Screen writing tips and prompts

This semester I’m teaching screen writing at the University of Queensland.

When I started writing screenplays and learning about the genre about ten years ago now, I thought it looked pretty easy!

“What’s all the fuss?” I thought. “It’s just dialogue and some scene headings.” The formatting seemed to be the tricky bit. Turns out, formatting is easy – there are heaps of programs that do all the hard work for you. You can try them out for free and have a go yourself at writerduet and celtx.

These days I use Final Draft which is the programme most professionals I’ve met use.

The more I learn about screenplay, the trickier it gets. At its heart it’s an extremely minimal art from. The screenwriter creates only the scaffold of a story for hundreds of other people to add to, to manifest a fully fleshed out film.

Directors, producers, set designers, technicians of all sorts and, of course, the actors. So how can we get the movie we have in our heads onto the screen, with all these other people involved, while using the fewest words possible? That my friends is the art of screenplay!

All we have to work with is what the audience can see and hear. No thoughts, no telling about feelings. Everything at its heart comes down to either an object or setting we can visualise, or an action that SHOWS us what a character is thinking or feeling. Showing not telling, over and over again.

Remember these twins from The Shining?


Here are a few quick prompts to help you get your head around what it is like to write for the screen, developing a character ONLY by what you can see and their actions.


In five lines or less describe a character’s bedroom using specific details of things we can see, so that we get an idea of their character.


Write a line of dialogue or two where a character tells us what they think of themselves, then show us them acting in a way that contradicts what they’ve said.


Think of a way to show time passing, say we’ve gone from winter to spring, that isn’t cliched. Eg: no calendar pages falling away.

Have fun!

These exercises are great whether you want to write a screenplay or not. The more we can SHOW in our writing, the better.

Bring your stories to life using specific sensory details. Show us who your characters are by what they DO.

Good luck!

Lots of love, Edwina xx

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