Are You The Kind Of Screenplay Reader Screenwriters Love (or Hate)?

There are script notes and there are script notes in the screenwriting world. The same goes for the people that write them. Few appreciate the difficulty of deep story analysis.

Screenplays contain elements of mythology, sociology and anthropology. They help define what makes us human.

What kind of script reader are you?

When a story is written, the screenwriter believes they have something to express about humanity. A good story analyst should bear these minds and critique a script in terms of these structures.  Here are some types of script analysts to avoid:


These analysts dissect the quality of a story based on its ability to precisely mimic real life. Stories are an elevated form of real life, with the mundane aspects removed. So comments like “as if they could away with that” do not make a script bad. A good script analyst will acknowledge the events may be far-fetched, there may be too many co-incidences, or the logic may be skewed (e.g a character with a sprained ankle running away from a crime scene) are more helpful comments. Although it’s impossible to avoid injecting personal preferences into a critique, more objective comments will give the writer something to think about. Blunt, absolute and definitive statements like “as if they could get away with that” will likely cause the writer to ignore the note.


A good story analyst will not cloud their critique with personal value moral judgements. Comments like “all men cheat on their wives eventually” so a story which doesn’t fulfil this belief is not a helpful comment. Your job as a script analyst is to see if the writer has created a balanced story which explores the pros and cons of the theme.


It’s also important to avoid script analysts who regurgitate swathes of text from screenwriting books. This demonstrates they know how to cut and paste rather than have any useful insight into your story.


These script analysts rewrite your story according to their tastes. They often insist they’ve made an improvement when all they’ve done is rewritten the story. It’s your story. Keep it. Own it.


These are the insipid script analysts who make soporific, bland and generalized platitudes on your story. Comments such as “I loved that guy. He was funny” are a waste of time. They don’t really know what they thought of the story and certainly don’t offer suggestions on how to improve the next screenplay.


These are structure Nazis who toss out your screenplay if your inciting incident didn’t occur on page 10 or the first act was longer than 30 pages. While page counts act as a guide on to where your story beats should fit into a timeline, they are not law.


These are the analysts who write two pages of notes on your log line and, despite several reads, you don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. They probably don’t either.


These are the analysts who skim through a script and think they’ve understood it in a single pass. They often make notes such as suggesting additions that are already in the script. Or they’ll comment on a perceived or suggested plot line that doesn’t exist.


These are the script analysts that missed the screenwriter’s point. They didn’t get the sarcasm, metaphor or undertow of the story and took it at face value.


These are the analysts that start writing their notes before they’ve read the complete script. They often read the first few pages, then skim through the middle and read read a few pages at the end. Their notes often don’t make sense and display similarities to ramblers. However, screenwriters should take note that their writing perhaps wasn’t strong enough to sustain the reader’s interest.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert says:

    I like to think that I gravitate towards posts of yours like this one because I need to learn about the process of analysis to be a better writer. Truth is I garnish a small bit of glee out of reading critiques of critics. Since coverage doesn’t involve rebuttal, I’ve learned to take what I can from any analysis and move on. Over the years I’ve found that even the worst skim coverage from an imaginer may contain something of value, and as I’ve incorporated their comments my scripts have gotten better.

    I enjoyed your thoughts about skimmers making suggestions that are already in the script. I once had a reader wax on at length that the dialog of a character was not “racially correct” and was “written in the remove.” The latter comment reflected the reader’s knowledge of my nationality. Not only did they get the race wrong for the character, the reader themselves was not that race either. I guess it was critiqued in the remove.

    Hijacking has always bothered me. Not that I’m against changing a script. Just understand this piece before you go about altering it. Maybe there is a reason something happens the way it does. When I look at a painting I don’t ask, “Why did the artists paint that?”

    You were spot on about literalists. When I read “that could never happen,” I think about movies in which an alien attack is thwarted by a mothballed battleship, climbing into John Malkovich’s head, or the number of technical errors associated with any movie involving space. It’s about entertainment. Unfortunately, reality can be at times boring. So a character ran a little too fast after spraining their ankle. Does anyone want to watch them eat up valuable screen time hobbling slowly to get to the same place? A lot of characters do pretty well after being shot. Now I’ve never been shot before, and I would bet it hurts a lot. But if everyone who was shot on screen acted realistically, they would likely quite what they were doing, dial 911, and then attempt to apply some sort of pressure to the wound. Where’s the entertainment in that?

    Ultimately it comes down to entertainment which is why I still seek review from nonprofessional readers. They’re just looking to enjoy a piece. I think the widespread notion that most scripts are poor coupled with a process that rewards the evaluation of volume over the discovery of quality leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can’t help but think that most professional readers set out thinking “let me find out how this piece stinks.”

    I think finding a good script should be like mining for gold. You don’t get credit for how much dirt you move.

  2. Dorian Cole says:

    Good list. And then there is the analyst that compares the script to everything ever written. Works stand on their own because they will generally be viewed by a new generation.

    Analysts should tell the writer:

    o What they did well, so they know and don’t change it. Praise is important.
    o What isn’t working, and why.
    o What they could do to improve the story. Writers should be encouraged to take it to the next level, so they improve as writers and make their story more competitive.
    o Reply to specific questions, if possible.
    o Rating the script and elements on a 5 scale can be helpful, or it can be demoralizing. Use judiciously.

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