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15 Tips for Screenwriting from Expert Writers to Craft an Award-Winning Script

Dreaming of writing the next award-winning screenplay? Getting started with a polished, compelling script can seem daunting. But like any skill, mastering the art of screenwriting simply takes practice and knowing the right techniques.

Whether you’re looking to create a tight indie flick or the next Hollywood blockbuster, these 15 essential tips will help you write an amazing screenplay that audiences will love.

Research the Target Audience and Market

The first step is understanding your target audience and the current market for your script.

Are you writing a big-budget tentpole aimed at mass audiences or an indie film for a niche? Is your script a comedy, drama, thriller, or something else entirely?

Analyze comparable movies and what’s currently selling. Know the conventions and tropes that appeal to your particular genre and demographic.

Understanding audience expectations will help guide your creative choices during the writing process.

Focus Your Story Around a Compelling Protagonist

At the heart of every great script is an engaging protagonist that the audience connects with. This central character should:

  • Have a clear external goal and compelling internal conflict.
  • Experience growth and transformation through their journey.
  • Be complex and dimensional, with strengths, flaws, and quirks.
  • Drive the story forward through their actions.

Whether your hero is flawed or aspirational, selfish or selfless, make them empathetic and relatable.

Grounding your narrative around a strong lead that audiences become invested in is key.

Outline the Full Story Arc

Scriptwriting 101: Every good movie tells a complete story. Master the essential components of narrative structure when outlining:

The Beginning

  • Hook the audience with an impactful opening scene.
  • Set up the protagonist, their world, and early conflicts.
  • Establish the tone, pace, and key relationships.
  • Inciting incident that kicks the story into motion.

The Middle

  • Obstacles, complications, and escalating conflicts to build tension.
  • Raising the stakes to make things worse for the protagonist.
  • Subplots and B stories that interweave with the main narrative.
  • Plant story elements that payoff meaningfully later.

The End

  • Build to the climactic resolution where the protagonist overcomes the big conflict.
  • Satisfying denouement that resolves key story threads.
  • End on a memorable final scene that resonates.

With a beginning, middle, and satisfying end, you have the framework for an engaging story arc.

Create Complex, Emotionally Engaging Characters

The protagonists, antagonists, and key supporting characters are the lifeblood of your script. Take time to develop multidimensional roles that jump off the page.

Character Details

Give each of your main characters:

  • Unique voice, posture, mannerisms, and worldviews.
  • Distinct motivations, values, and desires even if conflicting.
  • Personal quirks, habits, and behaviors.
  • Engaging backstories and histories that shaped them.
  • Secrets, weaknesses, fears, and vulnerabilities.

Character Arcs

Layer your characters by having them:

  • Grow and change through their journey.
  • Confront their flaws and overcome inner conflicts.
  • Make tough choices that force them out of their comfort zone.
  • Have their worldviews, assumptions, and beliefs challenged.
  • Ultimately transform into better, more realized versions of themselves.

Dimensional, evolving characters that audiences care about will elevate your script.

Write a Memorable Logline

A strong logline crystallizes the essence of your story and hooks attention. Summarize your narrative in 2-3 sentences or around 30 words tops.

The logline should:

  • Identify the protagonist.
  • Describe their goal or objective.
  • Set up the central conflict or obstacle stopping them.
  • Establish the tone, setting, and genre.

For example:

When a jaded music manager discovers a talented small-town singer-songwriter, he helps launch her career but not without facing his inner demons. (A Star is Born)

Practice writing crisp, irresistible loglines. This will clarify your story concept and themes.

Create a Compelling Synopsis

A 1-2 page synopsis summarizes the key beats of your full storyline including:

  • Act 1 setup and inciting incident.
  • The protagonist’s actions and obstacles in Act 2.
  • Stakes rising as events escalate.
  • Climax and resolution.

Focus only on the essential plot points. Save details, character backstories, and subplots for the script itself.

An engaging synopsis serves as a narrative blueprint and helps sell your story to producers.

Format Your Screenplay Professionally

Screenplays adhere to very specific script formatting conventions for structure, page layout, and elements like scene headings.

While you can write your initial draft in Word or Google Docs, importing it into professional screenwriting software like Final Draft or Celtx later makes formatting to industry standards simple.

Some key formatting tips:

  • Use a 12-point Courier font for scripts.
  • Scene headings, actions, and sluglines have standardized indentation.
  • Each page roughly equals 1 minute of screen time.
  • Paragraph dialog under character names.
  • Consistent heading structure: INT or EXT, location, and time of day.

Getting the format right gives your script a polished, professional look.

Employ the Three-Act Structure

Most feature films follow a three-act structure:

Act 1

  • Introduces the protagonist, their world, and early conflicts.
  • Establishes relationships between main characters.
  • Builds to an inciting incident that forces the protagonist to take action.

Act 2

  • The protagonist pursues their goal and encounters escalating obstacles.
  • New allies and enemies are introduced.
  • Raising personal stakes and external threats create mounting tension.
  • Goes out on the darkest moment where all seems lost.

Act 3

  • Protagonist rallies for a final push towards their goal.
  • Climactic confrontation where the protagonist faces biggest conflict.
  • Resolution where stakes are resolved forever.
  • Denouement where characters deal with outcomes.

Plot your script beats across these three acts.

Bring Scenes to Life with Vivid Details

Don’t just tell the story, bring it to life in readers’ minds with vivid details and show-don’t-tell writing.


  • Establish each scene’s location and time period upfront.
  • Ground the action with an emotional hook and intent for the scene.
  • Make it easy to visualize unfolding events through action, dialog, and details.

Stage Direction

  • Use visual language and active voice for concise, punchy scene descriptions.
  • Provide just enough details to imagine the environment and action – don’t over-describe.
  • Note essential actions and character movements to drive the scene forward.

Immerse readers in your world scene-by-scene.

Write Natural, Revealing Dialogue

Dialogue brings your characters to life and reveals who they are. Every character has a unique voice.

Tips for writing stellar movie dialogue:

  • Listen to how real people speak and capture distinctive vocab, grammar patterns, and idioms.
  • Dialogue should always move the story forward and reveal or develop character.
  • Use subtext – what’s not said reveals as much as what is spoken aloud.
  • Give each character a signature voice through word choices, speech styles, and mannerisms.
  • Write dialogue exchanges that feel like natural conversations, not forced speeches.
  • Reveal backstory and exposition seamlessly through character interactions.

Dialogue has maximum impact when it captures authentic, unique voices.

Set the Scene with Punchy Descriptions

Effective scene descriptions quickly establish the who, what, and where for readers.

Use concise language and active voice for impact:

Weak example: There were trees that were very tall surrounding the very large and beautiful house.

Strong example: The towering pines dwarfed the imposing three-story manor.

Some tips:

  • Open with where we are and the time – keep it brief.
  • Not just key visual details that establish mood and atmosphere.
  • Use vivid active verbs and precise nouns/adjectives.
  • Keep descriptions brief enough not to slow pacing and momentum.
  • Avoid long blocks of dense description. Break it up.

Transport readers into each scene with crisp, engaging descriptive language.

Use Subtext and Dramatic Irony

Subtext and dramatic irony add depth and nuance to your script.

Subtext is the underlying meaning or intention behind the surface dialog. Hints about unspoken feelings, motivations, and power dynamics.

Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something important a character does not. This builds tension and anticipation.

Ways to employ them:

  • Loaded pauses, nervous tics, or evasive eyes in tense conversations.
  • Double meanings and veiled metaphors take on a deeper significance.
  • Revealing hidden agendas between verbal sparring.
  • Foreshadowing early on hints at later twists.
  • Audiences read between the lines of dialog cliches.

Mastering subtext and dramatic irony brings your storytelling to a higher level.

Build Tension Through Conflict

At the heart of every compelling script are obstacles preventing your protagonist from achieving their desires. Conflict builds tension.

Ways to inject organic conflict:

  • Your hero’s internal flaws hold them back.
  • Interpersonal clashes with supporting characters.
  • An antagonist acting against the protagonist’s interests.
  • Systemic societal or institutional barriers to overcome.
  • Personal stakes rising put more pressure on the protagonist.
  • Escalating danger or external threats up the stakes.

Keep raising obstacles to ratchet up dramatic tension.

Maintain the Right Pacing

Pacing is the speed and rhythm at which your story unfolds on the page. Vary the pacing to keep readers engaged.

  • Faster-paced, shorter scenes build momentum. Use them to advance the plot.
  • Slower-paced, longer scenes allow more character development through dialogue.
  • Adjust sentence lengths for flow. Vary long and short.
  • Use lots of paragraph breaks in action text for visual rhythm.
  • Spread out new information reveals across scenes to tease curiosity.
  • Accelerate pacing near the climax to build excitement.

Getting the pacing right means knowing when to linger and when to get moving.

Reveal Backstory and Exposition Seamlessly

Scripts need to establish context and backstory without dense exposition that slows things down.

Organic ways to reveal key information:

  • Start a story in media res, filling in past details when relevant later.
  • Uncover the backstory progressively through character interactions and dialog.
  • Share only what the audience needs to know to follow the plot.
  • Use visual cues and production design to hint at the backstory.
  • Reveal exposition through ongoing conflict and rising stakes.
  • Flashbacks of formative past events for key characters.

Show. Don’t tell. Bring exposition and backstory seamlessly into the foreground.

Create an Emotional Payoff

Satisfying endings emotionally resonate with audiences long after the credits roll. There are two keys to really stick the landing:

Inner Journey Resolved

Show your protagonist overcoming their deep inner flaw or wounds at the climax – this brings emotional closure.

Rather than just beating the bad guy, the deeper personal growth arc comes full circle.

Loose Ends Tied Up

Resolve any pending story threads and relationships that have carried through the script:

  • Complete character arcs for supporting roles.
  • Answer all key questions raised.
  • Payoff setup story elements from earlier.
  • Settle central conflicts permanently.

Leaving readers moved, entertained, and satisfied means bringing all the pieces together for a meaningful resolution.

Keep Writing and Improving Your Craft

Becoming an expert screenwriter takes years of practice, patience, and persistence. But using these pro tips as a guide will put you well down the path toward mastery.

Keep writing scripts and immersing yourself in great movies. Get feedback from trusted readers on how to improve your characters, dialog, and storytelling.

And most importantly, understand that first drafts are never perfect. The magic lies in revision and polish. Writing an amazing script means being ready to rewrite and refine until all the essential pieces come together seamlessly.

So tap into your inner Scorsese or Spielberg, and get that compelling idea out of your head and onto the page. You’ve got this!

Now go write the next award-winning screenplay the big or small screen needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the #1 rule when writing a screenplay?

The #1 rule is to remember that a screenplay tells a story visually. Write scenes that show rather than tell the narrative through engaging dialog, actions, and details that unfold on screen.

What are the three C’s of screenwriting?

The three C’s are Character, Conflict, and Context. Develop compelling characters, create obstacles that drive the conflict, and establish context through backstories and worldbuilding.

What is the golden rule of screenwriting?

The golden rule is to keep readers turning pages. Maintain momentum with crisp writing, cliffhangers, escalating conflicts, reveals, and twists.

How do I get good at writing scripts?

Practice regularly, read screenplays, take classes, join writer groups, understand screenplay format and conventions, get feedback on your work, and keep writing until it comes naturally.

What are the unwritten rules of screenwriting?

Some key unwritten rules are: don’t write omissions, avoid walls of text, make dialog flow naturally, don’t overdirect actors, use subtext, and complement exposition with great visual storytelling.

What is the hardest part of writing a screenplay?

The hardest parts are nailing the ending, achieving the right pacing, writing engaging dialog, and tying all the pieces together into a cohesive, emotionally resonant narrative.

Is screenwriting a hard major?

Screenwriting is challenging as it requires creativity, storytelling skills, handling criticism, having persistence, and mastering complex craft elements. But it’s very rewarding.

What tenses are screenwriting?

Screenplays are written in present tense, as if narrating the unfolding events in real-time, even for scenes set in the past. The conventional present tense creates immediacy.

What are the basics of screenwriting?

The basics include 3 act structure, scene format, screenplay software, story arcs, protagonist/antagonist, obstacles, stakes, powerful dialogue, scene details, action lines, and proper script formatting.

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