Screenplay - The Foundations of Screenwriting

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting – Book Summary

A screenplay is the story told with pictures, in dialogue and description and placed within the context of dramatic structure.

Chapter 1 – What is a screenplay?

A screenplay is not a novel and for certain it’s not a play.

If you look at the novel and try to define its fundamental nature, you’ll see that the dramatic action, the storyline, usually takes place inside the head of the main character. A play is different – the action, or the storyline, occurs onstage, under the proscenium arch, and the audience becomes the fourth wall, eavesdropping on the lives of the characters, what they think and feel and say.

Film is a VISUAL medium that dramatizes a basic story line.

Screenplays have a basic linear structure that creates the form of the screenplay because it holds all the elements, or pieces of the story line in place.

3-Act Structure

The word “structure” has basically 2 meanings:

  • “to build or put something together”
  • the relationship between the parts and the whole

A story is the whole and the elements that make up the story – the action, characters, conflicts, scenes, sequences, 3-acts, dialogue, action, events, music, location, etc. are the parts – and the relationship between the parts and the whole make up the story.

Act – I: “Set up”(app. 1- 30)
Act – II: “Confrontation”(app. 30 – 90)
Act – III: “Resolution”(app. 90 – 120)

Act I – “Set-up”:

Act – I is about the context. Context is the space that holds something in place.

  • Sets up the story
  • Establishes the character
  • Launches the dramatic premise.
  • Illustrates the situation
  • Creates the relationships between the main character and the other characters who inhabit the landscape of his/her world.

Act II – “Confrontation”:

In the second act, the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle that keeps him/her from achieving the dramatic need.

Dramatic need: “what the character wants to win, gain, get or achieve during the course of the screenplay”.

All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action you have no character ; without character, you have no story and without story , you have no screenplay.

Act III – “Resolution”:

It’s important to remember that resolution is not the ending; resolution means solution. Ending is the specific scene or shot or sequence that ends the script.

What’s the solution of your screenplay?

Does the main character live or die? Get Married or not? Win the race or not? Escape safety or not? Win the election or not? Leave her husband or not? Return the home or not? Act – III is the unit of action that resolves the story.

What’s a plot point?

A plot point is defined as any incident, episode or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction. A plot point is always the function of the main character. Plot points serve an essential purpose in the screenplay; they are the major story progression and keep the story line anchored in place.

Plot points do not have to be big, dynamic scenes or sequences; they can be quiet scenes in which a decision is made.

Dramatic Structure: Linear arrangement of the related incidents, episodes, or events leading to a dramatic resolution.

Chapter 2 – The Subject

Every screenplay has a subject – it is what the story is about.

You need a subject to embody and dramatize the idea. A subject is defined as an action and a character. An action is what the story is about – a character is who the story is about. Knowing your subject is the starting point of your screenplay.

When you can articulate your subject, in terms of action and character, you’re ready to begin expanding the elements of structure and story. It may take several pages of the free association writing about your story before you can begin to grasp the essentials and reduce the complex storyline to a simple sentence or two.

Define the need
Action is the character

Ask yourself what kind of story you are writing – Is it an outdoor action adventure movie? Or, is it a story about a relationship, an emotional story? Once you determine the kind of action you’re dealing with, you can move into the life of your character.

First, define the dramatic need of your character. What does your character want? What’s his/her need? What drives him to the resolution of the story? You must define the need of your character.

Know your SUBJECT !!

Chapter 3 – The Creation of Character

What is character but the determination of incident? And what is incident but the illumination of the character? – Henry James

Henry James says that incidents you create for your characters are the best ways to illuminate who they are – that is – reveal their true nature, their essential character. How they respond to a particular incident or event, how they act and react, what they say and do is what really defines the essence of their character.

Character is the essential internal foundations of your screenplay.

Before you can put one word down on paper, you must know your character. How do you determine whether your character will drive a car or ride a motorcycle or take the bus or subway, and what kind of paintings or posters hang out in his/her apartment?

Who is your main character?

The way you drive your story forward is by focusing on the actions of the character and the dramatic choices he or she makes during the narrative story line. You can have more than 1 main character, of course, but it certainly clarifies things if you identifies single hero or heroine.

First, establish the main character. Separate the components of his/her life into two basic categories:

  • interior
  • exterior

The interior of your character takes place from birth up until the time your story begins. It is a process that forms character.

The exterior life of your character takes place from the moment film begins to the conclusion of your story. It is the process that reveals the character.

Internal:takes place from birth – story
Emotional life – forms character
from the start of the movie to end.
Physical Life – reveals the character

Character Biography:

The character biography is an exercise that reveals your character’s interior life, the emotional forces the emotional forces working on your character from birth. Continue to trace your character’s life until the story begins.

Writing is the ability to ask yourself the questions and wait for the answers.

The exterior aspect of your character takes place during the eventual time of the screenplay, from the first fade-in to the final fade-out. The best way to do this is to separate your character’s life into 3 basic components – their professional, personal and private life. (These areas of your characters’ lives can be dramatized over the course of the screenplay)

Professional: What does the protagonist do for the living?

Personal: Relationship / Love / Family

Private: What does your character do when s/he is alone?

Action is Character

Film is behavior. Pictures, or images reveal different aspects of character. Whereas character reveals the deep-seated nature of who people are, in terms of their values, actions and beliefs, characterization is expressed in the way people live, the cars they drive, the pictures they hang on the wall, their likes and dislikes, what they eat, and other forms of individual expression.

Form your characters by creating a character biography, and then reveal them by showing who they are in the professional, personal and private life.


Choose a character and write a character biography. Free Associate. Just throw down some thoughts, words or ideas. Write in fragments. You may want to start from birth, but you don’t have to follow the character’s life in a linear form. Let your creative consciousness dictate the flow of character.

As you have completed the character biography, think about your character’s professional, personal and private life. Focus on the relationships that occur during the screenplay.

Know Your Character !!

Chapter 4 – Building The Character

Building character is part of the mystery and magic of the creative process.

In is an ongoing, never-ending, continuing practice. In order to really solve the problem of character, it’s essential to go into your characters and build the foundations and fabric of their lives, then add ingredients that will heighten and expand the portrait of who they are.

Four essential qualities that seems to go into making a good character:

  • the characters have dramatic need
  • they have an individual Point-of-View (POV)
  • they personify an attitude
  • they go through some kind of change, or transformation

1. Dramatic Need:

A dramatic need is defined as what your main characters want to win, gain, get or achieve during the course of your screenplay. The dramatic need is what drives your character through the story line. It is their purpose, their mission, their motivation, driving them through the narrative action of the story line.

In most cases you can express the dramatic need in a sentence or two.

It is usually simple and can be stated through a line of dialogue, if you choose; or it does not have to be expressed at all. But you as a writer, must know your character’s dramatic need.

There are times when the dramatic need will change during the course of your story. If your character’s dramatic need dos change, it will usually occur at Plot Point I, the true beginning of your story. If you like, you can establish dramatic needs for other characters in the screenplay.

The dramatic need is the engine that powers the character through the story line.

2. Point-Of-View

4 Best Screenwriting Books That Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should Read

4 Best Screenwriting Books That Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should Read

Watch the interview from your favorite director!!

Well, chances are high that they will recommend you to write a script or practice screenwriting. The reason is because a film is a script in a true sense. It all starts with a script. Regardless of what kind of cinematic shots are used, or how it’s edited – all of those things won’t matter if we don’t craft a good script.

Here are a few screenwriting books that I recommend to every aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker:

#1 Screenplay – by Syd Field

As the title suggests, Screenplay is about the fundamentals of screenwriting. Think of it like a ‘Screenwriting 101’. I admire the writing style of the writer – Syd Field – clear and simple.

There are a lot of screenwriting books in the market as of today, and every book will add something of value to you as a writer. However, this book remains the must-have on every screenwriter’s shelf, because it helps you learn about the fundamentals – the core that builds the screenplay.

And, don’t get mistaken.

It’s not about formulas, nor about the 3-act structure. Yes, they are an important part of learning screenwriting. However, this book goes much beyond that. And, this book is not a one time read – it’s a reference book. The more you write, the more you should keep coming back to this book and review the script you wrote.

In this way, you’ll be a much better screenwriter.

Screenplay – by Syd Field

#2 The Coffee Break Screenwriter – by Pillar Alessandra

Do you have only 10 minutes a day to write?

Well, this book comes to the rescue. Although this book is targeted to 9-5 job holders (or someone who has less time for writing), I think this book caters to almost all the screenwriters because it follows a practical approach to writing a script.

All the exercise to follow are bite sized and really easy to digest.

However, the most important thing is to use them consistently.

The Coffee-Break Screenwriter

This might interest you: 21 Days Video Editing Training in Nepal

#3 Save the Cat- by Blake Snyder

This book is another must-have on shelf. It effectively breaks down the genres and beats that every good script tends to follow. Although I don’t believe much in formulas for creative crafts like writing, this book provide you with an ample examples of the pattern that goes into the movies.

It provides you with a template you can follow to write your screenplay.

… this might be particularly helpful when you’re starting out. The best thing about learning screenwriting this way is that you can speed up your writing and the more you write, the more you learn. There’s no doubt on that.

Save the Cat – by Blake Snyder

#4 The Hero With a Thousand Faces – by Joseph Campbell

This book is not about screenwriting, it’s about writing in general. It’s about the story that our ancestors have been telling to us for ages – it’s something that has been there since the beginning of humanity.

Read this book to gain knowledge on what every good story has in common.

The ‘Hero’ in the title does not mean the hero in a filmic sense. It’s about the character and how s/he resolves the conflict along the way. Read the book and you, probably will not be disappointed.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces – by Joseph Campbell

In Conclusion,

Well, writing is a personal experience and books are there to help you along your journey. At the end of the day, it’s you who will craft your story. You can learn about 3-act structure, beat sheets or any other writing methodologies, nevertheless, you’ll probably discover your own style and method along the way – which is closely personal to you.

How Do You Format a Screenplay – ‘Screenplay Formatting 101’

Ever read screenplays?

If you have, then you might have noticed that every screenplay uses the same format. Even spacing the character is done according to the standard. Having a standard in screenwriting is quite important for producers and directors and all the casts and crews to go through the scripts.

Firstly, it all starts with a scene.


Here, it’s essential to describe the scene where the action is taking place – it provides the information for the crews to work on their part. For example, location scouts can search for the location mentioned in the scene (‘library’ in this case).

INT. – means Interior

EXT. – means Exterior

After that comes the place where all the action is about to happen. You can be as specific as you can in this context. Here I wrote the library but it could be more specific than that – for instance, if it’s the library of a university or a public library.

After the ‘-‘ (dash) sign comes the time of the day. Whether it’s day, or morning, or dawn or midnight – whenever the action takes place.

Secondly, describe the action.

Remember that the film is a visual medium. Everything you describe should be something that can be seen (or at least be heard) in the screen. It’s not necessary to write the feelings that goes on into the character’s head – you can describe his expressions and reactions though.

Here’s an example:

SAGAR, a 25-year-old man searches for the book as he goes through the piles of the books – seems in a hurry. He goes through the ‘Psychology’ section. And then picks up a book and searches for a place in the corner to read the book.

As you continue writing, there will be characters having conversations with each other.

Whenever you introduce a character for the first time in the script, you have to CAPITALIZE the name so that the reader understands the entry of the character. Next up is dialogue.


(speaks in a soft voice)

Hey !! How are you doing?

The dialogue starts with the name of the character aligned at the center. (You don’t need to know exactly how many inches from the left side – use a screenwriting software for that). The character speaking is always CAPITALIZED.

The phrase in the parenthetical refers to the guide for the actor to perform – these are not necessary until and unless the character demands it.

Dialogue and Action

Dialogue and Action are going to fill the most parts of your script. Movies are mostly action and dialogue. Most of the times, novice screenwriters try to add a lot of things to the script that is not part of the story. As a professional, please try to avoid that habit. As a screenwriter, you’re not writing a shooting script – you ‘re writing a script for the producers, directors, actors and other crew members to read.

As far as possible, write in plain English (without jargon s)

Here’s the best advice anyone can provide you when writing the screenplay – move forward your story.

How to Write a Successful Character Biography?

Character Biography are a essential part of writing a movie script.

Unless you know your character well enough (especially protagonist), you will not know your story better – since the story in the movie is all about the character. Before we even write a piece of dialogue or fade in the first scene, we have to know the character well enough to make a story about him/her.

As it’s mentioned in the book ‘Screenplay’:

A Character is an illumination of the incident and an incident is a determination of the character.

A character is the most important part of the screenplay – because the story you’re telling – it’s all about the character. Hence, you have to craft really well when writing a screenplay.

What is a Character Biography?

Character Biography is a method to write about the character that you’re creating and building. There are 2 areas to consider while making a biography for the character:

  • Interior Life
  • Exterior Life

Exterior Life

In order to note down the exterior life of the character, there are so many templates and there are some questions that need to be answered and then you have a character’ exterior life.

Here’s one of those templates:

Full name





City of birth

The current place for living

Job title:

Employing company:


Is he or she married?

Mother tongue


Interior Life

When it comes to the interior life, there can be no templates or structures – it’s just about how much deep we know the character. The only way I think is to write a paragraph about the character – their back story – what shaped her to become the person she is today.

However, there are few questions that will help you along the way. Here are a few of those:

  • What are your character’s deepest fear?
  • What was the moment (or event) in the story that turned his life into another direction?
  • What is your character’s dramatic need?
  • What does your character think about life in general?

Well. That’s it for now !!

That was a short post – I hope you consider making a character biography before you write your next screenplay.