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How You Really Become a Writer

By Britton Perelman · May 29, 2019

No one realizes their dream in a vacuum. In order to aspire to screenwriting greatness, you must first walk into a movie theater. You must love movies. 

Thankfully, loving movies is also exactly how you learn to be a screenwriter. 

“You learn just by watching movies,” says screenwriter Cinco Paul (The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me, The Lorax). 

In conversation with The Script Lab, Paul explained: “I learned to study movies, instead of just watching them.”

It’s one thing to go see a movie in a theater or watch the latest releases on Netflix, but the act of actually studying movies will inherently teach you about what does and doesn’t work in terms of screenwriting. 

Be an active audience member.

Notice how you’re feeling, and when, and why. Pay attention to pacing. If you’re watching with a friend, observe when they laugh, gasp, or tear up. Be aware of transitions, dialogue, scene length, and structure. Jot notes. Maybe even watch with the screenplay in front of you (if you can find it!). 

Once you’ve watched the greats, your favorites, and some guilty pleasures, take to the page. 

Paul continues, “You learn by writing more and more scripts.”

But Paul warns against falling under the impression that any one script is your ticket to success.

“You’re trying to become a writer. That’s what’s important,” he says. “It’s not about any script. So write that script, and then write another one, and then write another one. That’s how you get better as a writer.”

For the secret to becoming a real screenwriter, and continuing to improve your craft, is simple — finish a screenplay and start on another. Rinse and repeat. 

To watch the full interview with Cinco Paul and find out which question screenwriters should be asking, sign up for a free 3-day trial of TSL 360, the LARGEST screenwriting education content library, featuring masterclasses, deep-dive interviews, and lectures from Academy Award-winning screenwriters, TV show-runners, producers, literary managers, agents, studio executives, and leading educators – all in one place.

Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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