RSS icon Home icon
LinkedIn Twitter Facebook

  • 50 Shades of an Amateur Screenwriter

    September 24th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    There are probably hundreds of signs that the writer of that script I’m screaming at is an amateur. But today, I’d like to give a mere 50. Most of these may seem like common sense, yet you’d be amazed at the sheer number of projects plagued with these issues. Some of them may make you worry about your own work. But hey, at least you’ll know for next time and you’ll be one step closer to making sure your work is at the highest of professional standards.

    The following is in NO particular order and covers a broad range of script issues.

    1. Writing CUT TOs, FADE TOs, FADE OUTs, or any other Transitions between every scene.
    2. Telling us instead of Showing us.
    3. Description is in past tense instead of present tense and does not use the active form of the verb. For example, John drives – not John is driving. Danny stands – not is standing. Limit –ING verbs.
    4. Not using pronouns or articles in your sentences. THE room, HIS dog, HER chair. You don’t walk into room – you walk into THE room or A room. I know less words is a good thing, but this is horribly distracting when the reader has to fill in the word.
    5. Having wordy description paragraphs longer than 4 lines on a page without a line break.
    6. Not CAPITALIZING your characters names the first time we meet them in your description. Also, capitalizing characters names every time they are seen or mentioned (Not the case in TV).
    7. Capitalizing every single noun and/or verb in your description.
    8. Not having a new scene heading for every new location or writing things in your scene heading other than the location, time of day and relation to the previous scene.
    9. Your description tells us exactly what your characters are thinking or are about to discuss in dialogue, or tells us backstory the audience cannot see.
    10. The script is written in Microsoft Word, Notepad or Celtx. I know Celtx is free – but no one working in Hollywood uses it or even knows what it is.
    11. Not knowing the difference between a Montage and a Series of Shots. A Montage condenses numerous scenes, locations and the passage of time while progressing plot and character arcs. A series of shots is a visual style to show many different actions or specific visuals all from one scene or a short time span.
    12. Having Camera Direction in your description (“we see”, “shot of”, “camera pans” etc)
    13. Writing parentheses before dialogue on every page explaining the emotion or how the line should be said.
    14. You are not using “Intercut With” when going back and forth between two scenes instead of restating the scene heading each time.
    15. Lengthy location descriptions or too much production design – we don’t care what color the couch is.
    16. Use of Voice Over to tell us things you could express though action and dialogue.
    17. All conversations start with “hello” or “how are you” and scenes end with “goodbye, goodnight or talk to you later.” Or if dialogue is full of conversational niceties – thank you, please, your welcome, etc.
    18. The scenes lack dynamics – no conflict or tension or build or emotion.
    19. Story is missing the meat – there are planning and reflection scenes instead of execution scenes.
    20. The subplots are not tracked or seen for more than 15 pages.
    21. A kitchen sink script where everything is thrown in to make it seem more commercial and original.
    22. Scenes have no emotional goal.
    23. There is a lack of emotional/reflective reactions and moments for characters.
    24. Introducing more than 3 characters in 1 paragraph – each should preferably have their own paragraph so they don’t blend together.
    25. Using incorrect margins on the page – having too much or too little white space around the edges. Also, incorrect font, spacing, or type set.
    26. You use dreams and flashbacks interchangeably. Flashbacks are events that actually happened seen through a character’s POV. Dreams are subconscious and uncontrollable thoughts that happen while sleeping.
    27. Not giving us your main character’s LAST NAMES and AGES when introducing them.
    28. Using music – specific songs and artists – in your scenes or writing a scene to a specific song. What do the Beatles, Bowie, Beach Boys, Bon Jovi and Bon Iver all have in common? Their songs will add MILLIONS to your budget.
    29. Your main character feels like they were born on page 1.
    30. There’s nothing on the line – no STAKES – in the first scene.
    31. It isn’t clear where and when your story takes place.
    32. Your only antagonist is an emotion or a personal demon.
    33. The most commercial moments are not exploited and the dialogue, SFX and VFX don’t POP on the page.
    34. There is no time clock of any kind in your story.
    35. Your subplots and B stories are not resolved or connect to your main storyline.
    36. You are lacking in Set Up, Execution, or Payoff.
    37. Your scenes do not evoke any emotion from the reader.
    38. You don’t know how to use dialogue, actions, settings or set ups to create great smooth transitions between scenes.
    39. Your scene goes on 1-2 lines too long and doesn’t end on the most powerful or interesting moment or dialogue.
    40. You don’t know the difference between VO, OS, and OC or when to use each one.
    41. The dialogue is slight, Q&A, isn’t genuine to the characters or lacks subtext and is all very on the nose.
    42. You think a theme and a message is the same thing.
    43. Your first scene and first 10 pages don’t grab me.
    44. Your protagonist is passive and/or isn’t present in your climax.
    45. You write a comedic scene just to hit one joke or one visual gag.
    46. You think when you finish your 3rd draft, you’re done and it’s ready to be submitted to agents, producers, actors or contests. It’s not.
    47. Your story is not driven by conflict and doesn’t contain an internal, external, mental, physical and emotional conflict.
    48. You think the only difference between you and an A-list screenwriter is an agent.
    49. The first words out of your mouth when you meet someone are “I’ve written this script…”
    50. You think you can break all of these aforementioned rules and mistakes and people will still want to read your script and you’ll still be able to break in because Tarantino did it.


©2010 No BullScript Consulting - All Rights Reserved     Powered by Discreet