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keri halfacre https://kerihalfacre.com content creator Sun, 29 Sep 2019 20:47:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 158214314 Writing the Perfect Couple https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/09/29/writing-the-perfect-couple/ https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/09/29/writing-the-perfect-couple/#respond Sun, 29 Sep 2019 20:47:15 +0000 https://kerihalfacre.com/?p=178 The thing that always gets me thinking about compatibility is the examination of Harry Potter. There are probably many more essays written about why Harry chose Ginny than I have read. The examination always looks closely at Harry’s relationships with Hermoine and with Cho Chang and cuts to the chase on what makes Ginny a...

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writing couples that work: www.kerihalfacre.com

The thing that always gets me thinking about compatibility is the examination of Harry Potter. There are probably many more essays written about why Harry chose Ginny than I have read. The examination always looks closely at Harry’s relationships with Hermoine and with Cho Chang and cuts to the chase on what makes Ginny a match. Your can find a complete essay at TheLeakyCauldron.Org, Why Harry Picked Ginny

It’s about humour, a thing easy to overlook if you’ve only watched the movies recently and are foggy on the events of the books. Harry’s snarky insights and shared smiles with Ginny are a little lost in the movie theatre. And Ginny could’ve been replaced with a cardboard cut-out. 

I digress. Rowling could’ve set Harry up with up with Hermione or Cho and probably no one would’ve questioned it, but Ginny has the dry sense of wit and dark humour that Harry has and that brings them together. 

So when I think about compatibility, this is always what I think of first. Harry’s need for humour in his world and Ginny’s ability to give it to him. 

Core Needs

So, what is your character need from their partner? Maybe they don’t know, the same way Harry didn’t know that finding Cho Chang pretty wouldn’t be enough to build a relationship on. Maybe their sexual attractions don’t always match up with their core needs, as too often happens in real life. 

Satisfying the core need can be the difference between a good relationship and the perfect one. Keep that in mind in the plotting of love triangles. There are plenty of reasons to love someone. Different characters offer different perks, but someone who fills the core need role is a very powerful kind of person. 

The best part about it is that it’s not super obvious. There can be a lot of subtlety in it. It’s really great for creating a believable love triangle that isn’t incredibly one-sided. No one’s interested in reading love confusion when there is an obvious winner. The core need is the OTPs secret weapon.  

Push and Pull 

I like to see characters pushed by their romantic partners, and I don’t mean teaching the virgin about the wide world of creative bedroom endeavors. Characters need people who can call them out on their nonsense. Someone needs to be able to reign them in when they need it or, alternatively, spur them onto greatness. 

Play with it. Deceive the reader. Have a daring, charismatic love interest who urges the protagonist to break out of their, shell, do adventurous things, like play hookie from work to drive up the coast to catch some waves. They seem like an intoxicating, beautiful person until the protagonist loses their job and realizes their lover never truly had their best interest at heart. 

Or let the lover interest be a passive influence. Let them be so good and wonderful and life-changing that the main character must abandon the lifestyle that has thus far left them lonely, whether it be finally giving up their drinking or revealing the trauma they went through with their last partner. 

Give characters the ultimatum of change or lose the love of their life. 

The Positive of the Negatives

“Other girls, women, I mean, I was thinking, they’re just fantasies. And they always seem really great because there are never any problems, and if there are, they’re cute problems like, you know, we bought each other the same Christmas present or she wants to go see a movie we’ve already seen and I come home and we have real problems. […] It’s not real. I’m sick of the fantasy.”

Rob Gordon in High Fidelity

There is something tantalizing about the grass on the neighbour’s side if the fence, especially if it’s being mowed by the neighbour’s fit, tanned gardener Julio and your boyfriend’s away for a month on business. 

My former screenwriting instructor brought this next concept into play. Everyone has bad habits and bad habits are as important for compatibility as all the good qualities. The gorgeous young secretary seems perfect compared to a nagging wife. And that, of course, is because a young gorgeous secretary represents only good things. Gorgeous secretaries don’t nag or expect you to take out the garbage or trim their toenails at unromantic times. The main character yearns for someone who appreciates their talents. 

Until the main character is deep into a sordid affair with the secretary and realizes that trimming toe nails unromantically and demanding homelife participation is nothing compared to the secretary’s gambling habit or hobby taxidermy-ing mice into suits of tiny armour. 

Tolerating the less glamourous side of a person is important. Even more important is the fact that the MC’s partner tolerates the MC’s bad habit. 

Maybe the main character can get used to the secretary’s surprises, but the secretary ditches the main character because of their crippling self-doubt and pessimism. At which point, the MC realizes their wife may have been the one settling, not the other way around. 

What bad habits could your protagonist not possibly tolerate? Maybe their father was an alcoholic and they vow never to be with anyone who hits the bottle. Maybe their deal-breaker is betting on horses or being insensitive to children. Show what flaws your character is willing to tolerate and which they aren’t. Make an otherwise great relationship impossible because of one habit the protagonist isn’t willing to overlook. Heartbreaking. 

Two Kinds of Interesting Relationships

Unfortunately, in the world of fiction, a calm relationship where everything works out lacks one thing very vital: conflict. So, I categorize, for the sake of argument, relationships into two columns. 

Couples Conflicting with Each Other

And secondly, 

Couples Facing Conflict As a Unit

The first one is the reason why almost every romance ever is about two characters falling in love with each other. Forces keep them apart. The can’t be together for this reason or that. They fight. They move away from each other. There is conflict and tension in the will they ever get together? And the movie or book ends when they finally reconcile all the obstacles keeping them from a happily ever after. There is conflict. 

So, what happens once they get together? The very real threat of being boring, but at the same time, forcing OTP to fight and go through drama can also get contrived fast. Rather than force a couple into so much conflict that the audience begins to wonder why they’re still together in the first place, I prefer a couple facing conflict together. 

There’s only so long you can put off getting a couple together. This is a big problem in TV. You can only put off getting a couple together for so many seasons. And then what? You have to replace the sexual tension with something. They can only break up and get back together so many times. So let characters face problems as a couple. It’ll make them even stronger. Maybe the next step in a relationship is getting the woman’s son used to the idea of having a step-father. Or opening up a business together. Defeat mummies together. Fly Nathan Fillion around in a space ship together. Put up with their friend Ted together while he makes terrible dating decisions. Raise their homicidal daughter and pudgy son together. 

via GIPHY

The couples that stay interesting stay interesting because each character is still an individual. Individuals who should still have unique perspectives and skills that complement their partner’s. That and the writers didn’t give in to the temptation to keep the tension and conflict going by having them fight constantly.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

As a writer of romance subplots and reader of many scripts on a long-running TV show, these are my observations of how to avoid writing the kinds of couples that an audience will want to get to together and want to stay together. Couples who fill a core need, couples who can handle and help each other with their downfalls, and ones that can attack conflict together (instead of miscommunicating for the drama).

For more romance genre-specific romance help, check out the how-to book Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes, the podcast The Misfit’s Guide to Writing Indie Romance, or the blog The Romance MFA!

writing the perfect couple: www.kerihalfacre.com

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Perfecting Your Settings https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/08/27/perfecting-your-setting/ https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/08/27/perfecting-your-setting/#respond Wed, 28 Aug 2019 00:24:59 +0000 https://kerihalfacre.com/?p=172 Details in any setting are part of the layers that build a story. They say things about characters. All these choices speak, and sadly, sometimes they say nothing at all. Make the setting work!

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My day job is literally putting together sets for TV. In visual mediums, the set does the vital job of communicating a lot of information in a very short span of time. Everything on screen is a visual short cut, but that doesn’t mean it can be forgotten on the page either.

Details in any setting are part of the layers that build a story. They say things about characters. All these choices speak, and sadly, sometimes they say nothing at all. Make the setting work!

perfecting your setting
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Choosing Your Broad Setting

Think about how geography could lend itself to your story when writing settings. I personally adore the idea of urban fantasy set in New Orleans. Why wouldn’t you? It’s entrenched in history of taking in outcasts. There’s already a strong presence of ritual and religious themes. There are some of the creepiest haunted mansions and cemeteries and the innate danger of the Bayou. On top of, you know, being beautiful.

Does the sprawling Midwest with its farm towns and endless rolling fields of wheat not lend itself to a story about depression? Especially when it gives way to a blinding whiteout of a winter. 

A tropical island could be a perfect setting for a whirlwind romance, but what if it were the location of a thriller?

Alternatively, you could subvert a setting away from its natural association. A tropical island could be a perfect setting for a whirlwind romance, but what if it were the location of a thriller? What about an island could be emphasized to create those necessary unsettling themes? A small island is by nature very isolated. It could be very hard to escape. It’s surrounded by a deep, dark ocean. It could have a dark history in colonization and piracy.

Exercise

As an exercise, take your setting and pick out the traits that make it fit your story, whether they be bordering on classic fiction tropes or a subversion that force the audience to reconsider their first instincts.

Even Stephanie Meyer put research into choosing Forks, Washington as the setting for Twilight because it rained there more than anywhere else in the US. Consider that your minimum standard. 

The Street Was Full of Brick Buildings, Red and Brown with Signs Hanging Over Doorways…

So, you’ve nailed down what makes the setting perfect for the story. Now, time to show it off. First order of business is obviously to list paragraph after paragraph of detail to show the audience how vivid this setting really is.

You know I’m not serious. I hope you know I’m not serious. 

The art of establishing setting is in brevity and in specificity. I strongly believe that if you need to characterize a one-off character quickly, you describe their shoes. If you want to characterize your setting, you describe the cars driving around in it. 

He jammed the hybrid between two mud-speckled F150s in the parking lot. 

In a sentence, you know that he is not from around there. It’s not likely a big city. There’s mud, and there’s a presence of guys who drive muddy pick-up trucks. In a sentence, the setting is implied without describing mud puddles on the ground or the view from the parking lot. Cars is too general a term. If I replaced those Fords with glinting sedans, it would be an entirely different setting. If I said they were a pair of electric cars, you might guess it happened on the west coast. 

Drop in the detail. Drop in the specifics. Fight in as much detail in as few words. The ox-cart rattles over the cobble stones. The 4×4 shudders over a washboard range road. A roadster zips over asphalt. Summer tires skid over pack ice. Snow chains crunch through 7 inches of snowfall. The import bottomed out over the speed bump. The Grand Am clunked over the pothole. 

The car drove down the road. Two nouns and a verb get you a setting, yeah? Optimize your sentences. Squeeze the last drops of usefulness out of them. 

Exercise

Find the detail that really establishes a world for you. It might not be cars for you. There are other specifics that can say a lot fast. Take a look at your nouns and see if they are working as hard as they could be. The trees may tower, but what kind of trees are they? Neighbors walk their dogs outside, but what kind of dogs?

Familiarity

To write most efficiently, make the readers do half the work. Sometimes, as a writer, all you need to do is tap into one visceral memory and the audience can fill in the rest just based of that one detail.

But it has to be good.

My best tip for creating fictional locations relies on memory do. Invoke something familiar. As an example, most people have been to a bowling alley. I love bowling alleys, partly because you can drink at them and partly because they are always these nostalgic places with outdated decor. Mention the cartoon pins dancing on the monitors and the glow of black light and the reader will fill in the rest. You don’t even need to write about the tacky linoleum. They’re already imagining it.

Mention the cartoon pins dancing on the monitors and the glow of black light at a bowling alley and the reader will fill in the rest. 

If I were to propose a city as a set, those universal details would be in everyone knowing which neighborhood is the sketchy one, going to that one local hole-in-the-wall restaurant after school for the best Vietnamese subs, or watching hoards of sports fans in jerseys heading to the stadium on game day. These are things people can connect with. You don’t need to spend a lot of time describing a universal experience. The universal experience lends a sense of honesty and a story can always do with more honesty. 

Exercise

Write about something from your home town that you feel defines where it is and what it’s like. For me in my home town, there was the graffitied water tower (that has since been torn down), the designated smokers spot in the backwoods behind the high school, and the lake everyone kills their summer in. 

Tone

I like to think of my settings as a kind of character. They have moods. They have sticky hot days and thunderstorms that shake your bones and soak into your skin. Matching the weather to the tone of your scene might be a little on the nose if you do it all the time, but if you’ve established miserable constant rain showers, throwing a convenient one in won’t hurt. 

There are other factors other than weather that can establish a mood. The frustration of rush hour, the eeriness of an ill-populated town. The ripples waving through fields can invoke both the freedom of an ocean or the loneliness of seeing miles and miles into the distance. There’s both anonymity and hope in New York. There’s big dreams and crushing reality in LA. 

For ultimate setting characterization, have the setting actively detriment the progress of the characters (or, alternatively, help them). A storm can impede progress. Its isolation can keep characters from reaching out for help. That tropical island? Force characters to swim or sail. A skyscraper forces a character to challenge their fear of heights. Use those settings to force more conflict.

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via GIPHY

The Right Set for the Right Scene

Some of the best advice I ever read was simple. Could a change in setting amp up the tension of a scene? This lead to an epiphany for me, ending in a reveal of shock-worthy information coming out in a hospital waiting room instead of the comfortable privacy of a family living room. 

Think of George W. Bush being told about 9/11 while reading a childrens’ book to a group of kids. That’s the kind of terrible timing and tension you need in your book in your story. That’s the kind of thematic juxtaposition that is stranger than fiction.

What happens when you attempt to stage a fight in a library? Have a romantic scene on an ice rink. Trap your character and force them to deal with something on a bus or a plane. Have the worst possible thing happen at the worst possible place. 

Exercise

Take a scene and try it out in different locations and see how it changes the dynamic of the conversation or action.

The End of the Road

There are a hundred different settings that could be written a hundred different ways, but the important thing is to use them, like any other tool, to further your point. A light saber duel between student and mentor is memorable, but a light saber duel between student and mentor over pools of lava really sticks.

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The Arcana Review: Part 1 https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/04/10/the-arcana-review-part-1/ https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/04/10/the-arcana-review-part-1/#respond Wed, 10 Apr 2019 17:49:25 +0000 https://kerihalfacre.com/?p=140 The Arcana is a mystic romance game that began as a demo back in October of 2016 developed by one artist and one game designer/writer and later supported by a Kickstarter campaign—one with a goal of $30,000 that raised $42,000 with more than 1000 backers. The game itself is produced by developer Nix Hyrda, a...

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The Arcana is a mystic romance game that began as a demo back in October of 2016 developed by one artist and one game designer/writer and later supported by a Kickstarter campaignone with a goal of $30,000 that raised $42,000 with more than 1000 backers.

The game itself is produced by developer Nix Hyrda, a women-founded company in Los Angeles, California that creates products aimed at women. The Arcana is an interesting departure from Nix Hyrda’s debut game, Egg Baby, more akin to Tamogachis than interactive fiction.

Fan art is really the reason why I’m here. Anything that has a huge fan base creating fan art is riveting to me. Books like Rick Riordan’s Greek mythology series and Maggie Stieffvater’s The Raven Cycle all have fan art I’m constantly coming across on Pinterest by accident, getting invested in without even reading the books. I’m fascinated by what it is about a story that has readers scrambling to draw them. I don’t know what better free advertising you could ask for. It has to help that The Arcana has beautiful, distinct character designs and rich world-building backgrounds. The art is definitely some of the best I’ve seen in interactive fiction.

White-haired magician with a pet snake over shoulder.

Text: "Asra: If we're all here...let's begin."
Asra via The Arcana

The Arcana story begins with the player character, name and gender selected before the game begins, as an apprentice magician who regularly consults a Tarot deck for answers… or rather, who is regularly asked to consult their Tarot deck by other characters.

The Tarot deck is a great dynamic for a choice-based game, involving selecting face down cards to reveal a possible future. Sneaking insight into possible futures is a fun strategy to help inform what decisions a player might want to explore over other possibilities.

The player character runs into 6 (sort of) characters early on in the narrative: Asra, the magician’s mentor who promptly leaves; Nadia, the countess seeking help of a fortune teller; Julian, the doctor; Portia, the countess’ favorite maid; Muriel, who makes his first appearance as a stranger in an alley with a warning; and an encounter with something that may or may not be the late count Lucio.

Olive skinned countess with purple hair and purple dress.

Text: "Nadia: Go on."
Nadia via The Arcana

Another technique I’m a big fan of is whenever interactive fiction relies on something inocuous said within the dialogue to make the right choice at a crossroads later. When this is simple enough to remember, this works so well when it’s imperative to the narrative. I also love it as a subtler pay-off to making certain choices that may not necessarily be paid.

The other thing that I’m quite happy with is that there is 40+ minutes of gameplay before a paid choice appears. As with a lot of choice-based storytelling, The Arcana has its in-app currency to buy certain options when teh character is presented with a choice. In less sophisticated games, such as user-genertated content on Episode, there can be a real risk of creating buyers remorse with these choices, when too many are presented in a given episode or chapter. It’s easy to create dissatisfaction in a player when this happens. If they choose to buy into an option early, only to be hit with a more important choice later.

In fact, a lot of the coin spending happens on the mini-games outside the storyline: the Tarot readings, a wheel or fortune, and the heart hunter mini-game where you attempt to earn love letters from other characters.

Which makes it much easier to choose the coin options when they come up in the storyline. The developers have also said that these paid choices don’t have an overall effect on what path the player can go down. This is both great news, and very interesting from a creative standpoint, as it doesn’t leave storylines behind paywalls for users who can’t or choose not to pay, and means that developers can’t depend on unlocking storyline options as incentive for purchase.

Starting off the game with enough coins for the first paid choice makes it an easy one, and subjectively justifiable when there is so much new information this early on. Tough to say whether that trend will continue.

The game is available in the iTunes store and Google Play Store

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5 Things Wrong With Your Script https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/02/10/5-things-wrong-with-script/ https://kerihalfacre.com/2019/02/10/5-things-wrong-with-script/#respond Mon, 11 Feb 2019 03:26:51 +0000 https://kerihalfacre.com/?p=41 In my daily life, I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of scripts. When I say scripts, I’m referring to produced TV and movie scripts in the various versions that are distributed through the process of shooting TV or film. Not every aspiring script writer gets to see this. Being part of a production...

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In my daily life, I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of scripts. When I say scripts, I’m referring to produced TV and movie scripts in the various versions that are distributed through the process of shooting TV or film. Not every aspiring script writer gets to see this. Being part of a production crew gives a lot of insight into what makes a script work. The big difference between books and scripts is that a script has to come to life. It’s limited by real life in a way that books are. So here are the mistakes I see the most from aspiring script writers.

5 Things Wrong with your script: kerihalfacre.com

#1: There’s Too Much Direction

This is by far the #1 thing I see people do wrong when they approach script writing: writers who essentially want to be directors. Let go of the idea that you will have any control beyond the dialogue you put on the page. Novelists are used to controlling every detail of a book, so it can be a tough transition to a process of what is a small part of a total production.

Do not include camera angles. Do not get too specific about what a character looks like. Do not describe the setting with details that are not important. This is not your job as a screenwriter.

Writing a screenplay is laying down the blueprint for a story. In the house that is this story, it’s fun to imagine what the decor will look like and what kind of countertops to order, but you have to understand that it is not your job. Someone else will be hired to make those decisions.



Do not include camera angles. Do not get too specific about what a character looks like. Do not describe the setting with details that are not important. This is not your job as a screenwriter.

There are entire teams of people dedicated to deciding what characters should wear, how sets should look, what color to paint the walls, how the actors should interpret lines, and where the camera should go. Please, please, please do not try to do their jobs for them. They are generally very good at their specialties and face real life obstacles. Some camera angles are chosen because of where the sun is in the sky or because there is a wall in the way or any number of things that influence these decisions.

The art of script writing is very much the art of not getting too attached. The best screenwriter is a flexible one.

#2: It’s Too Expensive

On the lines of the realities of shooting, things cost money. There are different ways to approach this problem. Your sci-fi western shoot-out extravaganza with the climactic battle in the opera house may be really good for screenwriting contests, but the odds of a first-time writer selling that blockbuster are very low.

Keeping cost in mind is even more important if you intend to shoot a script yourself, whether it be short film, web series, or full-length indie film. You could do it! There are grants for this kind of work!

It’s important to keep in mind the kinds of things that drive up cost of shooting.

Crowd Scenes

Parties are expense. Writing the word ‘party’ on a page can double the price of that shooting day in a second. It isn’t just a matter of finding and compensating background actors to play the party goers or baseball game attendees. As soon as you have that many people on camera, you need more people in hair and make-up and wardrobe, you need wranglers to be dedicated to making sure your background are where they need to be, and you need extra prop people to keep track of purses and drinks and food.

That’s before even taking into account party decorations or renting a venue to stage a party scene.

Special Effects and Stunts

Anything requiring special effects and stunts is instantly more expensive. The first basic issue is that they take twice as long to shoot, which means the crew isn’t able to do as many scenes in a day as normally possible.

Why does it take so long? Stunt doubles of course! As soon as a double is brought in, basically everything has to be shot twice. Once with the performer, doing as much of the scene as possible, and once with the stunt performer. Plus the extra time needed for the stunt coordinator to work through the scene safely for everyone involved. Some of this might be rehearsed (fight choreography, major stunts), but even basic things like falling off a horse or driving a car may require a stunt person for liability reasons. Production does not want anything to happen to their cast. An actor injury could mean massive rescheduling for the shoot, or cancellation altogether.

Too Many Sets

A lot of sets are a quick way to drive up cost. Even for a show with many sets in one building, moving from set to set can take upwards of 40 minutes to move all of the gear. If you have 6 sets to shoot in a day, half the shooting day has gone into moving equipment place to place. It’s not very time efficient to write a set into a single short scene, especially if that scene can easily happen somewhere else.

Big productions don’t have to worry about this as much as others. A small production on a tight shooting schedule will be put under a lot of stress by shooting small portions of the script across many different locations.

#3: It’s the Wrong Length

When talking about commercial film and television, there are two big factors that go into length: what an audience is trained to expect and where those pesky commercials go.

Most movie-goers have seen enough films to subconsciously know when major events should happen. Not every film follows a script act structure, but it’s better to follow the rules before you break them. There is too much money on the line for the movie biz to take risks on a new writer who doesn’t follow the rules. There’s always time to break the mold when you have experience to back it up—or take on a producer role and make that baby yourself.

TV is even more strict. Both half-hour and hour-long TV have a very strict act structure that follows the flow of commercial breaks. The ‘cold open’ or ‘teaser’ before the title sequence can only be so long. Plant cliff hangers at the end of act 2. That is the kind of planning TV writers must do

The rule is that every page equals about a minute of screentime. Look up the standard lengths of your medium of choice and follow closely to those guidelines.

#4: Character Names Don’t Work

Introducing characters on screen can be tricky. The audience wants to know the names of the characters. Unfortunately, there is rarely an omniscient narrator to give out those names.

And when those names are spoken on screen, it’s so important that they be clear when established. The best names for onscreen characters are ones that can be easily understood and not easily confused with other characters.

Naming the hero and heroine Izzy and Isaac is going to confuse watchers. They’re also going make certain crew members miserable.


Avoid names that start with the same letter or that sound similar whenever you can. Onscreen, short names with only one or two syllables are king.

Avoid names that start with the same letter or that sound similar whenever you can. Onscreen, short names with only one or two syllables are king. There are exceptions to the rule, but if you’re not working with existing intellectual property, why not choose names for their clarity and ability to be heard and recognized?

#5: The Formatting is Incorrect

This might be the most important, but I also think it is the most harped on, but I’ll touch on why the format matters so much in screenwriting.

This goes back to the one page = one minute equation. That equation is so important for estimating script length. We’ve already gone over why how long a script is imperative to this style of writing. Without that strict standard script format, the page to time translation doesn’t work. Without that rough, but usually accurate estimation, you could be stuck reading out every scene to ensure that it feels properly between commercial break to commercial break.

There is a lot of software out there designed to help screenwriters format. Celtx is available for free and is popular with independent and student filmmakers. Scrivener, a popular software with novelists and other writers, also has a script function. I have personally used Final Draft and found it fairly intuitive, which is one of my main needs from any software I’m new to.

For years, especially in school, I just used a template in MS Word using styles to make transitioning between headings a breeze. I’m making that same template available to you! The form below will get you my Word template with styles for sluglines, dialogue, characters, and more with some helpful hints for your screenwriting.


Sign up for your free screenwriting template for MS Word!

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Screenwriting can be a lot of fun, as long as there’s an understanding in the role it plays in the final product. The best thing about bringing words to the screen is the collaboration between people to make it work! So never forget to leave the space for that collaboration.

5 things wrong with your script

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