Addressing Red Flags In Your Story


Jenna Avery from Script Magazine says that if you sense something is amiss in your screenplay, don’t ignore, because a reader will notice it and won’t be as forgiving. If certain elements aren’t working, flag them and fix them. All parts in your screenplay are dispensable. If a scene is too cliched, change it.

Those “nagging” bits, dialogue that feels off, structural choices that aren’t working, poor character introductions are nuggets of wisdom from your inner writer, letting you know when you’re off track. Honor your doubts and act on them.

Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU says: “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a writer say they sent out a script that they ‘suspected wasn’t ready‘ or they’ll say something like ‘I knew I should have changed that ending’ after their script is turned down.”

He finds that some writers lack a proper methodology to elevate their work. “That’s not a solid process to base a career upon. It will be a consistent source of disappointment and likely have a person give up at some point — often just inches away from success.” Very few screenplays are an unholy mess unless the writer has handed you their scratchpad with all their ideas, loosely fashioned into a screenplay.

It seems this all-too-common practice of ignoring the parts of our screenplays that need work comes about as a combination of ignoring our inner wisdom, being overly attached to our early drafts, and clinging to a fundamental resistance to just doing the hard work.

Steven Pressfield, the seminal author on the concept of resistance, says in his book Turning Pro, “The professional knows when he has fallen short of his own standards.”

As Croasmun says, “An easy way to think about this is to have three different stages of completeness for your script — A satisfying draft, a contest draft, and a producer’s draft. The satisfying draft is where you’ve finished the story to your taste and love how it is told. The contest draft is one where you do a lot of editing to make sure it reads well for someone outside of you. And for a producer’s draft — the script isn’t finished until everything (structure, plot, character, situations, etc.) is the absolute best it can be. If you are committed to that, you’ll have real success in this industry.”

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