Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days

How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days

Speed isn't everything. Didn't the story of the tortoise and the hare teach you that? So, I wouldn't always recommend rushing to finish your screenplays. But if you're somebody who struggles with staying on track and getting their first draft done, then I'd suggest trying out a time-specific schedule to help you get that first draft written. And I've got just the plan! This strategy will allow you to write a screenplay in 21 days.

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This plan is not something I'd recommend doing if you're expecting it to result in a fantastic screenplay. It likely won't. It will result in a first draft, which is what every writer needs. A script can't be improved upon and made better if a first draft doesn't exist, so this is a three-week process to give you that starting point!

Week One

Week one is for brainstorming and outlining! During this week, you'll do a lot of pre-writing to understand and map out your story.

  • Day 1

    What's your idea? What's your story? Who's it about? Sum up the story in a couple of sentences. "Once upon a time, there was__. Every day__. One day__. Because of that,__. And because of that,__. Until finally__. "Create a playlist that fits the vibe you're imagining. Mood boards are always fun at this point, too.

  • Day 2

    Who's the protagonist, antagonist, what's the setting, and what's the problem? You probably thought about these things on day one but now flesh them out. Write some character descriptions. Practice describing the story to a friend, see what they think.

  • Day 3

    Get started working on the treatment. This treatment is just for you, so don't worry too much about the format or the length. Aim for three to five pages. Just concern yourself with getting a description of the beginning, middle, and end down on paper. A screenplay treatment is similar to a synopsis but longer.

  • Day 4

    Continue working on your treatment. Does the beginning answer who, what, when, where, and why? Make a list of plot points that propel the middle and keep things interesting. What are various conflicts and consequences that are happening? How are things moving ahead or falling apart? It's essential to know how your movie will end because knowing where you're going makes it easier to come up with routes to navigate to that destination.

  • Day 5

    Your treatment should be finished! Hooray! Now you can take it and use it to create an outline. Your outline can look however works best for you. For me, it usually consists of 40-60 index cards (representative of the 40-60 scenes in a movie), and I go through my story scene by scene. Each index card gets numbered and labeled with a brief description. Sometimes I go chronologically; other times, I jump around. Sometimes it's helpful to start with the beginning scenes, do the end ones, then jump to the middle. If you get stuck, start with all the scenes in which you know what's happening first, and let that help you figure out the scenes you're unsure of.

  • Day 6

    Continue working on your outline.

  • Day 7

    Continue working on your outline. Or review it if already finished.

Week Two

This week is all about getting into the rhythm of writing. Writing shouldn't feel too overwhelming now that you've done all your pre-writing and have an outline for guidance.

  • Day 8

    You should have your outline finished. Now create a schedule for when you're going to write. Pick a time each day that you're going to specifically designate for writing. Celebrate by sitting down and writing your first five pages today! You can do it! Just refer to your outline.

  • Day 9

    Aim to write five pages.

  • Day 10

    Aim to write five pages.

  • Day 11

    Aim to write 10 pages. That's 25 pages total!

  • Day 12

    Aim to write 10 pages.

  • Day 13

    Aim to write 10 pages.

  • Day 14

    Aim to write 10 pages. Once you're done, you should be at 55 pages in total!

Week Three

The final week is all about keeping the momentum going. Keep striving to meet your daily writing goals. The average screenplay is between 90-120 pages, so be conscious of this as you find yourself coming to the end of the three weeks. You want your ending to happen organically. You don't want to force extra pages or scenes where they're not needed.

  • Day 15

    Aim to write 10 pages.

  • Day 16

    Aim to write 10 pages. That's 75 pages total!

  • Day 17

    Aim to write 10 pages.

  • Day 18

    Aim to write 10 pages. That's 95 pages! Some people might be done at this point! If that's you, it's time to start rewriting 😊 or time for a break before you start in on the revision process. Sometimes, the best thing to do for fresh ideas is to set aside your current project.

  • Day 19

    Aim to write 10 pages. Now you're at 105 pages!

  • Day 20

    Aim to write 10 pages. This will put you around 115!

  • Day 21

    Aim to write five pages. 120! You did it! You have a finished first draft!

Congratulations! You have just accomplished a feat that many would-be screenwriters never do, simply because they don't start. You don't have to be amazing to start, but you have to start to be amazing! If you made it this far, you are AMAZING. Once you're done, you want to set your script aside and do something to celebrate. Treat yourself. You deserve it! Give yourself some time between finishing and reading it over to edit it. And if you didn't finish in 21 days, that's okay too; keep working on it, don't give up! Good luck and happy writing.