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How I Wrote a Screenplay in 30 Days: Part 1

The Hardest Part: Starting

Download a copy of the screenplay, A Girl Named Trouble.

Warning: This is a crime thriller, so expect foul language, violence, drug use and a double-cross or two. Imagine “L.A. Confidential” meets “2 Guns. “

This is the first in a series of blog posts about how I wrote the screenplay “A Girl Named Trouble.” This peek behind the curtain should be beneficial to anyone interested in screenwriting, but I also think it will have appeal for anyone interested in storytelling. In this series, I’m going to share my process for creating it and why it came together so fast. Writers have different processes for writing. This is my experience writing this screenplay.

But before we go any further, I would like to be very upfront about this: I write extremely fast. The final count is almost 18,000 words, rewritten at least 20 times. The final lift is 106 pages. I worked on it at least six hours a day, seven days a week. So you do the math on how long it would take you to write something similar.

I suggest you begin by downloading the screenplay using the link above. Throughout the journey, I will reference different scenes and elements. Oh, and there will be spoilers in every article.

Commit to the Work

Before I start any screenplay (this is my third), I stare off into space and enjoy the peaceful emptiness of not having the story in my head. I am obsessive/compulsive when it comes to writing. Great, if I’m working on your advertising campaign. Less great for everything else in my life. I literally say the words out loud, “Are you really going to do this?” And then I procrastinate another hour… or a day.

Eventually, I come back with the answer, “Yes, begin.” At which point, I have signed off on this story occupying an inordinate amount of space in my mind for an undetermined amount of time, and I begin the process. And yes, I talk to myself more than I’d like to admit.

Finding Your Way Into the Story

About eight years ago, I wrote over 100 pages of backstory for this project and then shelved it because I didn’t see how to shape the story. The external goal was always going to be about chasing the bag of money, but the real story was a boy chasing a girl. Finally, it came to me a few months ago.

Film noir and crime thriller plots are sometimes tough to follow – with all the double-crosses, lies and mystery. So I wanted an extremely simple pattern for the relationship. People love romantic comedies, in part, because they’re so simple to follow. So the simplicity of rom-com beats, integrated into a hard-boiled crime thriller, was the solution for me.

Romantic Comedy Beats

In a classic rom-com, we’re waiting for one of the characters to grow up enough to realize the other person is perfect for them.

Rom-com beats go something like this:

  • A person is unhappy with life. Something is missing. They are unfulfilled. They are incomplete. Later, they find a person with the qualities needed to unlock their happiness.

  • The first time the two meet, something keeps them apart, or they reject each other.

  • By the end of Act One, a sexy complication forces them to stay together. These are literal or emotional handcuffs.

  • Act Two is all about complications. In the middle of Act Two, there needs to be a twist that turns both of them in a different direction.

  • Later in Act Two, one of them sees the other in a new light. There is hope that this person might be right for them.

  • By the end of Act Two, someone makes the wrong decision and all hope is lost. This is usually a misunderstanding or lie.

  • In the end, one of the two faces their fears, which fuels them getting together.

So this is how I applied rom-com beats to my story.

  • They’re both unfulfilled. Roman is small-time muscle. She’s a pro. He respects her. She has trust issues, but Roman will do anything for her.

  • They’re lashed together by the money, but from the moment they meet she rejects Roman.

  • The sexy complication is the fact that they’re forced to huddle together for hours in a mortuary oven. The story becomes more about saving their lives than the money.

  • Roman figures the only way to impress her is to steal the money. Now he’s not tagging along for the ride; he’s the center of attention.

  • She gives him hope by agreeing to go on one date with him for half the money.

  • We believe she betrays Roman.

  • Roman faces his inadequacies and goes to save the woman he loves.

The links below will take you to the subsequent posts.

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Part Eleven

Part Twelve

Part Thirteen


Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike.