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Baby Steps

By Randal Stevens · July 27, 2010

I always wanted to write a screenplay. I have an endless stream of great ideas, I’ve read all of the books, I’ve even take a class at my local college. I just can’t seem to get started. It’s such a huge task, how do I get through it?”

– Sara Davidson / Charlotte, North Carolina

This was a mental block I had when I first sat down to begin writing a horror screenplay I had thought of years ago. Despite everything I had been taught about how important it was to flesh out outlines, treatments, character biographies and other background material before I began the actual translation of ideas into a screenplay, I dove headfirst into Final Draft and made trying to bang out 90 pages my Step 1.
Bad idea.
See, like you, I saw the task of completing a screenplay as a monumental one, so I figured the best plan of attack was to meet the task head on.  

Unfortunately, without fleshing out the background of my characters and a proper skeletal structure for my story, I was unable to get into a comfortable groove of writing where I knew what would happen in the next scene, how my characters would react and how scenes would properly build tension.  I found myself mired in long periods of just staring at my computer screen thinking, “what now?”  I was naive about how much work went into the creation of a screenplay, but it seems like your problem is the exact opposite; you know how long of a process it can be and you’re intimidated by it.  
However, what’s important to remember is that every journey begins with a first step and each step is one more that you don’t have to take.  Break the writing process down one piece at a time and make each piece your bitch one by bitch.  
First, just start with a page-long summary of the film idea you want to write. Don’t worry about nitty gritty shit like locations, costumes, emotions or dialogue; just write the premise in one page or less.  
Second, write brief backgrounds for your characters – where they’re from, what were their strong and weak subjects in school, what movies and music they like, when they first discovered masturbation, all kinds of intricacies and eccentricities that make your characters unique from each other.  It doesn’t matter if none of those details will eventually make it into your screenplay because it’ll help you personally get to know your characters and enable you to write their voice much easier later on.  
Third, write a scene.  Yeah, I know, you haven’t even written Act I yet, but who says you have to start at the beginning?  It doesn’t have to be a significant scene – in fact, without an outline for your screenplay, I’d recommend you not try and tackle a pivotal scene – but just write a scene a few pages long so you can get a feel for your characters, what you’ll need to work on to get the story to that particular scene and what it could potentially lead to afterward.  
If all else fails, steal a completed screenplay from your friend, put your name on it and take all the credit.  No one will contradict you if you use lye on the body after the murder….