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Your Spec Script Won’t Sell Without This Factor


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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriting Tips/Hacks
May 15, 2012 3 comments
spec script

If we had to name the biggest single factor why a spec script fails to engage the reader, there’s one thing that probably stands head and shoulders over the rest — a lack of STAKES.

A spec script’s stakes (or lack of them) is probably the main difference between spec scripts and a professional screenplays.

  • Stakes in the overall concept.
  • Stakes in the character’s goal.
  • Stakes in the character’s lives.
  • Stakes in the scene.
  • Stakes in the dialogue. 

Without stakes — i.e. the reader at that agency, manager’s office, or production company, caring about consequences — a spec screenplay is always going to struggle to engage the reader.

And the stakes don’t always have to be “the end of the world is coming,” “A killer is on the loose,” or “The love of my life is getting married.” They can be much smaller. But they have to be there. 

A Spec Script Without A Big High Concept Still Needs Big Stakes

The Duplass brothers’ film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is a small film without a mind blowing high-concept, and yet the whole movie is permeated by stakes:

  • Jeff is an unhappy 30 year-old who lives in his mother’s basement, with no real direction and has a weird belief in “signs.” The stakes are his life. Will he sort it out?
  • Jeff’s Mom has been eternally single after the death of her husband, works in a boring office, has little self-esteem and frets over Jeff. The stakes are her happiness. Will she find it with someone else?
  • Jeff’s brother is a jerk but doesn’t realize it; so much so that he’s possibly pushed his wife into the arms of another man. The stakes are his marriage. Will he save it?

In all of the above, we care what happens to these characters because their situations and emotions are real and something we can all identify with.

In EVERY SINGLE SCENE, the stakes are apparent for each character and pushes them nearer or further away from their goal.

Now Take A Look At Your Spec Script…

Does every main character have stakes attached to their goal?

Are these stakes to do with death, either literally or figuratively?

Does each scene focus on each character’s stakes?

If not, make sure they do and you’re well on the way to writing yourself a rocking spec script and becoming a rocking spec writer.


Do your spec scripts with small concepts still contain big stakes? 

To get the stakes as high as possible in your spec screenplay, why not give our script coverage services a go? We’re one of the few script consultancies out there to have actual working Hollywood screenwriters as readers. No interns. No readers with with one or two years experience. No readers who’ve never sold a script or had one produced. We look forward to working with you! 


We'll also send you the very best screenwriting tips, hacks and special offers on the web.