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


Thrill Seekers!

I wrote Thrill Seekers a long time ago now as part of my Masters degree in Creative Writing. It was created from the stories I needed to get out of my head, the ones that wouldn’t let me sleep at night until I got them out and onto the page.

In 2012, Thrill Seekers was shortlisted for a prestigious New Writing Award alongside such well-known writers as Favel Parrett and Anna Funder. I was just a little bit excited!

Favel Parrett and Edwina Shaw at NSW Literary awards
Moment of award being announced

Thrill Seekers is dedicated to my brother Matthew and his courage and resilience battling adolescent onset schizophrenia. My aim was to keep his memory and essence alive and in the world.

Then just a couple of weeks ago, following Thrill Seekers release as a new imprint by Ransom Publishing in 2019, a fresh review turned up. By someone who really “got it”. And I felt almost as thrilled as when I first heard I’d been shortlisted. Although then, I may have spent a few hours weeping and whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Thrill Seekers was reviewed in Paper Lanterns – a literary journal for all things to do with Teen and YA Literature by Luke Power, who’s my new favourite reviewer because he said great things like this:

Thrill Seekers is a good novel. It isn’t a nice novel, and it certainly isn’t a fun novel, but it’s the kind of novel that grabs you by the front of your coat and shakes you around a bit before dropping you just as suddenly….

Not for the faint of heart and certainly not for the squeamish, Thrill Seekers is a bloody, harrowing, all-Australian tale which is well worth grappling with.” Luke Power


Enough showing off for me!

If you’d like a copy you can buy it directly from me. Only if you live in Australia though sorry.

Outside Australia you can buy it HERE.

Thrill Seekers
Thrill Seekers original cover

Which cover do you like best? The new one is very snazzy but I’ve got a soft spot for the original because the young man in the image looks uncannily like my brother. Even down to his favourite shirt. It was kind of spooky when I first saw it.

Do let me know if you’ve read Thrill Seekers. It’s a writer’s greatest joy hearing from readers.

With lots of love

Edwina xx