:

Aaron Sorkin

The acclaimed writer of A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and The West Wing graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Musical Theater and Theater.

Diane Johnson

The novelist and screenwriter who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of The Shining studied medieval literature at the Sorbonne and earned a Master’s in English.

Greg Berlanti

The producer, director, and writer behind You, Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale, and CW’s DC superhero show earned his undergrad degree in English Literature from Northwestern University.

A graduation cap being thrown up in the air with a film reel and clapperboard behind it.

Conclusion – Can You Become a Screenwriter With an English Degree?

At first glance, majoring in English literature seems an unlikely path to a screenwriting career. However strong writing skills, critical analysis, creative thinking, and cultural context gained from an English degree do provide a solid narrative and storytelling foundation.

Of course, to transition into professional screenwriting also requires dedicated training, ample practice, networking, and persistence. Ultimately there are no straight lines from college to career.

For aspiring writer Bob clutching his English diploma, the future is uncertain but full of potential. His degree is just the first step on a long road of honing his craft through workshops, internships, writing jobs, and perseverance fueled by passion.

While an English major alone may not open the gates of Hollywood, when combined with dedication and hard work, it can certainly set the pen in motion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an English degree good for screenwriting?

Yes, an English degree provides great foundational skills for screenwriting, including strong writing abilities, story analysis competencies, and creativity development. However, direct screenwriting training is still recommended to complement an English major.

Can you go into film with an English major?

It is possible to enter the film industry and related careers like screenwriting with an English degree. However, students should take relevant film studies, media production, and screenwriting coursework to gain more applicable skills. An English degree alone may not be enough.

Which degree is best for scriptwriting?

Dedicated screenwriting or film production degrees and certificates are ideal for learning scriptwriting skills specifically. Programs in creative writing, English literature, communications, and theater also provide relevant training for aspiring scriptwriters.

What is the eligibility for a screenwriter?

There are no formal education requirements to become a screenwriter per se. However, most screenwriters have either a college degree in a related field like English, film, or theater or have taken screenwriting classes and workshops. Strong writing skills are essential as well.

Is it easy to get a job as a screenwriter?

No, breaking into professional screenwriting is very competitive. Successful writers need talent, but also persistence, great networking skills, and some luck in getting their scripts optioned or sold. Most do unpaid work initially. Entry-level writer jobs help get a foot in the door.

Does being a screenwriter pay well?

Screenwriters can earn lucrative incomes, especially once established. But many struggle early on with low pay or unpaid gigs. The Writer’s Guild of America minimums provide a sense of potential earnings – e.g. $71,000 for an original screenplay purchased by a major studio.

Which degree is best for film?

For hands-on film production, degrees in cinema/film production, film studies, or media arts are best. However, degrees in communications, English, writing, and theater also provide relevant skills for film careers on the academic side.

What should I major in if I want to make films?

To directly develop filmmaking skills, majoring in a program like film/cinema production, media arts, or visual arts is ideal. Programs in writing, English, theater, and communications also offer complementary knowledge.

What degree do you need to write movies?

There are no set degree requirements to become a professional screenwriter. However, related programs like screenwriting, film studies, English, creative writing, and communications will help build necessary scriptwriting abilities.

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