The most common mistake screewriters make is writing too soon before they’ve figured out their stories. That’s right. You can doodle. You can outline. But don’t start writing your screenplay until you’ve tightened your story. Work out what it is and what it isn’t.
Of the 50,000 odd scripts that get registered with WGA each year, over 90% suffer from these mistakes. Make sure your film script rises to the top 10% so it can be noticed by those who matter.
Here are some DO NOT DOs so you can become a lean, mean screenwriting machine:
- The story goes off in irrelevant tangents and the reader has no idea where they are in the story. This is often a problem of not outlining properly, or the writer hasn’t defined their story tightly enough. Subplots and story strands work, but random story threads in all directions do not.
- The main character either isn’t clear or changes during the movie script. This means that the story point of view changes. This confuses the reader and often occurs when screenwriters begin writing before they’ve figured out their story. The story can explore both the protagonist’s and antagonist’s points of view, but the overall story needs one predominant point of view.
- Writers churn out 30 pages of spine-tingling movie script then hit a wall and call it writers’ block. It’s fine if you have an insatiable desire to start typing random scenes to get your creative juices flowing, but realize that many of those scenes won’t end up in your final script.
- Scripts are either too long (over 130 pages) or too short (under 80 pages). Often these movie scripts suffer structural problems of lengthy, truncated or missing scenes. There is either too much or too little story.
- Unclear or inconsistent structure. Ensure there is a clear inciting incident, first turning point, mid point, second turning point, climax and resolution in your script. There is some leeway in when we these points occur, depending on your creative choices.
- Derivative storytelling and no uniqueness in the screenwriter’s voice. Don’t emulate. Create. Be individual but not outlandish. Understand the parameters and needs the film industry.
- All the characters sound the same. Often they speak just like the writer. A group of people from a similar demographic might speak the same, but a politician will sound different to a punk or an baby.
- Choice of concept. This one gets me all the time. When people pitch projects to me, I’ll ask why did they chose their topic to write about. Often the answer is a personal experience or the writer thought it was a good idea at the time. Make sure you concept means something to a potential audience.
- Undefined or finite audience. Film is a form of mass communication, so an audience the size of your immediate immediately family and friends won’t cut it.
- Prosaic screenplays. Movie scripts are are highly stylized documents whose emotional responses are different to novels. Brevity is key here. Use a few cherry-picked, high-powered, emotionally charged words.
- Flat opening scene, or powerhouse opening scene that quickly tapers off. You’ll lose your audience pretty early on. Hook your audience in the opening scene and keep them hooked throughout the entire movie.
- Episodic scripts. A sequence of events without any consequence to the main character. They just do stuff without necessarily driving the story.
- Stakes are not high enough for the main character. Not even a high concept can mask this one. Ensure your concept is big enough to warrant the big screen treatment.
- Unclear or too many genres. This can be due to a variety of of factors. The screenwriter started writing in one genre and finished in another, the writer doesn’t fully understand genre conventions they’re writing in, or there is a hybrid of too many genres without a single clear genre.
Let your screenwriting rise to a whole new level by making sure you never make these mistakes.
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