"Space opera" was originally a term of derision for pulp science fiction plots. Now it simply refers to any deep space fantasy from "Star Wars" to "Alien" (the original "Alien," not the earth bound Alien v. Predator series). If you have a yen to explore space in your imagination, why not launch your own space opera screenplay?
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Sketch out your vision of your deep space setting. Do you want to focus on space travel or encounter aliens and alien worlds? Do you want to dazzle with technology or focus on things gone wrong? You don't have to have a lot of detail, but at least try to picture your setting and the characters that will populate it.
Distill your idea to a single sentence synopsis: "Deep space explorers meet their dopplegangers," "Stoners screw up an intergalactic garbage ship," "Alien spores infect outer space colony." Beginning writers often think this is a waste of time, but it actually focuses your thinking. You may change your synopsis to something better as you write, but you have a road map to begin your journey.
Imagine your target audience. Do you want to make a movie for teens (who love special effects, explosions and cheap laughs) or adults (who prefer dramatic tension and well-built plots)? Believe it or not, picturing your audience will not only influence the directions you take with your screen play, but make your movie easier to pitch should you decide to market it.
Develop your characters. Typical space opera characters include male and female leads who experience romantic or sexual tension, single minded leaders who could undermine the mission, the space jock who mindlessly kills anything that moves, the scientist with a hidden evil agenda, androids and, of course, aliens. Your characters need to be consistent from scene to scene, so write at least a page of biography with back story, motivation, subconscious fears.
Outline your movie to resolve problems that might lead to extensive rewrites. Movies typically have three acts and space operas are no exception. The three acts typically involve the explorer's first encounter with the problem (alien eggs, computer going crazy), discovering the problem is worse than they thought (the alien eggs carried a lethal fungus) and finally resolving the problem (nuking the alien with the ship's core). Look for at least one plot twist to throw your audience off guard (the team leader is an alien himself).
Write your script. If you find you need to change your outline, that's okay; writing is a process. Make sure you follow screenplay format, which will produce about a minute per page. In movies time is everything, and space operas tend to run 100 to 120 minutes.
Revise your draft carefully, at least if you intend to market it. Read it out loud so you can listen for problems in characterization and dialogue.
Tips and warnings
- Watch other as many space operas as you can, from the popular Star Wars, Star Trek and Aliens series to classics such as "Forbidden Planet" and independent spoofs like "Dark Star".
- Each scene in your movie should have a purpose and the dialogue and action should serve that purpose.
- If you're serious about screenwriting, take a class with your local writers' guild or community college. Find a group of screenwriters to workshop and comment on your script.
- Don't invest in expensive screenplay writing and formatting software until you know you can write a screenplay. Software can't make a good script or a script good.
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