What Does A Screenwriter Do?

Aug 7, 2023 | Screenplays and Screenwriting

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How Screenplays Work

Now, more than at any time before we find ourselves in an era of great entertainment. Writers of all kinds are afforded more opportunities than ever, with platforms for movies, television, and short-form content growing by leaps and bounds. Looking at the abundance of story out there, you may be wondering, what is a screenwriter? What does a screenwriter do?

What is a Screenwriter? What does a screenwriter do?

At the risk of sounding a little vague, a screenwriter writes the scripts from which movies and television programs are created. Behind every single movie and TV show that you see, however small or large the production, is a screenplay that was written by a screenwriter.

Movies are an inspiration to many people. Most of us, myself included, have been wowed by a stunning visual scene, a great character speech, or riveting performance from an actor. Those moments on the silver screen are the result of the hours of hard work put in by a screenwriter, imagining that scene and writing out that dialog.

Screenwriters are like most other writers. They work off of their imagination. They get an idea for a story, whether that starts with a character, a scene, or a situation, and they begin the process of writing that story for the screen. Every writer is different, following their unique process from the very beginning, but one thing seems to be universal:

A screenplay starts with a moment of inspiration.

I’ve been writing screenplays for twenty years, but I can only speak for my process. When I get an idea, I start carefully building out from that inspiration.

If the character comes first, I try and think of where they come from and what their situation is. What do they want? What stands in their way? Sometimes, I start with a great “what if”. Like this, what if a little girl gets swept away in a storm and lands in a magical land?

That is the genesis idea of what movie? The Wizard of Oz.

Of course, I didn’t write that film (I only wish I had) but you get a general idea. The inspiration for your story is like a seed you plant, from which a screenplay grows.

What is a screenwriter? What does a screenwriter do?

4 Tips For How To Start Writing Screenplays?

To start writing screenplays, the first thing that a new writer must do is watch movies:

Watch a lot of movies. I know, sounds like a lot of hard work. 

Screenplays are not books. They are not magazine articles. Screenplays are the blueprint for a movie. They are written in a defined format, using a visual style, in the very specific language of the cinema. In order to learn to write in that specific style, you need to watch a lot of movies, with a keen on what is happening in the scene.

Next, start reading screenplays:

Fortunately, for up-and-coming screenwriters, scripts are available all over the internet — and the best part is that most of them are free. Websites like Scripts.comSimply Scripts, and ScriptReaderPro are just three sites available out of hundreds.

The key to reading screenplays online is knowing which version to read.

Screenplays are uploaded from all over the place, which means the quality is sometimes dubious. Look for a “spec” or “shooting” version of the script to see what the writer produced and the production team worked off of to create the film.

Map Out Your Story:

Writers often debate what is better, writing off of an outline, or just going for it. In my opinion, writing off of an outline is best. Especially for a young writer, still looking to find their voice.

An outline helps because it gives the writer an idea of where they’re going once they start writing. 

Who is the main character?

What is the setting? 

What is standing in the way of the hero finding what they want?

You don’t need to know everything that happens in every scene down to the details in advance, but having a good idea the big moments and scenes in your screenplay will go a long way to not only completing it but coming up with a product you’ll be happy with.

Go For It:

Once you’ve learned the format, read a few scripts and figured out your story, it’s time to write. Eventually, a writer needs to simply jump into the story and figure it out. It’s a scary process, sometimes leading to a bit of anxiety and some head-scratching feelings, but in the end, you’ll find your way through the story.

The key is to enjoy it. Writing a screenplay is hard work, but it’s also fun. If you do it right, your script has a chance to find it’s way to the screen.

I hope this answered your question, What Does A Screenwriter Do? If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.