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Finishing a Script

Creating a feature length film script can be a daunting task, it can feel like there are miles and miles ahead of you once you put your first words on the page, but it is important to not get discouraged. It is going to take lots of work to get to that final draft, but there is a structure to the process that can make the work more manageable.

In this article this structure will be laid out from beginning to end, providing advice that will help you along your script writing journey.

Step 1: Choosing a Story

Before finishing a script can even become fathomable, one must have an idea that will be able to carry them to that goal. This is where the bulk of the creative work comes in, but it is also debatably the most fun part of the process.

Ideas for a script can come from anywhere. They can come from dreams, personal experiences, other creative works, or just completely out of the blue. Ideas can come to you all at once or over the course Finishing a script - finding an idea of weeks, months, or even years.

It can be easy to get lost in the collection of ideas swirling around in your head, so the best way to keep them organized is to simply write them down. No matter where an idea comes from there is no such thing as a bad idea, what makes an idea ready to be made into a script is how developed it is.

First of all the story must be one that YOU can connect with. No matter if you are writing for a class or to sell off to some studio, finishing a script will become a truly grueling experience if you have nothing invested in the story. This will also likely hurt the quality of the script, because if you dont care what happens to the characters, neither will the audience.

An idea will be fully developed when you can list these aspects:

  • Setting
  • Genre
  • Characters
  • Conflict
  • Themes
  • Tone

Once all of these things are thought out, you should be able to summarize them into a longline. A log-line is a sentence or two that most accurately summarizes the core aspects of your story. It is a way you should be able to pitch your movie without rambling on about details and certain scenes. Once you have this, your idea is ready to start its journey of becoming a fully fleshed out script.

Step 2: Pre-Writing

There is still much to be done before starting on that first page of the script. Finishing a script becomes infinitely easier when you put in the work of pre-writing, without it it’s easy to get lost in the process and find yourself without any idea of how to continue your story.

The first pre-writing you should to is practically a word vomit. In two pages write a rough summary of your story, getting down all of your characters and their journeys through your story. This piece of writing is just for you, so it does not have to be pretty. This is so you can get a basic idea of your story arc, really defining a beginning, middle, and end.

After this you should have a solid idea of who your main characters are. Now you should take it to the next level and write them each a character bio. This should feature basic things like age, height, and hair color, as well as deeper things like flaws, talents, and values.

Another helpful exercise is to write a paragraph or two for each character recounting Finishing a script - planning it outsome sort of formative experience. This should be a short story completely separate from your main plot that depicts a defining moment in your character’s life that made them who they are, or simply demonstrates their values.

Now that you have a basic understanding of your story and your characters, here are a few more writing practices that will help you on your journey of finishing a script:

  • Beat Sheet – A 3-4 page paper listing out the major beats of your script with a basic description of the scene in which this beat will occur. This will help you understand the important moments you need that will drive your story forward.


  • Script Outline – This is the big one. A 5-6 page paper outlining every single scene that you believe will be in your script. Each one should be formatted with a slug line and a short summary of what happens in the scene, along with the scene’s purpose.


  • Act Structure Outline – Here is where you organize your scenes into the over-arching 3 act structure that practically all films follow. This is a shorter paper where you can just number your scenes and list where you believe they will fall into this structure. This will help you see the bigger picture of the flow of your script as you write it. Here is a link to a helpful 3 act template. 

Once you have all of this prewriting done, the task of finishing a script will feel much more attainable, and once you start writing you will always have a grasp of where to go next.

Step 3: The Bulk of It

Now it’s time to tackle the looming mountain of writing the actual pages of your script. This is the part where many get lost, discouraged, or even give up, but if you’ve followed the guide so far you are prepared. Here are a few things to consider to make the process of finishing a script easier.

  • Finding a Software – A scriptwriting software is essential for finishing a script, as it will save you  hours of time spent formatting. There is no right answer for which software is the best, but one of the most popular and easiest to use is FinalDraft. But depending on how much you want to spend and how much of a committed screenwriter you are, there are many softwares to consider. Some possible choices are: Celtx, SoCreate, and Arc Studio.


  • Keeping a Schedule – Finishing a script takes a lot of self discipline, meaning that you must be able to set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. First you must set a deadline. For a traditional 90-120 page script, a reasonable time frame is around 2 and a half months. This then allows you to create a weekly writing schedule, making the process more digestible as it is broken off into smaller pieces.

Look at your schedule for the coming weeks and set a reasonable page count that you believe you can reach for each week, keeping in mind what may take up potential writing time week to week. As long as by the last week you have reached the 90-120 page mark, you will have given yourself a valid schedule tailored to your life.

  • Where to Write – It is important to find a writing environment that works for you and heightens your productivity. This is different for everyone, some people like a quiet room or empty library, while some prefer the corner of a bustling bar or coffee shop. When you first start writing try out a few different locations and eventually you will gravitate to the place you feel the most comfortable and productive.Finishing a script - the bulk of the writing


  • Don’t Backtrack! – When you start writing it is important to keep in mind that you are working on a first draft, and not everything is going to click on your first way through. While writing it is almost certain that you will feel the need to change something you’ve written to accommodate a new idea or some other kind of development, but it is important that you don’t.

Your first draft should be a direct run through your story, so your original idea is all laid out in-front of you. If you start editing your past writing before you’ve finished, it will take away from your writing time, and overall you will begin to feel stuck. Just keep moving forward and make a note of the edits you want to make so you can incorporate them later.

  • Take Breathers – Its easy to get burnt out when trying to finish a script, and there will always be highs and lows throughout your process. There will be writing days where you can’t stop writing and blow by your page count for the week, but there are also days where you’ll find yourself having trouble finishing a single page. Some call this “writers block” but in reality, you’re just tired of writing, which is ok! The only real way to combat this is to step away from the screen for a few hours, or even days.

After this break you will return to the script with fresh eyes, and a lot of the time you’ll come back and immediately have a solution to whatever you were stuck on before. This is because once you start a script it never leaves your mind until it’s finished, so a lot of the thinking is done subconsciously. This means that focusing on something else for a while lets your ideas develop in the back of your mind so you can come back to your writing with a new perspective.

Overall if you remember these tips and use your pre-writing, you will find yourself well on your way to finishing your script.

Step 4: Revision

You’ve done it! Congrats! Two and a half months or so later you’ve finished the first draft of your script! This is a huge accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself, but it is important to remember that your work isn’t finished. The bulk of the writing is done, but nobody nails it on the first draft, so it’s time for revision.

The fist step to be able to revise is to know what needs to be revised, and for this you need notes. This means it’s time to send your script to as many people that are willing to read it. This could be a professor, someone who is very knowledgeable in the field and is educated in giving feedback is always going to be a valuable asset. This could be a parent/relative, someone who is probably very excited to read what you’ve been working on that has an outside perspective your story, meaning the notes will be more general and less technical.

Get as many perspectives as you can because the more notes you have the better. You don’t have to take all the advice you get, but the more notes you have the more you’ll see the similarities in what people think needs to be changed.

Now, it’s time to step away from it a while. While other people are reading and reviewing your script, you should take some time to step away from this story that has been consuming your brain for the last couple months.

First of all, you deserve it, and second of all it will give you the same clarity about your story that taking breaks in the middle did. You have to let the reality of the completed story linger in your mind for a while so you can start to hone in on the parts that you keep coming back to. These are usually the parts that you are proud of or think need the most revision.

After your break you’ll have a fresh perspective on your story and a few pages of notes from other Finishing a script - revision people that have also formed a perspective on your script. Now is the time to revise. This time is really your own, and there is no right or wrong way to revise. Some people like to rewrite bits and peices while some like to rewrite the entire script, it all depends on what you deem necessary. But for reference, before a script gets made into a studio film the writer usually reaches at least 10 drafts.

This is where you get to explore different directions of your story and little tweaks that you wanted to make during your writing process. Hearing the script out loud is also extremely helpful for adjusting your dialogue and helping to envision your script on the screen, so organizing a table read is always a good idea.

Overall finishing a script is not a process that should be rushed, it is a piece of art that can take years to develop and be seen as complete, because you are the one that decides when it is complete. There is always something that could be changed or tweaked, but only you yourself will know when it’s time to stop. It could be on the 10th draft or it could be on the 30th, but either way, when its done you’ll know.

Just remember that great things take time and it is important to fall in love with the process, because finishing a script is a labor of love, and this is the mindset that will give you the courage to start on your second, third, or twentieth script.