Top Tips for Budding Screenwriters!

James Phelan

It was great to have screenwriter, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council writer in residence, James Phelan,  talk to us about his evolution as a writer and current projects. James is an IFTA award-winning screenwriter and has written for TV (Striking Out, Wrecking the Rising), and animation (Oddbods, Cuby Zoo).

We asked him for some writerly wisdom and he obliged with his top tips….

  1. Show don’t tell – a cliché but also true. Dialogue can be great but on screen, in animation or in comic books or graphic novels you need to be visual.
  2. Don’t be direct. Try and come at things from an angle. Have a unique personal perspective, this is what will make your work interesting. Leave some space for the audience to imagine things or give them information that the characters don’t have.  Create tension or ambiguity about what will happen next.
  3. Give your characters a goal or ambition. Change is at the heart of most stories
  4. Think about your audience. How is the story engaging them and keeping them interested? How does it develop? You need to reach, entertain and hold an audience – ideally to the end.
  5. Be brief – use your slug line – establishing line to save time and details. Descriptions in film and drama scripts are about being brief. E.g Plush Hotel or Grotty Hotel. Keep description to what is necessary to tell the story without padding.
  6. Finish your scripts!
  7. And then start again – you will always need to re-draft to get the script to its optimum shape – it is about the quality as much as the word count
  8. Have more than one project on the go – give different genres a try. Write first for your enjoyment and education. You can always monetise a project later.
  9. Make something – take that script and find someone to make it or publish it. Test your ideas in whatever way you can. Find someone to direct. See what happen when you share your vision with others. Prepare for compromise!