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Research Guides

Eastern Washington University Libraries

Screenwriting

Guide to research for your plot and characters

Thought Process

In order to write a screenplay, you need to be an expert in your plot, as well as your characters. Thus you need to "do your homework" or conduct research about what you are writing, whether it's a historical bio-pic or a contemporary story. And by researching a diverse range of people, your characters will be more diverse (and not just several copies of yourself or your close friends and family). Delving in the research will not only make your screenplay more authentic and compelling, but also will spur your creativity. 

There is no such thing as too much research. Hopefully you will be sucked in to the sources you find, with one source leading you to others. But you don't want it to be an excuse to not writing your screenplay.

Go as Close to the Source as Possible

The most useful sources are going to be primary sources or first-person accounts: interviews, letters/diaries, photos or footage from the time period, etc. Are these sources objective? Quite the opposite. But the idea is to get as close to "in the head" of your characters.

The next most useful are nonfiction works grounded in research: historical works, sociological studies, etc., ideally written by researchers or possibly journalists, but that's not an absolute requirement. The less "academic" the text, the less objective and balanced the text will be. That doesn't make it a bad source, just a less balanced source. And the more "academic" texts tend to be, but not always, more dry. 

Need to brush up on a historical event, famous person, geographic area quickly? Try encyclopedia entries -- Wikipedia but also ones the library has purchased that have gone through a solid editorial process. Search the EWU Library Catalog and limit your results to the format Reference Entries. We have several hundred encyclopedias online.

Feature Film Examples

1950s Korea

  • I'd look for nonfiction books about the Korean War, but focused on Koreans. (I hope you can read Korean...)
  • I'd look for collections of letters or oral histories of Koreans alive then. (Ones in Summit in English are about 1 person rather than interviewing several. See Korean War, 1950-1953 -- Personal narratives, Korean)
  • I'd watch documentaries about the Korean War. One that does discuss Koreans (vs only Americans) is called Our Time in Hell, and of course our copy is "missing". Will need to request in Summit.

Medieval World-Building

  • How realistic we're you thinking of the story being? I would suggest picking a culture to be at least a model (Viking-like vs. feudal knights, etc.), then look for nonfiction books on that culture. (Or you could take pieces from this culture and that culture.) True primary sources will be limited to folklore (Viking Sagas) and a handful of medieval tales (Chaucer, Mallory, etc. for Europe).
  • I'd look for medieval art books, or art books for that time period.

1980s LGBT & HIV/AIDS

  • I would suggest focusing on one major city (SF, NYC, etc.).
  • I'd look for nonfiction books, oral histories, maybe newspaper accounts

Post Office

Mexican Immigrants

Pilgrims