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How to Vomit a Screenplay in 5 Weeks (and Make it Awesome in 2 More)

Week 1 - Let’s Get Moving (fast)

You’ve just signed up for a course that is going to motivate you, encourage you, and mildly
threaten you to finish a polished screenplay in just 7 weeks. It’s pretty ambitious. Most likely you
have family, a job, and plenty of other stuff to do on top of writing a 100+ page document.

So how are you going to do it?

You’re going to vomit the first draft. Vomit comes from somewhere deep inside us and pours out
without too much grace or elegance. And that’s the point.

This is simply a “write-fast-now, rewrite-later method”. I’m encouraging this for three reasons --
1.) It’s so important to finish your screenplay. Each finished script makes you a better writer,
builds your portfolio of writing samples, and helps you learn what you like to and don’t like to
write about. 2.) Writing fast forces you to ignore that voice of doubt in your head and makes you
kick writer’s block in the teeth. 3.) When you’re a professional writer you’re expected to write
fast (a TV script in just 1 week or a feature script rewrite for shooting tomorrow morning).

How much time per day are you going to have to put in?

About 90 minutes depending on how fast you can really go — that’s 80 hours to write the
screenplay. I know carving out that time sounds difficult, but, since it’s only for 7 weeks, you can
do it. Cut out an hour of sleep each night, or do this over your lunch break. It’s going to suck, but
having a finished screenplay takes WORK and at the end you’ll have an awesome reward. And
if a finished story isn’t enough to sacrifice some sleep, being a professional writer may not be
your cup of tea.

One extra note about writer’s block -- the fast writing should help you leave writer’s block in the
dust, but if you get it. Check out the 3-day free trial of TSL 360’s incredible video library of online
classes to learn from professional writers like Cinco Paul of DESPICABLE ME and Academy
Award-winner Jim Rash of THE DESCENDANTS. You’ll learn how to kick writer’s block, and so
much more. But don’t spend more than a quick break watching the videos. Because we’re on a
sprint to finish that first draft!

Give me that motivational quote

“The road to hell is paved with works in progress.” -- Philip Roth

“You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.” ― Jodi Picoult

If you dig inspirational quotes, be sure to join 93k other screenwriters and follow The Script Lab
on Twitter.

What’re we getting done this week?


❏ Landing on an idea
❏ Doing some (brief) character bio stuff
❏ Doing a 12-point outline
❏ Just thinking about theme

Check them off as you finish them. Let’s dive into each one:

Landing on an idea

If you’ve signed up for this course you probably have an idea in mind or maybe several, so
we’re not going to waste a ton of energy here, but let's talk about ways to make your idea EASY
TO WRITE. Because there are hard to write ideas (think VALERIAN) and easy to write ideas
(think TAKEN). Whatever idea you have in whatever genre, be sure to have it focused on one
main lead character with a clear goal. There are, of course, excellent ensemble films with vague
goals, but most spec sales happen because of linear concepts (even if the storytelling itself is
non-linear).

Think of a big film like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY — it’s really about five outcasts coming
together to be heroes of the universe. At a high level this is an ensemble film that covers a
galaxy and is about friendship — a very difficult thing to write. But by adding the “infinity stone” it
gives all of the characters a goal: get the stone. Once the characters had a very clear, tangible
goal, it helps the writers streamline everything else. Give yourself the edge here and take
whatever concept you’re going to work on and make sure to narrow down characters and give
them clear goals.

Pro tip — It helps if the goal has a ticking clock with a relatively short time frame. The goal of a
young student to be a famous pianist 30 years from now is not as easy to write as Liam Neeson
having to save his daughter within a few days.

PS. If you don’t have an idea, no sweat. Our partners at ScreenCraft have great e-books on
how to develop an idea in each genre. You can check those out here if you’re interested.

Doing some character bio stuff

Some of your character discovery will happen while you’re actually writing the script, but it’s
good to have some ideas of who your characters are. At this point, think about what the
character will have to accomplish (the goal) and give them some big character trait that makes
that difficult to do. If your hero is a cop who has to forgive his partner, make his overriding
characteristic stubbornness. If your hero is a vampire who needs to come to terms with the
death of a human friend, make her overriding characteristic emotional detachment. You’ll find
the nuancesses of your characters while writing, but for now it’s important to give your main
characters that big, overarching trait that will distinguish them from your other characters.

Pro tip — some writers name their character that trait. So while writing they may name one
character “Sarcastic” and one “Stubborn” and replace with real names during the edit to make
sure they’re always focused on that character’s main trait (or subverting that main trait to show
an arc near the end).
A questionnaire process isn’t for everyone, but you can checkout an amazing character survey
tool here at The Script Lab.

Doing a 12-point outline

You can go deeper if it’s your process, but we’re recommending a 12-point outline of the main
moments where each “moment” will be about 8 minutes of screen time. If you can put 2-4
detailed sentences full of ideas for each of these big beats you’re in pretty good shape. As
always, the more detail in the outline the better, so feel free to add as many lines as you want.
The 12-point outline doc is available at the end of this chapter.

Just thinking about theme

Theme is often found during the writing itself. However, as you put together the pieces of the
script, think about what you’re trying to say. You can change a character’s main trait to help
service the themes that are important to you. Don’t get married to anything now, but start to
consider theme.

For a little more on theme, check out the 10 Central Themes.

The 12-point outline:

1. Opening scene. Where does your character start? What is the world like?
2. Inciting incident.
3. Turn into Act II. What changes your hero’s work?
4. Start of Act II. What is the first major hurdle for your hero?
5. Fun and Game? Utilize your concept here.
6. Midpoint twist – this is often underutilized, but turn your story in a completely
new direction here.
7. Start of the second half of Act II. This should be the second major hurdle for
your hero.
8. Have a win for the villains here (or at least a big learning for your hero).
9. Turn into Act III. Everything should go wrong for your hero at this point of the
story.
10.All is lost – your hero should all but give up on their mission here.
11.The big win! This is when you hero has their final battle and accomplishes their
goal. (Their battle doesn’t have to be an action battle – it can be emotional or
comedic or whatever the genre).
12.Conclusion and closing scene. How is your character different? How is the world
different?
Week 2 - Time to Write!

Alright, you’ve spent the past 10-12 hours or so crafting your outline, characters, and theme.
You’ve made things easy on yourself by working on a concept that is conducive to feature film
format and characters with big traits. You’re going to be tempted to spend a little bit more time
tweaking or prepping, but don’t.

Let’s dive right in now!

This week you’re going to write your first act. What? A whole act in only 7 days? Think about it
this way, the first Act is about 25 screenplay pages or 4,000 words or 575 words a day. I’m sure
you cranked out some 575-word high school essays on the bus ride to school, so you can do it
with 90 (very focused) minutes per day.

Remember, you have time to do some light editing or to review and touch-up a previous scene,
but the main goal should be moving forward. Don’t look back often and when you do, only peak.
We’re on a sprint toward the finish line!

Give me that motivational quote

“If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” - Dan Poynter

It may be harsh, but the point made is important. You don’t have to be feeling it to write. Just get
the words down and you’re closer to your goal than when you started.

What’re we getting done this week?

❏ Nailing the opening scene


❏ Introduce the characters’ flaws in their ordinary world
❏ Messing the ordinary world up with an awesome inciting incident
❏ Get the journey started

Nailing the opening scene

This is the most important scene in your whole script, because this sets the tone and
expectations for everything to come. Think of the things you’ve seen most often in opening
scenes…

- Person wakes and starts their day


- Quick pop scare in a horror film
- Starting at the all-is-lost moment and then cutting back a week

And throw out all those ideas. Try something totally new and most important, make sure you
CLEARLY establish the tone and genre of your story. If it’s a comedy, open on a big character
moment that is humorous (hint — humor based on character instead of dialogue works better in
script). If it’s a horror film, set a creepy tone (hint — describing sound effects in horror scripts
can work well). If it’s a sci-fi film, immerse us in your world (hint — don’t start indoors unless the
whole film is indoors). If you can open on a well-executed scene that no one has seen before,
you will have the reader hooked. Spend your first day only on this one scene.

By the way, you can get a free first impression read of your first page from our partners at
WeScreenplay here.

Introduce the characters’ flaws in their world

There are two things going on here, you’ve got to hit on the big character traits AND show how
that trait interacts with the character’s world. But I’m writing a drama that takes place in this
world. Still need to establish that. What makes your world “normal”? In OFFICE SPACE it’s just
a boring, normal office, so the writers establish this by obsessing about TPS reports; something
that screams this office is boring!

So think about your world. Talk about your world a little. Put yourself in that world. What is a
quick way to show everyone the truth about that specific setting? If it’s a fantasy or sci-fi film, it
may be obvious to focus on some big piece of unique technology or new fantastical city. If it’s an
adventure film, think about how awesome Indiana Jones’s world was set up with the first two
scenes — an epic adventure in an ancient tomb followed by a professor scene. We quickly see
that juxtaposition and learn a lot about Indiana Jones in the process. Every film has something
unique about their world; find what’s unique about yours and hit on it here.

And then the complicated part…

Show your hero interacting with that world in a way the demonstrates their main character trait.
In MICHAEL CLAYTON, George Clooney is gambling and then rushing off to help a rich man
get out of hit-and-run charges. We get a world of rich corruption and understand the main
character’s greed (and possible addiction) in the first 5 pages. In ETERNAL SUNSHINE the
scene where Joel meets Clementine on the train shows us so vividly who these two characters
are by showing how timid Joel is and how ecentric Clementine is — then the seemingly normal
world is established to be anything but normal when Elijah Wood knocks on Joel’s car window.

There’s no one way to establish character and world, but you’ve got about 8 or so pages to do
it, so do it really quickly and effectively. Focus on establishing those two things and if successful,
it helps ensure those opening scenes will be interesting to the audience because they’ll be
learning so much so fast.

Mess the world up with an awesome inciting incident

Now that you’ve established the world and the characters, it’s already time to mess with it and
them. In a BIG way.

There is some traditional wisdom out there that says the inciting incident should happen on or
around page 18. That is the way movies did it for a long time. But then the internet and YouTube
happened and attention spans have shrunk a lot. So your job as a writer is to make things
happen faster — cram more into those early scenes because you only have until page 10 to
introduce your inciting incident.

Now, of course there are exceptions and no one is going to lose their mind if yours is on page
11, but really push yourself to get this in as early as possible. If it’s not coming until page 18,
modern audiences start to wonder where the hell this story is going.

Also, make the incident big. This should not be some subtle, internal struggle for the main
character. This should be a big event that flips everything on its head. In MICHAEL CLAYTON,
someone planted a bomb in his car. In ETERNAL SUNSHINE Joel finds out that Clementine
erased him from her memory. In LOGAN they’re found in their hideout and are hunted for being
mutants. Big. Mess these characters up. Mess your world up. Smash it to bits. Even personal
films like THREE BILLBOARDS had an inciting incident so big they named the whole movie
after it (hint — it was the posting of the THREE BILLBOARDS).

The more you mess up your character’s way of life, the more the audience will be drawn in to
see how your characters are going to deal with the sh*tshow.

Get the journey started

Your characters at first are not going to know exactly how to deal with the inciting incident. In a
comedy, they’ll come up with stupid ways to try to find a quick solution. In a horror film, they’ll
often flat out deny the threat. In an action film, they’ll do the whole, “oh, someone else can deal
with this.”

This period right after the inciting incident is a really great chance to hit the audience over the
head with your character’s flaw or weakness. The first choice your character makes, how to deal
with the incident, should highlight their flaw and how their flaw is holding them back.

You’ve got some freedom in these pages — if you’ve got a big sci-fi or fantasy world, you can
spend some time here showing us all the unique things about this world. If it’s a drama, you may
introduce a little backstory or subplot with new characters. If it’s a horror film, you’ll want to keep
this part of the film short before the characters choose to go on the journey.

But somewhere around page 21-26, your hero is going to go on that journey. They’re just gonna
deal with the very big issues you threw at them (you jerk). And they’re going to learn about
themselves in the process (awe, sweet).

Recap, will you?

Alright, once everything above is done, you’re already 25% of the way through your script. Woo!
Important things you need to keep in mind in all these scenes:

CONFLICT - If you’re having trouble writing any scene, ask yourself, “How can I increase the
conflict here?” A scene has a cheating spouse asking for a divorce? Have the lover suddenly
show up. A scene where the hero has to pay off her mob debt or her family will be killed? Have
her locked out of her bank accounts at the time. The more conflict you can inject into every
moment, the easier it will be to write and since we have to write fast; easier is better. Feeling
stuck? Throw something really, really difficult at your protagonist that hits right at their biggest
flaw.

CHARACTER - What do you remember about most movies? The characters. Interesting
characters will allow us to forgive minor problems in films, like in IRON MAN when Tony Stark
travels to Afghanistan in 2 minutes which is basically the speed of light. We don’t really care that
this isn’t realistic because that character is so interesting. Keep hitting on your character's main
traits and then every once in a while have them do something that surprises us. Not often, just
every once in awhile. The sarcastic character should have one thing they’re sincere about. The
selfish character does something altruistic. Those little moments last with the audience and help
make the characters deep and layered (a note every writer will hear at some point).

TONE - We mentioned this, but through every scene make sure your tone stays consistent. It
can be unique to your film, but it has to be consistent within the script. When you’re writing fast it
can be easy to accidentally make one scene too dark or too bizarre compared to the rest of the
script. Keep tone in the back of your mind while you write - and write fast!

If you’re interested in having a reader check out your first 20 pages, head over to TSL Notes
and get a set of notes on your first act.
Week 3 - The Scary Part (Act II)

You are 25% of the way done with your script already! That was fast. That was professional-
writer fast. If you’re keeping up, even with all your other responsibilities, you are killing it. Great
job. You should be proud. Take a moment to celebrate. But just a moment because…

It’s time to get back to work.

Act 2 is the hard part. No sense in sugar coating it. Act I has clear structural beats that happen
in most commercially viable films, but Act II… Act II is a beast of its own. Act II is where a lot of
scripts get lost or end up meandering.

Focus on entertaining rather than hitting any particular beats. You’re going to accomplish a few
things in the first half of Act II to make writing the rest of the script easier, but most of all you’re
just going to advance the story and characters in entertaining ways. By the time you’re done
with this week of writing you’ll already be 50% of the way done. That’s crazy fast!

By the way, if you get stuck, head over to The Script Lab Library and find how a similar scene is
written in one of you favorite films. It can help spark creativity for how to approach your scene.
And for 100’s of hours of inspiration, be sure to check out TSL360 membership - there’s a FREE
3-day trial too.

Give me that motivational quote

“When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "One word at a time," and the answer is
invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great
Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That's all. One stone at a time. But I've read
you can see that motherf*cker from space without a telescope.” - Stephen King

This is the INCEPTION of quotes, it’s quotes within quotes. But the point is simple. Focus on the
things right in front of you and just keep putting those words down.

What’re we getting done this week?

❏ Plant at least one great setup


❏ Reveal at least one piece of character backstory that ups the stakes and conflict
❏ Nail the midpoint twist

Plant at least one great setup

You’ve thought about this a little already during the outline, but now that you’re executing it’s
time to nail this setup. Think about how your film is going to end — plant what you can now to
make the ending more powerful. In most mysteries or horror films, these setups are extremely
critical and you need more than one. However, in every genre, setups and payoffs are
rewarding for the audience. By establishing in IN BRUGES that (spoilers) Colin Farrell is
suicidal it makes the ambiguous ending so powerful when he tells the audience “I really, really
hoped I wouldn’t die.” However, if his suicide wasn’t so clearly set up when he tries to shoot
himself in the park, this ending wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful.

Setups can also be hints for what's to come rather than demonstrations of story arc. For
example, in MEMENTO the repetition of the “Remember Sammy Jankis” story is a strong hint of
the twist ending. And there are the beautiful setups in THE SIXTH SENSE. These types of
setups work perfectly in thrillers, horror films, or mysteries.

Finally, setups can be used to give you, the writer, the ability to show rather than tell later. This
isn’t a film, but it’s done so effectively that it’s worth the example. In the powerful Atlantic article,
My Family’s Slave, the journalist tells us that his family’s slave can’t read English. Spoilers - So
after she passes away and he finds that she had saved all of the articles he ever wrote, it makes
her life story even more heartbreaking. In the Pixar film UP, the writers establish “the great
adventure” so when we see at the end that the great adventure was a life together, it doesn’t
take any words for us to understand how much that means to our main character.

Reveal at least one piece of character backstory that ups the stakes and conflict.

We’ve talked a fair amount about focus on your character’s main trait to make it clear to the
audience who that character is, but now it’s time to add some dimension and nuance. One of
the most effective ways to do that is with some unexpected backstory that builds the conflict or
ups the stakes (ideally both).

This doesn’t have to be a bunch of flashback scenes. This can be something hinted at with a
wedding photo or an old child’s toy lying around. It can be dropped in conversation - but be
careful with this as it can easily turn into “on the nose” exposition if you’re not extremely
comfortable with dialogue. It can also be a flashback. If you’ve established voiceover in your
script, that’s a great way to bring up a little backstory as well.

The important part of the backstory is that it can’t just build on who we already know the
character to be, it has to change the way we see this character. AND it should change the
character in a way that builds the conflict and stakes. For example, in THREE BILLBOARDS,
once we learn that Woody Harrelson’s character has cancer, it makes us feel for him and
question whether Frances McDormand is doing the right thing. In CASABLANCA the flashbacks
reveal how powerful their relationship was, which complicates Ilsa’s new relationship with Lazlo,
substantially excelling the conflict.

If the backstory only shades the character, it’s not doing enough, it also needs to accelerate
everything in the present. If you can give your main character one bit of backstory that
accomplishes that, you’ll captivate your audience.

Nail the midpoint twist

The midpoint may be one of the most overlooked structural parts of the screenplay. Let’s face it,
if you’ve ever been in the theater and you check your watch, it’s because you’re about an hour
into the movie and you’re getting (a little) bored. Writers should get this; an hour of anything can
be a long time.
A powerful midpoint twist can make the audience forget about checking their watches. In
THREE BILLBOARDS, Woody Harrelson’s abrupt suicide completely changes the direction of
the story. In IRON MAN, finding out that Tony Stark’s advisor is actually the villain, flips the story
on its head. In LADY BIRD, finding out that Danny is gay completely changes the direction we
think the film is going.

There are screenwriting books that talk about false highs or false lows — all that is great — but
really, just give us a big surprise. And make sure that surprise has consequences for the second
half of the film. If you pull the rug out from under the audience by changing locations, killing a
character, killing a relationship, changing a villain, or anything you can think of, it will completely
re-engage the audience right when they need to be re-energized.

Recap, will you?

If you’ve done everything above you’re halfway there. A few things to keep in mind:

IT IS OK IF YOU’RE A LITTLE BEHIND — Yes, we want you to keep up, but finishing a feature
script in 8 weeks or 9 weeks is nothing to scoff at. Do not quit just because you are a little bit
behind.

DON’T SLOW DOWN — At this point it’s tempting to look back on things you’ve worked on. It’s
tempting to re-read, and start editing. You can always peak; you can always tweak. But don’t
start doing rewrites just yet. Get through your story, page 1 to 100. We’ve saved two week for
rewrites which will be your chance to make changes. Just keep burning through pages for now.
Your script isn’t going to be perfect at this point, keep some notes on the side for any big things
you want to change and don’t stress the small stuff just yet.

CHECK TONE, CHECK GENRE, CHECK VOICE — Make sure that your tone, genre, and voice
as a writer have stayed consistent. If your story is starting to swerve off course too much, ask
yourself if you’re ok with the new direction or if you need to pull it back a little. Be flexible, but
also be willing to course correct as you move forward.
Week 4 - Keep Moving (Act II Part II)

It’s week 4. Already. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ve given up like 35 hours of sleep already.
That’s a lot of zzz’s that are missing, but you’re still going strong. And this week is the tipping
point, over half way through the script and over half way through the whole course.

If you’re falling a little behind, don’t worry. If you’re worried your script isn’t perfect, REALLY
don’t worry. That’s not the point, plus we have two weeks for rewriting built in. Avoid the
temptation to go back and rewrite anything now.

We’re going to dive right back in, because by the end of this week you’ll be 75% of the way
done with your script and on page 65-80 of your project. And in keeping with the theme of this
week — don’t worry about it. If you’re outside of the ideal page range, don’t worry about it, we’ll
figure it out in the rewriting stages.

Give me that motivational quote

“You fail only if you stop writing.” - Ray Bradbury

“Failure and success live next door to each other and they have no numbers on the door. You
just knock.” -- Guillermo del Toro

No explanation needed here. Just two words: Don’t. Quit.

And for some more inspiration, check out the free trial of TSL360 (if you haven’t already)!

What’re we getting done this week?

❏ Create a big character choice


❏ Up the stakes
❏ Land the all-is-lost moment

Create a big character choice

We’ve been with your main character for almost an hour now and he or she has gone through
some serious stuff. You dropped an inciting incident on them that turned their world upside-
down, you forced them on a journey that you knew they weren’t going to be naturally good at,
and now you just midpoint twisted their ass. Not to mention, this whole time you’ve been
stacking the odds against them.

It’s time to throw them a big choice. Ideally, this choice would be something that, had it faced
them at the beginning they would’ve totally chosen the wrong door. But now, an hour into your
story, they’re at least tempted to make the right choice (maybe). It’s ultimately up to you and
your character if they make the right choice or not, but now they should be more on the fence
than they would’ve been at any other part of the film. This is the arc of your character.
Consider the choice of Moana after Te-Ka severely damage’s Maui’s hook and he decides the
journey is not worth the risk of losing his power, leaving her, a child, stranded in the middle of
the ocean, essentially hopeless. She is faced with the reality of abandoning her journey, even
asking the ocean to take the responsibility from her, only for the spirit of her grandmother to
reappear and affirm her true calling. Moana chooses to continue bearing the responsibility and
pushes onward with a renewed sense of identity and confidence.

By forcing your main character into a big choice you reveal who they are becoming (or who they
have become). Because we still have time left with your lead character, you can have them
make the wrong choice here. The choice that is informed by their flaw… but now they should at
least feel bad about it.

Up the stakes

This is one of the most important parts of the later part of the film. If your audience doesn’t get
increased importance and urgency for the hero to achieve their goal, they may start to get
bored. In GET OUT, this is when the audience really starts to realize how sinister the Armitage
Family’s plans are for Chris. In THE DARK KNIGHT, The Joker kills Rachel and turns Harvey
Dent toward the forces of chaos and evil. This means that Batman has lost someone on his side
and the love of his life (even superheroes can become underdogs).

The great thing about upping the stakes is that it is one of the most effective tools you have as a
writer and one of the easiest. Just throw something horrible at your main character. Even if this
is a feel-good romantic comedy, put the relationship on the rocks. Upping the stakes is essential
for the all-is-lost moment to land, which brings us to…

Land the all-is-lost moment

This is the point where your hero needs to fail at their primary goal. In a rom-com, this is when
the couple breaks up. In an action movie, this is where the hero gets captured or debilitated by
the villain. In a horror film, this is when the woods seem impossible to escape. In a crime film,
this is when it looks like the criminal is going to get away.

Up to this point, you’ve been dragging your hero through the mud, but they’ve been (more or
less) trudging forward. Finally, you want to throw the biggest thing at them you can that will
(momentarily) stop them in their tracks.

Stop for a second before you write what’s in your outline and think about how much worse you
could make it for your hero. Don’t just have the villain be winning, have the villain be destroying
all hope that the hero can come back.

In ETERNAL SUNSHINE, Joel is always having his memory erased, but when all-is-lost his
memory is actually completely gone. In GET OUT, Chris is hit over the head with a lacrosse
stick just as he finds out the truth. These are not mildly bad situations, this kills any hope of
success for the hero.
The harder-hitting your all-is-lost moment is, the more the redemption will feel great for the
audience. If you find that your all-is-lost moment may not be hard enough on the hero, try
layering multiple failures instead of having it just be one moment. Maybe the hero loses her
boyfriend AND her best friend. Maybe the villain gets away and the hero loses the trust of the
city. The more you can pile on, the better.

Recap, will you?

There’s not much to recap this week. We’re in the home stretch by now. If you have some free
thinking time on your commute to work or while you’re cutting the grass, think about the most
organic ways for your hero to come back from their all-is-lost moment. A lucky break can be ok,
but if they use something they learned from earlier in the story to escape their ultimate demise,
even better. While you don’t want to do rewriting at this point, if you can go back and plant an
easy thing that can be paid off soon to get the hero out of their all-is-lost moment, it may be a
worthwhile addition.

Once you’re done with this week it gets easier. Act III almost writes itself. Everything has been
built up to this moment, so it will all come together nice and easy… hopefully.
Week 5 - The Home Stretch (Act III)

You’re there — it’s been less than a month and you’re about to head into the finale. Wow. You
probably didn’t think you could do it when you started this whole thing, and now… success is
right around the corner.

And I’ve got a secret — Act III is the easiest part. Really. By this point, you’ve set up your
characters, you’ve set up your setups, you’ve laid all the groundwork for Act III to fall together.

I’ve got one more secret — The temptation to go back and rewrite now is going to be huge. Feel
free to make some tweaks, but finishing this draft is the priority. Right now, you should be on
page 65-80, by the time you’re done with this week you should be on page 85 - 110. And typing
FADE OUT will make all the missed sleep worth it.

Let’s dive right in.

Give me that motivational quote

“Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic!” - Robin Sharma

“It always feels impossible until it’s done.” - Nelson Mandela

The finish line is close, this is the week to kick it up into high gear and finish strong. When
you’re exhausted, take one more sip of coffee and make the finale just a little better. Every bit of
extra effort will impress the reader and future audience.

What’re we getting done this week?

❏ Creatively your character pulls out of the all-is-lost


❏ Complete your main character’s arc
❏ Stick the landing (closing scene)

Creatively pull your character out of the all-is-lost

Anytime a how-to book tells you to do something creatively, it’s really bulls**t. It’s not fair. So let
me say this — it doesn’t have to be creative, but making it creative goes a long, long way. If you
think about a film like GAME NIGHT, the crew is held up by the drug dealers and it seems
impossible for them to escape until we find out that this is actually their neighbor Gary’s
elaborate plan to get invited to their game night again. The way they escape is unexpected,
hilarious, and was set up throughout the entire film.

There are also ways that aren’t a “twist” per se, but the emotional resonance is what makes the
character’s way out of their all-is-lost moment so powerful. In INSIDE OUT, Joy realizes the
importance of Sadness through their all-is-lost moment and then the imaginary friend Bing Bong
sacrifices himself to help Joy and Sadness get back to headquarters. They only succeed
because of everything they’ve learned, so while there’s no “twist”, the way the characters get
out of their all-is-lost is so powerful the audience doesn’t care.
Hint: If you want to use something easy to get your characters out like remembering some
important detail or being told something, go back and plant that detail twice in the script before.
As long as the audience has seen it but missed it, it’ll feel like a big reveal. It’s a way to make a
deus ex machina ending feel set up and earned.

Complete your main character’s arc

When you started this journey, you gave your main character(s) a flaw. Now is your chance to
let your character fix him/herself. Not just your chance, but your obligation. This is how you
make your grand statement to the audience. In ETERNAL SUNSHINE, Joel and Clementine
grow to appreciate their differences and know that the journey is more important than the
ending. In MICHAEL CLAYTON, Michael finally learns that having a small purpose in life is more
rewarding than making a big gamble. In IN BRUGES, Ray learns that despite his past atrocities,
he can atone and wants to live again. These arcs are tear-jerking because they are the writer’s
thesis and message to the audience: appreciate the journey, live a life of purpose, atone for past
sins and live a better life.

In a perfect world, your character’s arc will help them overcome their all-is-lost moment. But for
this draft, those two story elements can happen separately. The best way to show a character
arc is through a character’s choice. If you give them a test in the finale that we know they
would’ve failed at the start, you can show their growth. Look at TOY STORY — in order to
escape, Woody and Buzz have to choose to work together. But more importantly, Woody has to
believe in his new best friend, that he can fly. Because Woody believes in Buzz, Buzz is able to
“fly” to save them. The very first time Woody meets Buzz, he doesn’t believe.

There is an exception to the hero’s arc — it could be that the hero doesn’t change, just the
audience’s understanding of them does. This is much more challenging, but can be effective.
Think about MEMENTO, Leonard doesn’t actually change through the film, but at the end our
understanding of who he is changes when we realize he’s the villain.

Don’t get caught up in the arc being perfect right now. When an audience spends 90 minutes
with your hero, watching them struggle, they’re willing to believe that person is changed by the
end. You can sometimes just have the hero making different decisions by the end, with the arc
really coming from all they’ve gone through rather than having one big moment at the end that
changes them. Just make sure they’ve changed (ideally for the better).

Stick the landing (closing scene)

Go back to the start of this whole thing — what’s your opening scene? How’s your lead
presented? What’s the world like? You want to end your story in the exact opposite way. Think
about the final images of SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION or of THE OTHERS — everything the
setting and characters started as is reversed and we ( the audience) have been on that journey.
By showing this reversal you can really hammer home the contrast and arc of journey, which is
the whole reason the audience showed up to experience your story in the first place.

Recap, will you?


You’re done! Can you believe it? You finished your script in 5 weeks and it wasn’t that hard was
it? Ok — maybe it was, but it’s totally worth it now.

To recap this week, everything about Act III should be the opposite of Act I. Your characters
should be different with different priorities and repaired flaws. The world they’re in or choose to
occupy should be different as a result. The story, as a result, will not only feel concluded but it
will feel like it was an epic journey, no matter how small and personal it may have been.

A few things to keep in mind — your character’s arc doesn’t have to be massive. If you consider
IRON MAN, Tony Stark is still an attention-seeking playboy, but now he’s going to use
technology for the greater good rather than for creating war weapons. Or think about
INCEPTION, Cobb just needs to accept his wife’s death. Despite how big and visually epic the
film is, Cobb’s arc is very small and personal.

Ideally, the way your character escapes their all-is-lost moment is creative, but if you can’t find
something super creative, just make sure it's set up. The only thing that will frustrate the
audience at this point is if the hero is randomly saved by something not set up earlier in the
story.

But mostly, take a day or two to celebrate. The first week of rewriting will be a little less time-
intensive, so feel free to relax, if you’re 21 have a mimosa, and tell some folks you just finished
an entire screenplay draft in just 5 weeks.

If you already have coverflyX tokens, now may be the time to submit the script for some free
peer-to-peer feedback. It’s free and a totally rough draft is great to get notes on.
Week 6 - Writing is Rewriting

It’s all downhill from here in the best way possible. You’ve got a completed script (if not, keep
reading), now it’s the fun part — making it even more awesome. There are two methods of
rewriting:

- The easy way that doesn’t work. This is reading through your whole script and catching
typos and adding little lines of dialogue to address bigger story problems.
- The hard way that actually makes your script work. This is finding core issues and
rewriting full scenes, deleting scenes, moving scenes, and making big changes to
address the issues.

You can do either one, but if you’re just doing it the easy way, you may as well save your time
and call it a finished script now, because it won’t get much better that way. If you’re up for doing
it the hard way, then buckle in. It’s going to be a lot of deleting and rewriting, but it’ll be worth it!

***Words for those who didn’t complete their script: it is OK. Seriously, life happens, things slow
you down. Don’t stop just because you’re not done. These next two weeks are a little less time-
intensive, so finish your script this week and you’ll finish only a week behind schedule. Having a
polished first draft in 8 weeks is nothing to scoff at — just don’t stop writing.

Give me that motivational quote

“Write drunk; edit sober.” -- Ernest Hemingway. It’s time for us to revisit this quote. You’re at the
phase where you’re etching out the details of Mount Rushmore; carve thoughtfully and carefully.

“Rewriting is when writing really gets to be fun. In baseball you only get three swings and you’re
out. In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later,
you’ll hit the ball.” — Neil Simon. Keep swinging and you’ll hit a homerun with your script.

What’re we getting done this week?

❏ Give you main characters one more choice


❏ Cut your two worst scenes and combine scenes
❏ Plant another set up for your finale
❏ Add one more obstacle for your hero(es)

The best way to rewrite is to give yourself an actual checklist of things to accomplish. Don’t just
“hope to make it better”, actually accomplish specific things that make your story stronger.

Give you main characters one more choice

Choices are how you show the audience who the main characters are fundamentally. Focus not
only on what they choose but how they choose. Do they do the right thing or the wrong thing?
Do they take the easy road or the high road? Do they plan meticulously or jump in without
looking? Go back and find one more BIG choice you can give your main characters (ideally the
top 2). These choices will help cement who your characters are and amplify their arc. Add full
scenes or big obstacles to accomplish this, don’t just throw in a “would-you-rather” line of
dialogue or something superficial. Make the choice critical to the story.

Cut your two worst scenes and combine scenes

This is the easy part timewise but the hardest part emotionally — find your worst two scenes
(most boring or cliched or uninspired or expositional), write down the key information being
delivered in them, and delete the scene entirely. Then, decide if the key information you wrote
down is critical to the characters and story. If so, find other scenes where you can reveal this
information. Show, don’t tell. For example, don’t just plug the information in with a line of
dialogue, but actually show the key piece of information. If you want to two-birds-one-stone this,
show it by giving your main character a choice that reveals the key information.

Once you’ve deleted your worst scenes, find any scenes that are just a bit slow and combine
them. So often in the first draft we write dialogue that addresses directly what’s going on in the
scene - bank robbers talking about robbing the bank. What’s far more compelling is when the
dialogue doesn’t have to do with the action on the screen - bank robbers talking about a new
relationship. Think about how the pros do it: Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and The
Coen Brothers. Tarantino does it in the most straightforward way: his characters are talking
about Royales with Cheese when going on a hit. The Coen Brothers do it by throwing conflict in
the scene: in FARGO William H. Macy is late to the meeting with the henchmen, so it becomes
a conversation about timeliness instead of just being about kidnapping his wife. Christopher
Nolan does it by layering multiple scenes over each other: in THE DARK KNIGHT Harvey
Dent’s speech about the darkness is layered over Batman bringing vigilante justice and
Commissioner Gordon working with him instead of against him.

Do the same with your scenes — layer them, add conflict, reveal character through dialogue that
doesn’t have to do with the actions of the scene. This is a great way to hide exposition as well.
So if you find a slow scene of exposition, delete that scene and use the dialogue over a scene
of action.

Plant more setups for your finale

Now that you’ve written your finale you can go back and better set it up. Did you add the death
of a character? Go back and make that character even more likable right before. Did you add a
big reveal at the end? Go back and subtly hint about it so it doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Did you know that in the original draft of SIXTH SENSE, Bruce Willis wasn’t dead? That was
discovered during rewriting. Once the structure of your script is laid out, it’s easy to add plants
and payoffs. If you think of a big twist, give it a setup scene and pay it off big at the end.

Add one more obstacle for your hero(es)

Find the part of your story that is currently the easiest on your hero. The part where they’re
succeeding the most (even if it’s near the end) and throw in another big obstacle. Better yet, just
take a scene where your hero succeeds and make them fail instead. Then come up with a new
way out for your hero. Do this at least once, but if you do it two or three times it’ll only make the
script better.

For this rewrite — don’t worry about page count or the resulting structure. Things may get
moved around, we’ll do the final cleanup next week.

Recap, will you?

This is quick — this week is all about diving back in to do the big things to make the script better.
Add conflict. Add choice. Add complexity to characters. Delete exposition. Delete uninspired
moments. Delete redundant scenes. Remove heavily expository dialogue. Remove on-the-nose
dialogue about action that is taking place.

The temptation is to go easy during the rewrite, but this is where you take a good script and
make it great.
Week 7 - The 10% Pass

I have good news: this is going to be the least amount of work of any of the weeks. Seriously,
we almost called this a 6.5 week course.

And I have even better news: after this week you’re done! You didn’t only finish a script, but you
rewrote it and polished it. Even if this isn’t the script that launches your career, you’re a whole
script ahead of everyone else. A whole script ahead of yourself from 7 weeks ago.

If you’re like most writers, your script is probably a bit too long. You kept adding character
choices, plants and payoffs, backstory, deeper all-is-lost moments, and more clever Act III
twists. All that stuff added up and your script probably isn’t quite as tight as it could be…

And ‘tight’ writing isn’t just about page count. There can be 115 page scripts that are tight and
95 page scripts that meander. It depends on the story. So right now, we’re doing the 10% pass
where you tighten your script by 10% (without faking margins or fonts size).

Be ruthless and cut your script to the bone. Leave only the most entertaining and most
structurally important scenes.

So what if you’re a next level writer and your script is already really tight here? If you’re ahead of
the group, it may be worth checking out some of these TSL 360 Videos with Hollywood Literary
Agents and Managers and take a pass with some of their thoughts in mind.

Give me that motivational quote

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” - Richard Bach

What’re we getting done this week?

❏ The 10% Pass

You’re only doing one thing this week — you’re going through your script and tightening it by
10%. Whatever you page count is, when you’re done with this pass it should be 10% shorter.
YES, even if that means your script is less than 90 pages.

Start at the top of you story and read a scene (ideally out loud) and ask yourself one key thing
— what critical new piece of information does this scene add to the story and character?

You should be able to answer this question clearly everytime. If you can’t, either a) add that key
info via dialogue and/or action or b) cut the scene entirely, or at least parts of the scene.

Next, ask yourself if you can get that key information across to the audience in less space. Is
there a more efficient way to deliver the emotional core of the scene? Really push yourself to
find a more efficient way to land the same emotional punch of the scene and tighten it
accordingly. Look at every exchange between characters (whether verbal or non-verbal) and
see if it can be done quicker. Most of the time, you can cut the first and last couple lines of
dialogue of every scene. Everytime that is an option, take the option and shorten the scene.
Pro-tip: in real life, people greet and farewell each other, in movies they don’t. Not even on the
phone. Cut the niceties in your script. Cut everything that is boring.

Finally, look at the vocabulary used to describe the scene. First, cut everything that is already
obvious — if two characters are clearly in a fight, you don’t need to continue to tell the reader
that the characters are angry; give the reader credit. Assume the reader is smart. Then see if
you can make your sentence sharper, shorter, and more staccato. You’re not writing a novel, so
feel free to write in quick sentences, even fragments. Introducing a cabin in the woods in a
horror film you can say “Dark. Creepy. The type of place your demons hide.” You don’t have to
get into the details of the set — that’s the director’s and set designer’s job.

Recap, will you?

You’re done!

Get a drink — whether that’s a whiskey and cola or just a fresh-squeezed juice. Put your feet up
and relax. And honestly, take a few days off writing. Don’t re-read the script for a while. You’ve
been going it at 100 mph, so take a breath before you revisit the script.

If your script is outside of the 90-120 page range that may be ok, but ask yourself a few
questions:

1) Is the length or shortness acceptable for the genre? Horror, comedy, thriller scripts tend
to be shorter. Fantasy, adventure, dramas tend to be longer. Truly dialogue-heavy scripts
tend to be particularly long.
2) Is there enough story? If your script is less than 90 pages, you may have to add one
more obstacle for your hero. Don’t add fluff — add meat.
3) Are there too many characters? If your script is too long it may be because you’re
juggling too many characters. See if there are any two minor characters you can
combine into a bigger character. Actors and actresses want a bigger role, so the bigger
your characters are the easier the script will be to cast with A-listers.

Now for the semi-bad news: you’re not really done!

Writers are never really done. You have to write or rewrite, well, forever. If you want to be a
professional writer, then you’ve got to give this script a couple more polishes and rewrites,
you’ve got to send it out to a few contests and a few producers, you’ve got to do some
networking, and then you’ve got to do this all over again with a new screenplay.

But that shouldn’t be bad news, because as much work as writing is, it is also one of the most
rewarding things you can do. If you stick at it and love it, you will have your successes. Not all of
us will be Aaron Sorkin, but anyone willing to keep writing no matter what will be able to win
contests, make short films,option projects, hired for writing assignments, and even sell a spec.
That’s what’s not said enough — a lot of succeeding as a writer is just being willing to outwork
everyone else. The temptation is to slow down after 2 or 3 scripts. It’s even more tempting to
slow down after 10. But you know what? The writers who are working today have written dozens
and dozens of scripts — most of them they never got paid a penny for. Just keep writing; you’ll
be amazed how good you get at it after 20 scripts.

A few things to do with your completed script:

1) First, have friends and family read it and give you their thoughts. They’ll have good
advice because they’re all audience members of movies. But don’t take any one piece of
feedback overly seriously. Just listen to opinions openly and think about them.
2) Try stuff like our product at CoverflyX for free peer-to-peer notes from other writers. Or,
join a writers group for feedback.
3) If you have some spending money, try getting professional script coverage. The Script
Lab offers fantastic notes from experienced readers at TSLnotes.com. Don’t obsess
about a certain score, just see how the comments can help improve your writing.
4) Consider entering a few screenplay competitions - you can find some good ones at
Coverfly. Contests are NOT the only way to break in, but they can be an effective option
for the next step in your career, plus they can help you track how your project or future
projects are getting better and better. Be careful to do your research on contests and
only enter ones with long-standing, good reputations. Coverfly has a curated list of
contests and MovieBytes has reviews from writers showing which contests are good and
which aren’t.
5) Query, but query carefully. First, make sure your script is ready in both story AND
professionalism. Our partner, WeScreenplay, has some marketing services like
proofreads and synopsis help. Do not just email your script to everyone in Hollywood. Do
not email your script to industry folks if you haven’t placed in a contest or received
positive feedback in a coverage or peer-to-peer set of notes. However, if you do have a
good writing sample, try sending a quick pitch to producers or managers who have a
track record of interest in the genre, tone, and style of your project. So don’t send your
coming-of-age drama to Blumhouse and don’t send your romcom to Studio 8 — make
sure you’re researching their slate first. You also don’t want to blindly query a studio or
agency either — try management companies and mid-size production companies who
are more likely to engage with a newer writer.
6) Explore. Keep doing everything else you need to be doing. If you write comedy, try your
hand at some live stand up. If you write dramas, write some short stories and try to get
them published. Go to any networking event you can. Take affordable courses and meet
fellow writers. If you can raise the money, shoot a short film. Keep doing everything
creative — there’s a wall in front of Hollywood, but there are a million doors in it. Not
every door will open, but just keep knocking. The more doors you knock on, the faster
you’ll get through.

If you’ve made it to these last few sentences — congrats. You’ve got dedication that most
people don’t. Congrats on writing a screenplay. Congrats on the start of a new journey. At The
Script Lab we want to wish you all the luck in the world. Writers need it and writers deserve it.
Always be writing; no matter what.

Please let us know what you liked and what you didn’t like about the course at
help@thescriptlab.com
We hope to read your stories soon. Click here to join TSL360 for TONS of inspiration.