// May 15th, 2017 // On Writing

once upon a time

New screenwriters beware! If you are not in Screenwriting 101 you better be reading successful, well written screenplays, and reading all the beginner screenwriting books you can find. I have to emphasize reading ‘well-written’ screenplays. Yes, it’s a crazy game out there and you’ll find some well-written screenplays that never hit the screen, and great movies with a poorly written (non standard) screenplay.

Why is this? Well, the successful film with a poorly written (as in the technical aspects of screenplay format) is not necessarily a bad script. Sometimes it is not ‘industry standard’ so-to-speak, as the writer is the director, the director is the writer, and/or the writer and director have ‘their way’ of doing things, etc.

How to Write a Script 10 Mistakes to Avoid

As a neophyte screenwriter, follow the screenwriting format rules first – then, if you need to – break them!

Here are ten mistakes to avoid when writing your screenplay.

1. Too much ‘black’
2. Lack of Structure
3. Characters that sound the same
4. Camera shots
5. Incorrect Font
6. Show don’t tell
7. Page Count
8. Long scenes
9. Voice Overs
10. Writing about a writer

Check the list. If you are a novelist, you are prone to Mistake #1. If you are not an educated screenwriter, you probably lack structure. If you are not a seasoned writer – all your characters probably sound exactly the same.

And that’s why your scripts need to be read with honest feedback and criticism before getting them in the mail.

1. Too much ‘black’

Prose is not the name of the game. If you look at a page of script and it is filled with ‘black ink’ you are writing too much description – like a book or novel. Cut it down to one or two sentences per action/description, and break it up into shorter descriptions with dialogue! If your first few pages are ‘black’ the chances the reader will put it aside are high! Get into the story as fast as you can and get your characters talking… oh and moving! This is a MOVIE – talking heads at a table are, well… kinda boring.

2. Lack of Structure

There are three acts in a screenplay. Some may argue, 5, 7, or whatever act structure they want to adopt – but the bottom line is: a well written screenplay will end up with a strong beginning, a middle, and a great ending. That’s it.

3. Characters that sound the same

Ahh… they all sound like you. And the main character is you. Why is this? Well, we write ourselves into the script. But the key is to develop characters with their own voice – even your main character. If that character is you – every other character needs to speak differently, have a different train of thought, and have their own ‘unique’ voice.

4. Camera Shots

You are writing a spec script – not a shooting script. The reader does not need to know when you Cut To, or Match Cuts, or when a crane shot is used or even when ‘you’ think a camera should ‘move in’. It takes up space in your script and does nothing for the reader – and that’s your first obstacle. Get rid of the camera angles and shots. That’s for the director to decide. Your goal is to write a compelling story!

5. Incorrect Font

12-point Courier. Period. Exclamation point.

6. Show don’t tell

You are not writing a book. We do not know what your screenplay characters are thinking! We only figure it out by their actions. If you are telling the reader that your character is ‘thinking’ about going to the market at 7 PM and has to reschedule a blind date – or vice versa, forget about it. You have lost the concept of writing a script. We need to see it through action and great dialogue, not through anything else.

7. Page Count

Let’s keep it simple. 90 pages minimum, 120 pages maximum. Anything less, then you’re not at feature film length and the script reader knows it. Anything more, you can’t tell a story in 2 hours! You lose. This is not a ‘rule’. This is a ‘rule of thumb’. Follow it and get your script read!

8. Long Scenes

Do you know how long it takes to film a page of a script? A long time! If a scene you write is 5 pages long and you can’t get your point across, you are not being an efficient writer. Again, rule of thumb – keep your scenes to no more than 2 pages. If you can’t, the third page better rock. If you think its impossible – watch a 30 second commercial. A page of a script is generally thought of as a minute of screen time. Five minutes for a scene is a tedious long scene, that will put someone to sleep unless it is a compelling scene!

9. Voice Overs

Okay newbie – does your first page have 10 lines of Voice Overs? Why? Well, the common misconception is that you have to ‘tell the story’ instead of showing it. There is nothing wrong with voice overs – but it better be the best voice over you have ever written in your entire life! Okay, again, this is not a rule – just a ‘rule of thumb’. Neophyte screenwriters – avoid Voice Overs. Revert to mistake #6 – Show Don’t Tell. If you have to ‘tell us’ with a voice over, you are not writing a screenplay. Write a book.

10. Writing about a writer

Ask any script reader – the number one script from new writers that land on their desk is another story about a writer. And that writer, believe it or not, is probably you. Why is this? Because we are told to write what we know. And our struggles as a writer are compelling – to us. But that’s ‘our’ internal struggle. Lets write something everyone else cares about – conflict and more conflict. Writing a compelling story about a writer is not forbidden, but it better be better than the movie “Adaptation”.

If you are writing a script right now you better go down this checklist and fix your mistakes. Your script will become a better script/story, and you have a better chance at a ‘green light’ than most newbies.

Oh, and by the way – use a Screenwriting program – it makes life so much easier. Think like this: If you want to write like a pro, use the tools of a pro.

Recommended:
Movie Magic Screenwriter
http://www.dadwithapen.com/movie-magic-screenwriter

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