A scriptwriter is a person who writes the script for a film or television show; his or her main responsibilities is to tell a story in a quick and clear way while still developing characters and setting. A scriptwriter must have a solid command of the language in which he or she primarily writes, as well as knowledge and understanding of plot structure, film and television show structure, and the editing process. Sometimes a scriptwriter is responsible for adapting a book into a film script, essentially cutting the book down to its essential elements so that it may be presented on screen.
Scripts are documents that present a story meant to be filmed, which means a script requires less physical description. The scriptwriter will, however, need to include stage directions as well as brief character descriptions so the plot and character development are clear. A good scriptwriter will propel the plot forward quickly and logically; one scripted page equals about one minute of screen time, so the writing of the script must be concise. It is likely that a script will go through numerous edits, both for time constraints and content, and the scriptwriter will be responsible for making often significant changes to the script while preserving the story and the flow of the plot.
Sometimes a scriptwriter will be responsible for selling the script to a studio as well. Freelance scriptwriters often do this so they can secure work in the future, though many scriptwriters are hired by studios to write scripts for shows and movies already conceptualized. Freelance scriptwriters can write for more than one studio in many cases, and he or she can work on several projects at a time.
While a scriptwriter does not necessarily need a college degree, earning a degree in writing — even a specific degree in screenwriting — can help the writer develop the skills necessary to become successful in the profession. It can also provide potential employers with a gauge as to how experienced and prepared the writer will be for complex script tasks and multiple projects. The writer will, at the very least, need to have a solid grasp on language, elements of plot, script structure, and editing and revising skills.
In some cases, scriptwriters may be responsible for working on an existing script written by someone else. They are tasked with improving the script and making it ready for filming. This is sometimes called acting as a script doctor, or one who alters a script in draft form.