11 Most Common Mistakes of Novice Screenwriters
About 50,000 scripts are registered with the WGA every year. 90% of them are never read in full by script readers who are pretty over-worked. For a script to make it through (about 10% of them do), there are certain things readers want to see, and definitely things they don’t want to see. Avoiding these 11 errors might just land you in that 10%.
Not Developing Your Main Character Correctly
Here’s the deal on this one. Your character has to be clear and cannot change throughout the script. And the stakes for your main character have to be really high. Otherwise, the story is not worthy of feature-length film. And, if your character changes during the script, then the whole point of view changes.
Problems with the main character usually occur because writers start writing before they have the entire story figured out. Then they try to make the main character fit into the plot as it develops – not a good idea.
There has to be that inciting incident or conflict and then the following structural components – the initial turning point, the mid-point, a second turning point, and then the climax and resolution. You have to think of your script writing as a project. As with any project, you break it down into smaller parts, and each of the components should be one of these smaller parts, written sequentially, not randomly. If you fail to follow this procedure, even though you have a great outline and story board in place, you run the risk of losing continuity and your story loses its “tightness.”
Scripts should be approximately 90 – 140 pages. Scripts that are too short tend to have left out or truncated of left-out scenes, or scenes are far too long. Scripts that are too short or too long usually have structural problems as described above.
Script readers are highly skilled in grammar, composition, punctuation and spelling. No one will care about a few typos in a script that is clearly “killer.” However, consistently poor sentence structure, grammar and punctuation irritates a reader who is now focusing on your poor writing skills as opposed to the story.
We all get inspiration for our plots and characters from a variety of places. Often a character may be somewhat autobiographical or combinations of people from our own life experiences. But falling in love with a character from your favorite sitcom and attempting to re-create that character (even with minor variations) won’t fool the reader or an audience. In fact, the script will never come before an audience if you do this.
Readers expect that when a script is submitted it will follow the standard and expected format. If you have any questions or misgivings about your format, check with someone who knows or do your research.
Dialogue that is Filled with Clichés
If you find that your dialogue has too many overworked expressions and phrases, and cannot think of clever alternatives, then highlight those dialogue spots and move forward with your writing. You can come back to them later after you have had some time to think and come up with something else. Never submit a script with clichés.
Too Much Character and Scene Description
Stop with the height, weight, hair color, dress, and so forth. A script reader can easily fill that in for him/herself. Keep your description to a phrase or two at the most.
Your opening scene should be a big “hook” for the reader. Be more unconventional and unique. You might consider starting the opening scene in the middle of a dialogue rather than at the beginning. Let the reader be intrigued for a while.
Characters Telling Rather Than Showing
Believable characters are not on stage or in films talking about their feelings and emotions. They are showing them through their conversations, their tones, and their behaviors. Having them talk about them is boring, boring, boring!
Plot Not Tight Enough
Sometimes this is also called “fudging.” If every issues is not resolved by the end, a writer may just gloss over a skipped one, hoping that no one will notice. They will notice. The plot must introduce every conflict or problem, develop them throughout and resolve them in the end.
Of course, there are many more errors that one could make as a screenwriter. These eleven seem to be the most common complaints of readers, however, so evaluate any script your write by using these as your first checklist.