10 Top Tips from Screenwriting Pros
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
When a writer believes they are onto a good idea, they can get a bit excitable! With passion in their bellies, tales of reward and riches in their head, and a voice desperate to be heard, creatives can often look for the direct route to success, not the right route to success. That is why it is important to stop and think before taking your next step.
And whilst this industry is a hard nut to crack, it is also – thankfully - a world where people are eager to share expertise, empathy and experience. One place that has consistently delivered top-notch advice over the years is The London Screenwriters' Festival, and that's why I have collated my favourite top tips from its most recent online event.
Whatever part of the journey you are on, there are some sage words of advice here.
Ashley Pharoah (creator of Life on Mars, Wild at Heart)
I am a great believer in having a calling card script. I had one that never got made about the surfing industry in Cornwall. A producer said the first page would cost £1m to make – but it got me a meeting with Eastenders. Another tip is be ready to answer the question: 'Why should this be made now?' It is a smart question.
2. Kat Wood (writer - Envoy, Home, Arthur & Merlin)
You need to pay attention to the world around you and make relationships. It is not about who can I get to read my script, or who will do this thing for me, it is about how can I help other people and listen to them. If you look like you are out for something, it can be a turn off, what you should be doing is sharing your stories and what you are passionate about.
3. Debbie Moon (creator of Wolfblood)
I think my favourite piece of writing advice is don't get it right, get it written. Just get it all down there, let it be crappy, let it make no sense, what you want to do is get it all on the page. From then on, it's like a jigsaw.
4. J. Michael Straczynski (writer of Changeling, creator of Babylon 5)
My advice to upcoming writers is to work in all kinds of fields as not only does it keep you fresh creatively but any outside credits such as short stories or articles provide validation. Everyone who can type thinks they can write. Whatever you can bring to the game, that shows you are serious about building a career, makes people more keen to listen to you and want to work with you.
5. George Kay (creator of Lupin, writer on Killing Eve)
To get your pitch to the top of the pile, keep it really short. I don't believe submitting 25-40 page documents at the beginning works, because the reader will not read everything. They will already have made up their mind by the first page. So keep that initial first pitch short – this invites the person who is reading to join you in its development.
6. Lorien McKenna (former story manager at Pixar – Up, Ratatouille)
I advise writers to find their group, their people. I like to build communities and be part of communities, and be in a place where I can be vulnerable and tell the truth – and support other people in telling their truth. This is key to our survival as writers, especially now, to be able to see other people.
7. Ian Shorr (writer of Infinite, Splinter and Trenches)
What list do you want to be on? What story would you not mind spending the rest of your career writing? The biggest mistake I see emerging writers make is to be a jack of all trades – people are lucky if they can write one genre well. People who can write multiple genres – that person is a unicorn – they are one in 10 billion. Find out what you are excited about and what you want your brand to be.
8. Pen Densham (writer/producer of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
I always tell people to write dangerously. Write like a moth to a flame, get as close to that flame of fear because as you are writing you are creating things out of the pieces you thought were not appropriate or people wouldn't understand. That's the voice that gets noticed, and reinforces your strength – because you are writing richer each time and you will fight for those scripts. You will push beyond your own anxiety when the script is coming out your nature, and is not just a commodity.
9. Dui Jarrod (writer of King Ester, Sauce, Brooklyn.Blue.Sky)
Sending your script to family and friends is not going to get you to the pro level you want to be. Script consultants have no knowledge of you and give a very objective point of view. I would send scripts to three different services – and take note of any feedback that is consistent. One thing I wish I had done was read more screenplays before I wrote my screenplay. I didn't understand the value – and didn't pick that up until afterwards. And I would have taken my work less personally, if it doesn't serve the story it doesn't need to be part of the screenplay.
10. Meg LeFauve (writer of Inside Out, Captain Marvel)
Please don't stop! Please write! We need your stories, you are valuable and worthy and your stories are valuable and worthy. If you don't write every day, then your characters are not going to be here. Your characters are not going to come into the world. If you can't fight to write for yourself, fight to write for them.