Have you ever watched a movie or television show and cringed at the clunky dialogue or poor plot development? Have you ever thought to yourself that you could do better than that? If yes, then scriptwriting could be a viable career option for you. Since scriptwriting has no definite career path and educational requirement, most of us lack the knowledge and are clouded with uncertainty about how to start our journey in the same.
So, before we move on to the nitty-gritty of a career in scriptwriting, let us first walk through what scriptwriting is all about and the various aspects that make this exciting career avenue.
What is scriptwriting?
Script or screenplay is a blueprint for what is played, whether it is a movie, play, or television series. Just like a building cannot be built to specifications without a floor plan, or with vague description, none of the above can be produced without being specific. A lot can be interpreted during production or performance though.
Scripts are written in the present tense. They do not contain thoughts and feelings but a description of the environment, action, and words spoken, etc. Scriptwriting is the art of composing content for mass communication, for example, include films, TV production, animation videos, or computer games. It can be broadly defined as writing the dialogue and relevant directions for production. Scripts are used for several purposes in a variety of settings. There are formal structures that are often unique to a given type of script. For instance, a screenplay for a film might include terminologies that are specific to the camera such as pan, zoom, or deep focus which would not appear in the script for a play.
What is the role of a scriptwriter?
Scriptwriters are professional writers who write stories and screenplays for films, television programs, comics, radio shows, video games, and theater plays. Their work involves coming up with the idea and writing the concept, characters, dialogue, etc. They are responsible for exploring and researching the story, composing the screenplay, and conveying it, in the expected format. Scriptwriters, therefore, have an incredible impact on the emotional and creative effect of the screenplay and the featured video. They are among the most essential people in the process of making a film, T.V program, etc.
Types of Scriptwriting
Screenplays are scripts written specifically for a visual medium, such as film or television. Usually, screenplays are fictional and designed to tell a story. They typically include a variety of information including setting, dialogue, camera instructions and may also include editing instructions. It should be noted that most screenplays are not produced as written. The director, producer, or even the actors may all directly or indirectly alter the script as per requirement during production.
Screenplays are one of the most widely written forms of scriptwriting. So much that the terms scriptwriting and screenwriting are often used interchangeably. However, you need to note that screenwriting is one of the types of scriptwriting and not scriptwriting as a whole.
Plays are dramatic works that are written to be staged in a theater and in front of an audience. As opposed to film and television series, plays are productions that occur live. Like a screenplay, a play script includes dialogue, stage and scene instructions, as well as provide character names and descriptions.
A person who writes a play is known as a playwright. William Shakespeare, the 16th-century English writer is the best-known playwright of all time. In modern times, Samuel Beckett is regarded as the greatest playwright of the 20th century.
- Audio Drama
Scripts for audio shows share many components with screenplays and the scripts for stage plays. They often share a lot of terminologies. However, in the case of audio dramas, there tends to be much more extensive use of the narrator to provide a third-person perspective than in other fictional scripts. The dialogue is also quite different. It involves a more exhaustive description of the surroundings to help establish the setting. Instructions are focused on the necessary audio components that need to accompany a given scene. It may also contain instructions for the voice actor about how a line should be delivered.
- News Scripts
News script also known as the broadcast script is pretty different than other forms of scriptwriting. News anchors are mostly provided with scripts to be read via teleprompters while appearing natural on screen. News scripts are like bare-bones affairs that provide informational content. The script also includes directions for the production staff about when to run a clip or to cut to a live anchor in the field. Components like these are not generally read aloud by the anchors.
- Other Scriptwriting
There are many other types of scriptwriting including story writing or dialogue writing for video games, educational films, documentaries, online content such as podcasts or marketing materials, and even commercials. All of these scripts follow the same general patterns as plays, audio dramas, and screenplays.
What makes a good script?
Thousands of scripts are submitted every year. But only some are bought by major studios and only a few make it to pre-production. This is the harsh truth of film-making business. This leads to a cut-throat competition for scriptwriters.
So for a script to stand a chance of getting on a big screen, it’s extremely important to follow the certain rules listed below. If you cross-check them with the popular movies or television series we all love, you’ll see that the majority of them meet most of these requirements. So here are the qualities that any great script must possess:
- Appropriate formatting
Producers hire professional readers to read scripts for them. That says a lot about the number of scripts they must be getting on a day-to-day basis.
With so many scripts to go through, a script must be formatted appropriately in a format that is easy to read and ordered. A font size of 12-14 is recommended. There are software applications available that lessen a writer’s burden, making life a lot easier for them helping them concentrate on the creative aspect.
- Fresh concept
It happens quite often that we watch a movie or a television series that is so predictable that you can easily guess what the story has in store. And boom it comes out be the same! A script that is churned out to tell the same old story in the same old way makes the script less appealing. Such iterativeness makes a story boring.
Your script doesn’t have to be a high concept script. It need not tell a story never told before. But it has to be refreshing. It has to take a fresh take on the existing concept if you want to catch a reader’s attention. A great story can be pitched in a few sentences and yet leave the audience craving for more.
Many times we read a movie review and find critics citing the script to be loose. There are also times when they praise a script for being tight. That’s what a good script is. A great script is tight, meaning it is gripping. Storytelling is a significant aspect of a film, play, or television show. If the story isn’t captivating, the audience fails to connect. A script must always have a hook – something that keeps you guessing why this or that happened and what is going to happen next. It should be well-paced, constantly surprising, with sudden plot twists along with an unpredictable yet satisfying climax.
“Show not tell” Visual communication or Visual artworks entirely on this principle. They say this to students in all the film schools. Yet most rookie films tend to plunge into unnecessary ranting. This cannot be said about movies based on a solid script for sure. A good piece of action can replace a thousand words. And the action doesn’t necessarily mean the kind of stuff you encounter in a Rohit Shetty movie. It is suggested to show how long a girl’s hair is or how an old man struggles to reach his office than simply narrating it with words.
- Strong main character
If the story is the heart than the characters are the heartbeat. It is important to have a person who drives the story forward, someone all can root for. A well fleshed out character is where you forget the actor but remember the character he plays, even after the film ends. All great scripts have well-developed characters. This doesn’t mean that the character has to have some quirky or unique attributes. They can be simple. But they should be easy to relate to, likable, with their weaknesses, and, most importantly, a goal. Raising the stakes of him losing gives the story even more power.
- Escalating conflict
The path to the goal for a hero can never be too easy otherwise all his efforts will be in vain and leave the audience unimpressed. A script must have twists and turns. It is these ups and downs that make a script interesting and captures the audience’s attention. Imagine a script without any problems where the protagonist reaches his goals easily. How bland A hero’s journey cannot be like a piece of a pie. There must be obstacles that prevent the main character from doing what he needs to do up to the point of rendering it completely unrealistic.
- Snappy dialogue
Plain dialogues without tart and playfulness lack charm. A solid script is packed with powerful dialogues. These dialogues don’t necessarily have to be heavy but need to be engaging. When a script is visual and action-packed, the dialogue is freed from the burden of explaining the events. Here’s where the characters come out with their potential and burst with lines that keep the audience entertained. An experienced writer always puts opposing personalities in a confined space, makes them interact, and sees what happens.
An exemplary script is brief and concise. It stays within 90 to 120 pages and doesn’t try to test the audience’s patience. It’s a rule of thumb to convey the idea of what the character is after by the 20th page and bring the story to resolution no later than page 110. It’s usually a result of not being too attached to every word and following the golden principle: Сutting out the unnecessary is essential – and it’s amazing how much fat can be trimmed!
Creative minds are often buzzing with imagination. Their thoughts wander across the imaginary realms. And with this, it isn’t unusual to step beyond the boundaries of reality and be tempted to write something chimeric.
Writers who delve too carelessly into their imagination sometimes forget about such a prosy thing as a potential film’s budget. It’s generally a good idea to stay pragmatic and write scripts with achievable production values. And that’s usually what all the successful filmmakers did before reaching their well-earned glory.
- X factor
This is something that cannot be defined. It is the hardest of all to grasp. Even the most original scripts that stay true to the rules above can badly fail in this aspect. It’s almost impossible to explain, but you can it in every acclaimed movie. The X factor is something that makes a movie special. Something magical, something extraordinary. This one quality is something not solely defined by your work experience. A lot of other factors come into the picture.
How to become a scriptwriter?
A degree is not a parameter for most creative professions. Scriptwriting is no different. Scriptwriting is an art and art cannot be measured by a degree. So, qualification is not a hindrance to a person wanting to make a career in scriptwriting. What one needs is the skill of putting their ideas onto the paper in an exquisite way that can be transformed into a movie.
Though an academic pathway is not required, a scriptwriter needs to have a specific amount of knowledge. A scriptwriter must have the skill to do intense background study and create stories and characters that impresses the audience and give a real-life effect. You need a lot of experience in this area. This can be obtained either by binge-watching other movies and noting the particular techniques that can be used or by developing your methods to master the art.
Nevertheless, there are a few institutes in India that provide opportunities for aspiring scriptwriters that can help not only to learn the methods and techniques but at the same time get into the industry. This can help you to understand the methodologies in a structured way but that creative hat is something that has to come from within. More than anything, these courses help you to get the required exposure to set foot in the industry.
The majority of these courses are offered in screenwriting. A Bachelors’s course in screenwriting can range from a three-year course, with a focus on film direction. There are also one-year diploma courses that focus entirely on screenwriting. You can learn a lot about screenwriting from experienced industry professionals. Therefore, choosing the right institute is of utmost importance.
Some of the top Institutes in India providing a course in Screenwriting are as follows:
Top Institutes offering a course in Screenwriting around the globe
What are the qualities of a good scriptwriter?
There are many skills needed for a person to become a scriptwriter. The 5 most important skills required to become a scriptwriter are as follows:
- Passion: As for any other occupation, being passionate about what you do holds for scriptwriters as well. Having a craze for watching movies or being compelled by the habit of giving movie or TV show references screams of your interest in the art of screenwriting.
- Persistence: Writing a great script is no child’s play. It tests your patience and dedication time and again. Writer’s block, criticism, discouragement, etc. makes a career in scriptwriting no less than a hurdle race. But if you have persistence, you can sail across the sea with ease.
- Flexibility: A scriptwriter needs to be flexible in all areas. The writing process, analysis, problem-solving, every facet requires you to be adaptable. At times there will be budget concerns, a switch in directors, or a change in studio management, which will all affect the script. However, the goal is always the same: to produce quality content. A scriptwriter has to be flexible to deal with all this.
- Consistency: Consistency is very important for an artist. This is mainly because an artists’ career lacks routine. Some days you will have a lot of time, some days you will have to work with every tick of the clock. As a scriptwriter, you will have deadlines to meet and expectations to cater to. All of this can be done by learning to be consistent.
- Networking: The majority of writers are introverts and avoid socializing much. But once you realize how necessary networking is, you’ll know it is the best way to get a script to an agent, studio executive, or producer. Many cities offer networking events where screenwriters can meet like-minded artists and people who could turn your screenplay into a movie. Scripts can’t sell themselves. They need to be marketed to the right audience. And that’s where networking comes into play.
Career in scriptwriting in India
If you have a craze for writing stories and transforming them into visuals, scriptwriting is the career you have been waiting for. Scriptwriting is primarily a freelance role. Thus, it provides you with job flexibility and the opportunity to work on a variety of unique and interesting projects while flexing your creative muscles. But along with these perks, it is also one of the most challenging career options among creative professions.
Some might succeed in getting the breakthrough in their first attempt. For some, it might take years. Networking plays a huge role in the film business just like any other entertainment and glamor industry. If you know the right people and they know you, your job is almost done or at least your journey becomes smoother. This also has a downside. Talented writers who aren’t that great at networking can be sidelined. So networking is the key if you want to move ahead in your career. This quotient of the industry puts a lot of pressure, especially on the upcoming and aspiring artists, and may take a toll on their professions. Even the experienced writers say from their experience that it takes a long time for an aspiring screenwriter to get their break. Several opportunities are available across the globe, but at the end of the day, one has to have amazing kills and enough experience.
As a word of caution, if you aren’t a risk-taker or are someone who dreams of a secure career, you need to give it a second thought. Scriptwriting isn’t a safe bet but if you’re passionate and patient enough it is surely a worthwhile career avenue with endless potential.
How much do scriptwriters earn?
For long writers have been battling low pay and were rarely acknowledged for their work. However, with the advent of the internet and the resulting globalization, the audience has become much more aware and can now easily differentiate between a good script and a bad script. This has boosted the demand for quality content leading to a rise in the remuneration of scriptwriters.
An early career Script Writer with 1-4 years of experience can now earn an average total compensation of ₹420,000 in India whereas experienced Script Writer with more than 10 years of experience can make an average total compensation of ₹800,000.
A scriptwriter with an exceptional track record and a great script can negotiate for a higher fee. Production houses owned by established producers like Vipul Shah (known for films such as Singh Is King and Commando), also offer a profit-sharing model for scriptwriters.
Furthermore, the Screenwriters Association (SWA) has formulated a fair pay plan in 2019 for writers that has been welcomed by the film industry. The pay plan is based on the production cost of the film. As per the plan, for a film with below Rs 5 crore budget, the minimum fee for a script is Rs 12 lakh (Rs 3 lakh for a story, Rs 5 lakh for a screenplay, Rs 4 lakh for dialogue), for a film with Rs 5-15 crore budget, the minimum fee for a script is Rs 24 lakh. Also, the writer and the producer can freely negotiate a higher fee based on the writer’s record and the merit of the script.
So, it won’t be wrong to say that scriptwriting as a career has greatly evolved and the demand for talented writers will continue to grow.
Now that you know what it takes to be a scriptwriter, go get writing, what you’re waiting for?