How To Start A Screenplay & The Rewrite

By Josh Golding

Nothing makes people more superstitious than talking about working methods. I had a student who told me she was fearful of “analysis blowing away the magic.” I can understand what she meant. It’s like asking where inspiration comes from – surely it’s something unique for everyone?

Ernest Hemingway had an interesting method for getting himself started in the morning. At the end of each working day, he’d grab all his pencils in his big fist and slam them down on the desk, breaking all the points. When he came in the next morning, he’d pull out a penknife and start to whittle them. When he’d sharpened four or five – six, if he had a hangover – he’d find himself reaching for one and beginning to write.

Grahame Greene’s credo was to get up from bed and go straight to his writing desk. He had to get going before the banality of everyday life interrupted his stream of consciousness.

Somerset Maugham, whose output was huge, told an amazed admirer that he only worked four hours a day. “Only four hours,” he admonished, “but never less.” Consistency is all – but each will have his own voodoo.

So where do you start with a screenplay? With a treatment, step outline, improv – or by just plunging in? I can’t tell you what will work for everyone, but I can tell you what works consistently for the writers I work with.

Some people start with a character, but no particular story. I advise them to write a scene that puts their character under stress. Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure - what qualities does your character reveal when the going gets tough? How can you create a journey for them that brings out their inner qualities?

I advise you not to go too far with this exercise, though. Once you start writing dialogue, it’s all too easy to fall in love with your words – and find it hard to cut them, even when they have nothing do with your theme.

The 5 Steps To Rewriting

By Elliot Grove

An extract from his book Raindance Writers' Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay. Focal Press 2008

Just as writing your screenplay requires a method plus creative thought, so too does the task of marketing your screenplay. Try to market your screenplay without a plan, and plan to be confused. So see if you can follow the marketing plan.


There are two things that writers hate – writers hate writing and writers really hate selling.

Unless you master the art of selling, you will never be a professional
screenwriter – no one will pay you for your work. And selling your work need not be a painful and dreaded experience. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, if you have a plan of attack.

These next chapters are designed to help writers who hate selling, sell their script. But you have to follow my little system. Let’s assume you have finished your script and are asking ‘Now what?’

1. Let it rest

Put your screenplay aside for at least two weeks. I like to let mine rest for a month. You want to leave it long enough so you forget it – so it seems fresh when you see it again.

Perhaps you will start working on your next project, or simply try to catch up on seeing as many films as you can. This is a sweet moment. You have actually written your screenplay. You still don’t want to show it to anyone, but at least you can announce that you are finished.

Hint: Rewriting is a crucial part of the writing process, but is often
approached incorrectly.

If you have done your homework and made a detailed plan, your first draft will be built on a solid foundation. Then determine exactly what the theme of the piece is. Make sure all scenes focus toward the theme. Ask yourself if there is a bolder, fresher, quicker way to say the same thing. Cut, cut, cut. Fix the dialogue last.

2. Character rewrite

Go through the script with a fine tooth comb and set aside anything that does not directly pertain to the goal of the main character.

When you read the script again, you will be amazed at how much energy it has. Look at your script and see if there is anything new you can add to the script, or perhaps you can retrieve and recycle some of the material you set aside earlier. Maybe that scene you thought was a great set-up to the page forty-five scene would work better as the page seventy-five scene, and so on.

3. Table reading – the dialogue rewrite

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