The rewarding art of screenwriting

Writing screenplays for cinema and TV is probably the hardest kind of writing there is, but very rewarding when it goes right. Full Metal Jacket - making screenplay dialogue sizzleThis site has many practical ways to help you, whatever level you’re at.

Latest post: How to weave research into a screenplayVicky Christina Barcelona the Mental Game

Jacob Berry writes:

I am writing a documentary screenplay on witchcraft in the American Pentecostal church, which occurred back in the 1980s. I have a problem. I have quoted from books on the subject to prove they actually do this, but I do not know how to weave this into the play to make it professional. Can you help? 

Thank you. It’s a great question, Jacob, and goes to the heart of how to make a story work – so I’m going to talk about how to do this for documentary, and then how you can apply exactly the same principles to drama.

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On this site

I’m an award-winning writer director and experienced script consultant – and on this site I’ve put a host of articles, tricks of the tradebooks and other resources to help you with all aspects of writing, wherever you are now.

And I’m regularly adding more.

Upcoming events of 2015

I’m getting very busy on  my new novel (due out later this year) and also another fun venture which I hope to be able to announce soon – plus a series of seven articles on Breaking the Rules which is running monthly for Writing Magazine – so live appearances are getting more limited for the next few months. Catch me here:

Saturday May 16 – 10.30 am -5.30 pm – London: Creating Great Scenes – EARLY BIRD RATE ENDS APRIL 29

Friday-Sunday July 24-26 – 10.30 am -5.30 pm – London: ScreenPlay: Summer Advanced Screenwriting Bootcamp

More…

Free Resources

You’ll find masses of useful resources on writing and related issues here. Check out the blog – free screenplay format guides and templates to download with information on screenwriting software – and an FAQ on how to use the Internet for Research.

Books to Read

There are now thousands of books on screenwriting for beginner writers and advanced, but some are more useful than others. I’ve lists of the books I’ve found useful, a shorter list of my all-time favourites, and of course my own books – Police Slang, short stories in anthologies, and A Complete Screenwriting Course – out in October and already recommended reading on an increasing number of MA courses. New review here…

Practical help for screenwriters

Film lightEvents, Courses and Questions

If you want to catch me in person, I can be found running events and courses, through Euroscript and festivals here and abroad. Some are free and some are charged for. I am available, when time permits, to give feedback by email or in personal meetings.

You can also ask me questions, especially if you have topics you’d like me to answer in the blog.

Join my mailing list for information on all of the above and extra free tips and bonus articles.

10 Comments

  1. Tim Symonds said:

    June 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Charles, after 50 years as a freelance journalist I turned my hand to publishing two Sherlock Holmes’ pastiches, the latest being Sherlock Holmes And The Case Of The Bulgarian Codex. Recently I embarked on an ‘Argo 2′ movie script and have pretty well sketched out the action. At this stage, should I simply turn out a treatment (and if so, how long should a treatment be – 10 pages, 70 pages?) and does a treatment form the principal task of selling the script to an agent or producer? Your advice much welcomed!

    Tim

    • Charles Harris said:

      July 4, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Tim, your ideas sound interesting. That’s important. If you don’t already have a track record in cinema, you’ll need to have a polished completed script to send. That’s the first essential. Then you’ll need a good one-line pitch to use either face-to-face or in the body of a query letter.

      Many (though not all) agents and producers will ask to see a treatment first – I recommend that this should be as short and readable as you can make it – 1-2 pages max. Your journalistic experience should be invaluable in keeping it brief. (Longer treatments may also be required – if someone asks you for a treatment, simply ask them how long they’d like!) And ensure the treatments include the ending. No cheating here.

      I have some articles on treatment writing, if you want more info.

      Best, Charles

      • Fouza said:

        May 16, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        Charles hi,
        Do you write film treatment? I have a true story and I am looking for a writer.

        Please let me know.

        Many thanks
        Dr Naimi

        • Charles Harris said:

          June 11, 2015 at 6:11 pm

          Hi Dr Naimi

          Thank you for your enquiry. I’ve been out of the country and just received this on my return.

          I rarely write treatments for projects other than my own. The work that goes into a treatment is as demanding as the script itself, and as crucial to its success. Decisions made here will have a critical impact on what follows, so I always recommend that the treatment should be written where possible either by the producer/director or by whoever will write the final screenplay.

          In any case, it should be someone who has a strong sympathy for the story.

          I wish you the best of luck in finding someone you can work with.

          Best wishes
          Charles Harris

  2. Tim Symonds said:

    January 4, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Charles, I’ve followed up ‘the Bulgarian Codex’ with a new Sherlock Holmes novel. All advice on bringing it to a movie-maker’s attention very welcome!

    • Charles Harris said:

      January 4, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Tim

      Well done on the new book. To get the attention of a movie-maker, I advise you first a write short (one sentence) pitch and synopsis specifically for the screen, showing how your novel could work as a movie. You should then research producers, directors and development executives to find who would be best to approach.

      Organisations such as the one I work with, Euroscript, would be a good starting point. We run workshops on exactly what you need.

  3. Mark Cremona said:

    October 17, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Good Day Mr Harris
    I dropped by to thank you for your book, which dropped on my door mat this morning, ‘Complete Screenwriting Course’ I have had it in my hands a mere two hours but have already devoured half of it!
    I feel like Im ready to tear Michael Bay a new one ( as they say in Hollywood)
    thank you for an amazing piece of inspirational work, If I knew as much about screenwriting as you do I wouldn’t share it with my Mother let alone the world. You are an amazing individual and I promise to give you a deal in on my first commissioned Scrips :-)
    kindly
    Mark.

    • Charles Harris said:

      October 17, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      Mark, thank you very much. A great review to receive on publication day!

      If you want to help spread the word, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon, as that does help others decide whether the book’s right for them. And I look forward to that commission!

  4. Ben Mcconley said:

    May 13, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Get your head in the game.New writers will typically take a crash course in screenwriting, tear through a book by Chris Vogler or Syd Field and bang out their first feature as fast as humanly possible. There is absolutely nothing improper about that – it’s a great way to start – so long as the writer is prepared for another five years of it.Start small and get feedbacks.Give only your best.

    Ben@McCONELY

    • Charles Harris said:

      May 13, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Ben

      I totally agree. And not just new writers! We all keep forgetting how much sheer hard work is involved. Truffaut put it best when he compared film-making to taking a stage-coach ride in the Wild West: you start off hoping you have a good journey and end up just hoping you get there alive! Applies just as much to writing too.

      And your last remarks are on the button too: get feedback and give your best. Nicely put.

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