Screenwriting: Write Your First Draft Fast

Begin with a movie idea or a script you're revising; conclude with professional-level pages ready for producers and contests. Learn story structure, characterization, script format, and how to create beat sheets, the one-page synopsis, loglines, and pitches. Option 1 includes feedback on your first 20 pages; Option 2 includes all Option 1 content and feedback, a critique of your finished draft, and advice on marketing and networking.

At a glance

What: Screenwriting: Write Your First Draft Fast

When: Start anytime, complete within 1 year

Where: Online

Cost: Option 1: 3.0 CEUs, $275 | Option 2: 9.0 CEUs, $495

Continuing education credit: 30 hours (3.0 CEUs)

Instructor: Christine DeSmet

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For additional information, contact Christine DeSmet: 608-262-3447

FADE IN... Write a screenplay that gets noticed!

A unique, one-on-one mentoring course that gets your script written—all the way to the FADE OUT. Really.

Two kinds of writers love this course:

  • You're writing your first script and you're lost and could use some hand-holding.
  • You're frustrated by several tries at a screenplay but can't get it written, and workshops and books aren't helping.

You can choose from two levels: the Basic Level gives you all the materials and exercises, and the instructor coaches you through the first 20 pages of your screenplay. Or go for it all at the Pro level and write your entire script — idea stage to the "FADE OUT" — with Christine by your side via email.

Christine takes you from the idea stage to your final page, holding your hand but never talking down to you. There's no fluff in this course; just the techniques to get you there with savvy advice to help you stay away from potholes on the journey to a great script.

We avoid "formula" speed-writing. "Formula" marathons for writing often yield an unsatisfying script. Start anytime; work at your pace; email your instructor anytime. No deadlines.

Special benefits of this course

Both levels give you a professional screenwriting mentor who won’t disappear after you finish the workshop. Create dynamic stories all the way to FADE OUT. Also, at the Pro Level, because your instructor believes so strongly in the power of revisions and polishing, she has included a critique of not only your first draft but also of your revision of that draft.

Writers finishing this course have optioned a screenplay (both original and adapted from novels), made it to the semi-finals of the prestigious Nicholl's Fellowship Contest, earned top honors in the Page International Contest, and earned a film festival public reading with a first screenplay.

What we cover in this course

  1. Making a script effective from the start
  2. Developing story structure
  3. Deepening characterization
  4. Enriching scenes
  5. Discovering the secrets of middles
  6. Finding endings with fast finish techniques

The instructor also makes sure your format is professional.


Each unit includes suggestions for reading, online handouts, and fun, meaningful writing assignments. In addition, you'll be encouraged to try a few pages on your own screenplay each week. Nothing too strenuous, but look how much you'll accomplish in only 6 units!

Unit 1: What makes a script successful or saleable?

  • How do I start it effectively?
  • Concepts and Character: How do I know my idea is worthy of a whole tale for the screen?
  • What is the core of "Story"?
  • The issue of Marketability vs Creativity
  • Key ingredients for great screenplays
  • Plotting for Power: What comes first
  • Handouts
  • Assignments include: Write page 1 – your most important page

Unit 2: Story Structure

  • Laying out a story. Three acts, four acts, and more
  • Story questions and story spine
  • Character and structure merge and become promises of action and more
  • Turning points, character arcs, and more refinements that make a story move forward
  • Handouts
  • Write pages 1-10

Unit 3: Characterization

  • Traits. Trouble. Triumph.
  • Attitude. Angst. Abilities.
  • What do we need to know about our characters?
  • Setting up motivations for payoffs
  • Handouts
  • Write pages 10-15

Unit 4: Scene Work

  • Every script needs tension or suspense and it's each scene that develops that for you
  • How to "power up" your scenes
  • At least 3 types of scenes good screenplays tend to have
  • Dialogue tips for enriching scenes
  • Handouts
  • Write pages 15-25

Unit 5: Midpoints and Muddling Problems

  • Subplots. To use them or not? How many? Why?
  • Secondary characters and their functions
  • Why middles go flat and what savvy screenwriters know about them
  • Handouts.
  • Write pages 25-30

Unit 6: Fast Finish

  • How screenwriters write when they don't know a lot of stuff yet
  • Tricks of the trade. Fast doesn't mean to rush it.
  • Traps to avoid. The truth of logic and credibility.
  • Endings need to accomplish at least 3 things
  • Push through to the finish — remember that pioneers don't turn back. They take the next step. So will you.
  • Marketing tips
  • Handouts
  • Writing until the "FADE OUT"

How the course works

You can start our workshops anytime, and there are no required hours to log on. It's all done with one-on-one correspondence with the instructor using email. You can read and print course materials in the course Web site, which you can access at your leisure with a password that we will give you. We have writers from around the world participating in our workshops, and we have success stories. A lot of great writing gets accomplished via email. Because of the one-on-one nature of our workshops, you'll find them an excellent "coaching" or mentoring situation that will keep you going. And if you want to just work on your own — hey, that's fine too. Of course you can do the suggested exercises on your own without the feedback if you'd rather do that. We're also here throughout the year if you have questions. Work at your own pace and take up to a year to finish.

Review the current technical requirements for students in Learn@UW online courses.

Contact: For more information about Screenwriting: Write Your First Draft Fast, contact Christine DeSmet at or call 608-262-3447.