How to write a screenplay: Start with the picture in your head

How do you go about starting to write that great movie in you head? How do you write a screenplay if you haven’t done it before? When I start thinking about a story I want to develop, I usually have an image or series of images in my mind. These are the ‘seeds’ of my script. As I am a very visual person I tend to think in pictures. So when I have an idea for a story my unconscious normally uses an image to communicate it to the other relevant parts of my brain.

Start with that picture in your mind

That’s how I begin writing; I have a picture that inspires me. It could be something like ‘three Knights on horseback on a hill overlooking a village’ or an ‘alien sitting in a restaurant looking at his watch as it countdowns to something.’ The point is, in the beginning there is very little to go on except this image but once I have it and it excites me enough I can start to ask questions about it.

Start asking questions

Questions are great for opening up the little material you have and expanding on it without you having to just think of stuff out of the blue.

Take the alien example above. I can ask questions such as:

  • How did he get there?
  • What’s his watch counting down to; is it the destruction of the earth?
  • Does anyone recognise him?
  • Where does he go after this?
  • Is anyone chasing him?
  • Meat or fish?

You get it anyway. What happens when I start asking these questions is that more images and ideas develop in my mind, some good, some not so good but a whole load of material will start to come together. It’s exciting at this point to think of the possibilities of the story; you can take it anywhere you want.

Follow the leads

Some of these new leads will inspire me again and form the basis of other scenes. At this point nothing should be discarded as it is too soon to decide or make judgements about what is relevant and not and what might be good in the long term. Later, much of this material may be discarded but for now every idea should be kept for possible eventual use.

Name the scenes

Now at this point I will separate what feels like different scenes and give them a short, one line description. Often they will not seem to link together in any feasible way but this again too early to question. If you try too hard to link scenes together before they are ready, you will only end up with a dull and ordinary script; due to the fact you are only using only remembered knowledge of how to write stories from what you’ve read, seen or done before. Your deeper mind will link your story together in far more interesting ways if you let it.

Don’t forget to start writing

The most important part of writing a screenplay is actually starting it! You have to follow an idea that excites you and that you feel you want to write about. It’s time to take that picture or line or whatever it is in your head and get it down onto paper. Don’t worry about a beginning, middle or an end just start with those images that inspire you and the rest will follow.

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