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How NOT To Write A Screenplay: Top 5 Bug Bears In A Script

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriting Tips/Hacks
October 24, 2010 1 comment
how not to write a screenplay

You may have read the book of micro script tips called “How Not To Write A Screenplay” by Denny Martin Flinn… (It’s full of some great screenwriting advice so you should check it out if you haven’t already. ) Anyway, we just wanted to thank him for giving us the idea (and title) of this post.

Having read a lot of scripts over the years, we’re pretty good at spotting the bad screenplays. Quickly. And in this post we’re going to list our Top 5 script tips on what to avoid in your screenplay. i.e. how not to write a screenplay.

Basically, it’s all there from the get-go. On page one. A reader knows within the first page — heck the first few lines — whether someone can write.

But, as far as story goes, you really, really need to be captivating the reader by the end of Act One.

Below are our top ten indicators a script is heading for a “Pass” rather than a “Recommend.” To be avoided at all costs.

1. Meandering Plot

Practically all screenwriting advice recommends introducing the protagonist and their world in the first act.

Great.

But in many spec scripts the protagonist doesn’t actually do anything of significance. They’re not active but re-active—responding (sometimes) to events rather than causing them.

Often this continues well past page 25, by which time any production company or studio reader will have long since given up.

2. Chatty Scenes

A problem related to the above is the inclusion of unnecessary scenes.

Characters meet, chat and part with little or no development to the story.

Nothing changes within the scene which causes the next scene, meaning it’s essentially been a waste of two pages.

3. Too Much Scene Description

So, a reader opens your script and straight away sees… big chunks of scene description, four, five, six lines long.

Upon closer inspection it’s revealed the writing is bland, clichéd, confusing, drifts in and out the present tense and contains embedded information.

Even if your script contains only one of these elements, get rid of it!

4. Waaaaaay To Much Dialogue

As with excessive scene description, over-writing dialogue is another massive bug bear for readers.

When we open a script to see long passages of dialogue, (and by long we mean anything over 3 lines) we literally shudder. And yes, we know The Social Network screenplay opens with about 10 pages of dialogue, but it was written by AARON SORKIN.

Furthermore, clichéd, “on the nose” dialogue with no subtext is an immediate indicator the writer’s probably not going to deliver an outstanding script.

As soon as we hear sentences that start with things like “I feel…” or “Remember when…” we know the writer is probably still a long way off perfecting their craft.

5. Crazy Formatting / Grammar

You may be tired of hearing this because essentially it’s all about the story, right?

But the truth is, nothing turns a reader off more than incorrectly formatted sluglines and typos.

It just shows a lack of craft and sloppy workmanship. Grab a copy of The Screenwriter’s Bible and a good dictionary and refer back to them constantly.

So, there you have it — the 5 most common signs of bad screenplays and how not to write a screenplay in 5 easy steps.

Keep these script tips in mind and you’ll automatically place yourself in the top rather than bottom half of aspiring screenwriters.

1 Comment
  1. Katrina Roscoe says:

    I’m ashamed to say I was doing 4 out of these 5 :/

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