How I Became a Screenwriter

How I Became a Screenwriter

Guest Post by Author, Writer, Professor, Editor, and Coach, Dr. Diana Stout

I’ve always been a rabid fan of movies, whether on the big screen or small. In the early 1990s, when the internet was new, I was looking for a writer’s online chat room. I fell into Professor Jack Stanley’s Scrnwrit chat room of 1,000 or more screenwriters.

I became a sponge, learning the language of Hollywood and screenwriting, read recommended books, learning the business behind the production of a film, what best writing tools to use, the best groups to join, where to download free scripts, how to use only two brads and not three, and learned about agents and producers.

I made friends for life from this group.

Because I wasn’t a fan of Scnwrit’s wild-west-like drama, having to plow through the antics to arrive at the wise words and instructional information, I became the founder and owner of the email group, Scribelink. At its height, we had 450 members: Hollywood screenwriters, script readers, beginning writers to advanced writers. From that group, today, there are about two dozen of us in a private Facebook group.

In 1995, I attended a screenwriting workshop in Honolulu, at the annual conference of Romance Writers of America, of all places. Screenwriter and producer, David Freeman, gave a multi-session workshop about building character diamonds.

Half a year later, in 1996, I attended Freeman’s Los Angeles weekend-long screenwriting workshop, and then later in the year attended the first annual Austin Heart of Film Festival in Texas at the Driskoll Hotel. I’ll never forget talking one-on-one with Christopher McQuarrie who just months earlier had won the Oscar for his Best Original Screenplay, The Usual Suspects.

Additionally, I got to listen to workshops and panels starring Randy Wallace of Braveheart, Pen Densham of Moll Flanders and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Bill Wittliff of Legends of the Fall, John Lee Hancock of The Alamo and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and others.

From that point on, I was smitten, in love, and obsessed with screenwriting.

By this time, I had traditionally published three romances but knew I wanted to write screenplays instead. I did with a passion unlike anything I’d known.

A few months after the Austin conference, I attended a screenwriting weekend workshop with Michael Hauge in Atlanta. I would never watch movies the same way again. In fact, I began watching them with a stopwatch, both at home and in the theatre. The plot points paradigm that Hauge had taught was there, rock-solid, in every movie.

From all three workshops, I had huge aha moments. My writing process changed dramatically, becoming stronger; I become a rabid plotter. Still am.

I wrote four screenplays in less than a year and entered them in big national contests.

All four became quarterfinalists, with one advancing to semi-finalist. Two made Writer’s Digest’s Top 100 contest in the Television/Movie Script division. And, now two have been published as books in screenplay format: Charlie’s Christmas Carole, a family holiday story with a magical reindeer; and, David and Goliath, a serial killer mystery set in New Orleans involving voodoo and nursery rhymes. Still Waters and Miss Mississippi were the other two scripts.

Once they were written, I started cold-calling Hollywood producers, pitching my finished scripts, and by 1997, I was working with half a dozen different producers who…

  1. were impressed that I was a published author,
  2. loved my writing and voice, and
  3. wanted to see everything and anything I was working on.

Another producer contacted me, wanted to read Miss Mississippi, and optioned it, then wanted to renew the option, but I said no. I didn’t see a future with his ideas. He’d call me every two years after that, asking what I’d done with the story. That told me I had a great story.

Sadly, even though I was making important connections, a life-changing event altered my life dramatically, and my creative writing was put on hold for 15 years. I have no regrets, because in the interim, I became a better writer.

Since 2016, I’ve published nearly twenty books as an indie publisher, and I’m returning to screenwriting again. I can’t wait to see what my future will become, and if by making my scripts available to readers, that some reader with Hollywood connections…

A girl can dream.

Diana Stout is a multi-genre award-winning writer and former English professor, Dr. Diana Stout has placed and won awards in screenwriting, playwriting, poetry, short and long fiction, and various non-fiction categories. She shares her expertise with other writers in presentations or online classes. Writing full-time, she’s an indie publisher through her company, Sharpened Pencils Productions. Today, she’s writing screenplays, novels, several blogs, and is a regular contributor to the award-winning Writers in the Storm blog. When not writing, she enjoys books, movies, feeding birds, and jigsaw puzzles.

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