Every year, it’s estimated that several hundred thousand screenplays are written. Out of those several hundred thousand, only a few hundred are produced for theatrical release. That’s a very low ratio of screenplays written to screenplays produced. Needless to say, the production companies only want to invest their production money into the very best screenplays. Before you submit your screenplay to anyone for their review, you had better make sure that your screenplay is perfect. To do otherwise would be very foolish.
The first and most basic element that must be mentioned is the length of your screenplay. Unless you’ve had a screenplay produced or previously optioned, you better stick with the accepted page length. One page of screenplay material equates to roughly one minute of edited screen time. If you’re writing a feature length screenplay, then the length of your script had better be 90 to 100 pages long. Any more (or less) will negatively impact your screenplay’s chances of getting noticed.
The three act format exists for a reason: it works. Act one is approximately ten pages long and needs to introduce the protagonist and the general plot of the story. The first act is the “hook” for your story. It needs to be interesting enough to captivate your audience’s attention and make them want to watch for another 80 minutes to find out the story’s conclusion.
Act two is the longest portion of your screenplay. It will be 70 pages long, give or take. Act two is also referred to as “the chase”. During the second act, your protagonist encounters increasingly difficult circumstances that he or she must overcome. Those circumstances will inevitably lead to the climax.
Act three, referred to as “the final act”, is where the final climax occurs between your protagonist and antagonist. The last act is usually between 10 and 15 pages. The final act must resolve every issue presented during the story. A lot of writers are tempted to continue the story after the climax – this is a mistake and should be avoided. Once the climax is resolved, the story must end.
Great dialogue is an integral component of your screenplay. Without it, chances are slim that your screenplay will ever get noticed. Strong dialogue has numerous elements to it. Describing each of those components in detail is beyond the scope of this article, but two of the elements that are worth mentioning are brevity and plosives. Great lines of dialogue are short lines of dialogue. And if you don’t know what a plosive is, you should definitely learn more about them because they can make or break your character’s lines. A plosive is a sound that requires the speaker to create and subsequently release a pocket of air when saying a specific word out loud. A good rule of thumb is you should have one plosive for every word in a line of dialogue; a ten word sentence should have ten plosives inside of it.
The last common sense piece of advice for crafting a great screenplay is that you make sure every piece of information that is delivered within each scene pertains to furthering the story. What does that mean? It means you can’t create scenes (or even a single line of dialogue) that are simply meant to “kill time” until the important element of the story comes into play. Every scene in your screenplay must be necessary for the development of the story. If any scene fails to deliver pertinent information, then that particular scene needs to be deleted. It’s as simple as that. Good luck with your screenwriting career!
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