Last night we were treated to a master-class in the art of screenplay writing by Danny McCahon, whose writing credits range from Casualty and Emmerdale to London’s Burning and more. As it turns out writing good screenplays is not that different from short stories; it’s mainly about Character and involves the skills of writing good prose and dialect. And of course, as a visual medium, the emphasis is on showing not telling, which of course we should all be doing anyway.

The structure of the screenplay though is a little different and Mr McCahon is definitely a ‘Planner’ (as opposed to “Seat of Pantser”) when it comes to his approach. In his experience the preparation for a screenplay can be distilled down to seven questions.

Firstly Danny suggest you decide whose story this screenplay is about (i.e. who is the central protagonist is) and what it will reveal about their character, by asking the following questions.

  1. Whose story is it?

  2. What is their world?

Then Danny suggest getting a handle on your characters, even to the extent of establishing details that may never be used in your screenplay. To this end he suggests asking four questions of your characters.

  1. What does the character hope to achieve?

  2. What obstacles (at least 3) stand in their way?

  3. How do they plan to overcome these obstacles?

  4. How successful are they?

NB) Characters should be believable and defined by their actions or reactions.

Then, still before writing any dialogue, plan out your sequence of scenes. A new scene should be dictated by a change in time or place. NB) you can have what is known as a French Scene which is where there is a change of personnel (within the same scene scene) – very useful for changing the pace.

A scene should have

  • Something for the character eg. Actions.

  • Something for the audience eg. Information.

  • Something for the writer eg. A truth.

Also in your scenes consider the shifts of power that may take place and the progression of tactics eg from borrowing to begging to stealing. Remember your scenes can be proceeded by a prose description that sets the scene and gives useful information that can be shown to the viewer of the film (of your screenplay)

Then finally once you have all your scenes you can write your dialogue. Usual rules apply for dialogue, same as when writing short stories.

Oh! The final question to ask about your screenplay is a two parter:

  1. What has your character learned and what has the audience learned?

Some useful tips

FinalDraft: Industry Standard Software for writing screenplays.

Celtx : Opensourse (free) Software for writing screenplays

BBCwriters Facebook page – gives access to scripts etc.


Ho Hum Onwards and Upwards.