High School Boot Camp: Week 1

Week 1: Choosing the Right Script for You and Developing Characters

The first decision you'll need to make is which type of script you want to write this April. There are many different kinds of scripts—more than you might think. There are scripts written for movies (screenplays), scripts written for the theater (stage plays), scripts written for television (TV scripts), and there are even scripts written for graphic novels and comic books. You may know of even more types of scripts—like radio scripts—but these are the four we will be focusing on in this Boot Camp. Since you'll be spending a whole month with your script, you should take the time to read a little bit about each type to make sure you’re choosing the script that will be most interesting for you to write.

 


Screenplays

The screenplay is wonderful because you can do all kinds of fantastic things in movies that are very hard to do on the stage. You can cover great distances in a second. You can jump through time and space. You can create a scene that takes place in a stadium with 10,000 roaring fans or on a battlefield with 2,000 soldiers. The sky's the limit.

However, there are some unique challenges to the screenplay. In a screenplay, because you have so many options, things can get overwhelming. You'll likely have a ton of scenes, which can mean a lot of settings, scene changes, and characters to keep track of.

Plus, like stage plays and graphic novels, you'll have to develop a plot that involves your protagonist going up against various challenges in order reach his or her goals. By the end of the journey, your character has to change, whether or not he or she gets exactly what he or she wanted. Coming up with a good plot with a character arc is necessary if you want the audience to walk away feeling satisfied.

The biggest challenge for screenplays comes up when you start thinking about bringing your script to life. Producing a screenplay requires you or someone you know to track down a camera and film editing software. Movie making is not easy, and getting your script from your computer to Hollywood isn't easy either.

If you love movies, don't let this scare you off! Writing a movie, even if it never gets made, is still a great creative adventure. Besides, as you've no doubt seen on recent visits to YouTube, anyone with a video camera can make a movie and put it out there for the world to see (and post sarcastic comments about).

To read more about writing a screenplay, check out our How-To: Screenwriting.

 

Stage Plays

This brings us to the stage play. The stage play is wonderful because you can write it, grab a few friends, and perform it. You can even get in touch with the drama department at your school or a local independent theater to see if they might want to produce part or all of your newly written play. It doesn't take too much work to share your story with an audience, and it can easily be performed over and over by different groups of actors, and given a whole new life each time.

Though you need to have a well-developed picture of your scenes in mind when writing a stage play, you don't need to give us as much background description of the sets and scenery as you do in screenplays. Playwrights typically leave it up to the director and set designers to imagine what the stage should look like.

The stage play, though, comes with some limits that most screenplays and some TV scripts don't have. Getting that football game we mentioned earlier into a stage play would be tough to pull off. Plus, with every new scene, you have to give your characters time for a costume change and the stagehands time for a set change before the next scene starts. Because it can get expensive to build complicated sets, many stage plays take place with very little background decoration and very few scene changes. Sometimes an entire play is set in a couple rooms, much like a television sitcom. As with television, when there are very few visuals and only a handful of characters, the dialogue really has to be strong to carry the story.

On the other hand, because stage plays have less bells and whistles, writing them can be easier. Having fewer scenes, props, and effects means you will write less description. Plus, there will be less settings and scenes to keep track of!

To read more about writing a stage play, check out our How-To: Playwriting.

 

TV Scripts

If you put a stage play and a screenplay in a blender, and you put it on high speed, you’d get a TV script. Some television shows are very similar to movies, in that they jump through space and time, through multiple scene locations, and have special effects. Others are more like stage plays, in that they are filmed in very few locations, usually in front of a studio audience.

The great thing about writing for television is that there are so many choices. You can write an hour-long drama, sci-fi, or mystery show. You can write a 30-minute sitcom or cartoon. You can even write a script for a new episode of your favorite existing TV show. And television plots are usually a lot less involved than those of most movies, plays, and comic books. Though your characters are usually going after something that they want in each episode—whether it is solving a crime, or getting a date—it is usually not life-changing! As a matter a fact, you don’t want your characters to change very much at all. The reason people keep watching a certain show is because they love the characters just the way they are. You might want your protagonist's ultimate goal to be more life-changing than getting a date—like saving the world from evil vampires—but if he or she does this in the first episode then you’ll have nothing to write about in the next.

Writing for the small screen does have its challenges. Television shows have a lot of dialogue, and this is especially true for shows that are shot in very few locations without a lot of props or special effects. Without suspense, action, and fancy effects, you’ll have to move the story forward and keep your audience's attention using dialogue. That means that not only will you have to write a lot of dialogue, you’ll have to write a lot of really witty and quick dialogue to keep people watching.

But don’t be discouraged. If you're like a lot of people, you already know a lot about television from watching it. And if you choose to write a TV script, you’ll have the perfect excuse to watch even more television: for research purposes!

To read more about writing a TV script, check out our How-To: TV Writing.

 

Scripts for Comic Books and Graphic Novels

You may or may not know this, but you don’t have to be a talented artist to write comic books and graphic novels. Many begin with a script that looks similar to those written for movies, plays, and TV shows; many of these scripts are not written by the artist who ends up drawing them. Even if you are an artist, the first step in creating a comic book is writing out the script.

The cool thing about writing a comic book or graphic novel, compared to other types of scripts, is that you have a lot control over the final product. Usually, you will either be drawing the comic yourself or working with one other person (the artist) to create the final look and feel of it. Not only do you get to decide on the characters, settings, story, and dialogue, you get to decide what goes in each and every panel. That’s like a screenwriter getting to decide what goes in each and every shot of a movie, which is hardly ever the case.

A great thing about comic books in particular is that they’re pretty easy to produce. They're typically really short, compared to graphic novels. That means that if you or someone you know is a good artist, you can draw the comic book after April and make copies for all your friends and family, or have it printed through a print-on-demand publisher. If you're feeling brave, you can take your new comic to your local independent book store to see if they will carry it. Many independent bookstores carry self-published comics and “zines” by local writers and authors!

But writing comic books and graphic novels isn’t always easy. Many people are under the impression that comics are silly books written just for kids, but that is not true at all. Especially when it comes to graphic novels. Graphic novels are similar to comic books in that they tell a story through illustrated panels, but they tend to be lengthier and contain more complex story lines similar to those of novels. Like all writers, comic-book and graphic-novel writers have to think about character, plot, setting, and dialogue. You also have to think about all the elements of a story visually, frame-by-frame. You have to be the writer and the director, and you have to know both the story you want to tell and how it is going to look on the page. That means that you have to write a pretty descriptive scene for each panel in the book, which takes a lot of time and patience.

To read more about writing comics and graphic novels, check out our How-To: Comic Book Writing.

 

Making Your Decision

If you're doing this project as part of a group, your teacher may have some thoughts on which script makes the most sense for you to tackle. If you're making that decision yourself, just ask yourself what form resonates with you the most? Are you a movie person? A play person? If you’re still having trouble deciding, make sure you read more about each type of script in our Writer’s Resources section.

 


Developing Characters

Most people think that an exciting and well-developed plot is what makes a script good, but even the most intriguing plot won’t hold someone’s attention if the action is performed by flat, unoriginal characters. A great script is made up of compelling and complex characters. The characters are important because the audience will connect with them more than any other element of your script. You might have great setting or a genius plot twist, but in the end, it's your characters that audience members are going to love, hate, feel sorry for, cheer for, and want to throw things at.

So, the question remains: how do you go about creating compelling characters? The easiest and most interesting way to bring great characters into being is by "visualizing" them. Visualization is the process of creating a clear, strong picture of something in your mind. This means getting a strong idea of how your characters think, feel, speak, move, dress, and look. You should ask yourself how they spend their free time, what their biggest hopes and fears are, what their favorite books and movies are—basically, what makes them compelling and unique.

 

Exercise

In order to help you visualize your characters, we've put together this Character Questionnaire. Read over the worksheet to learn more about the types of characters you'll be writing about this April, then fill out a questionnaire for as many characters as you'd like.

 


Get your characters off the page and into action in Week 2.