The Ultimate List of Screenwriting Rules, Tips, Laws, Principles, Guidelines, and More
Screenwriting rules… Foolproof tips and guidelines to help you craft something inspiring. Laws and principles that lead you down the creative path without losing your way. Of course, rules in any creative medium are always meant to be bent, broken and reshaped depending on the project. Regardless, there are so many sound tips out there it was time someone collected them in one place.
Below is an absolutely gigantic collection of screenwriting rules. Part 1 consists of over 50 articles by screenwriters of all levels, written to inspire screenwriters. There are literally hundreds of amazing tips for you to digest and apply to your own writing.
Nothing matters if you don’t have a great story worth telling. A tale you are passionate about. A screenplay worthy of your creativity and devotion.
(2) Master the format
Anyone can learn the industry standard for margins & overall structure of a screenplay. However, you have to master the subtleties of white space, slug lines, page counts & more. Not to mention the constant threat of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Mastering the format liberates your screenplay of distractions and leaves only the story.
(3) No stage directions
You are not the director. Leave out camera shots & notes for actors. If something must be seen then skillfully describe it.
(4) Show, don’t tell
Story is revealed through actions and characters. Your exposition shouldn’t be obvious to the reader. Show don’t tell.
(5) Get in late, get out early
This rule applies to your entire screenplay but also to individual scenes. Cut out the excess and keep your story focused on what matters most.
(6) Know your audience
Never lose sight of who you are writing for even if it’s yourself. Every screenplay should be a perfect match for the audience it’s intended for.
(7) Create obstacles
Nothing should be easy for your characters. Put them through hell so people will care when (and if) they succeed. There is no suspense without obstacles and avoid cheating by giving them convenient escapes.
Every sentence should communicate an idea (or more than one idea) and it should be crystal clear. Only you can describe what your screenplay is about. Show people the exciting moments that previously existed only in your imagination. Be clear about your characters motivations and immerse the reader in your world.
(9) Your world, your characters
If you don’t have the answers, how can you ask the questions that drive your screenplay? What is your world like? Where did your characters come from? What is your story about?
Nearly every rule in this list is related to this rule in some way. Writing with clarity requires a simplification of descriptions. Hiding exposition can sometimes require dialogue to be rewritten and often shortened. Getting into your scenes late and out often, using white space effectively and rewrites in general all point to this one rule. Less is more. Keep it in mind at all times. Make every single word matter and eliminate the ones that slow your screenplay down.
(11) Write what you know
Writing what you know doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write only what you’ve lived. On the other hand, if you don’t know anything about sharks and want to write about sharks… Maybe you should go swim with some sharks! Research is key. A screenwriter is a student of life. Seek out the answers to better inform your story. You have to know every detail.
(12) Have something to say
You’ve got a great story, vivid characters and your structure is perfect. You still can’t take your screenplay to the next level unless you have something to say. What does your story mean? What is it truly about? You have to know the answers to these questions and build them into every page.
Above all else, your screenplay has to be entertaining. When reading each and every scene in your movie ask yourself one question: Is this entertaining? If the answer is no or not really then you’ve got some work to do.
(14) Write, rewrite, repeat
The only thing greater than a good idea is a better idea. Keep writing until it’s perfect. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft. Be confident that your story will improve with every pass. Write until you adore every sentence.
(15) Write everyday
Screenwriters write screenplays. Find time to write and never stop thinking about what happens next. The more you write the more your skills improve. You CAN write an amazing screenplay as long as you’re willing to sit down and actually write it! (and rewrite it)