Earlier this year, the RevPub team volunteered to read scripts for a local film festival’s screenwriting competition. As we approach our second year as readers, I wanted to share some things I learned about screenwriting while reading the good, the bad, and the ugly.
1. Keep it simple. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t overcrowd your story with too many characters, locations, or plots. Think about some of the best movies and what makes them the best. Most good movies focus on one or two main characters and a handful of minor characters, and their story.
2. Don’t describe the characters in great detail. This is what the crew is for. The casting director will pick who plays what, the costume designer will dress them, the actors will bring the characters to life. Only mention physical appearance if it’s essential to the story.
3. Select a central location and work around that area. Scripts that bounce from place to place drive me nuts. It’s hard to remember where the characters are and why they are there. Pick a central location, and use the area around it, but try to stay central. For example, if it’s set in a school, keep it at the school – not the school and all the kids’ homes.
4. Start with a bang. Scripts that set the scene for paragraphs on end will bore the reader. Begin the script with action or something interesting that immediately grabs the reader. Set design will create a scene, so you don’t have to ramble about what it looks like. If it’s a forest, for example, just say a forest. We know what a forest looks like.
5. No stupid dialogue. I cannot tell you how many times I groaned reading dialogue. Dialogue should move the story along, not slow it down. The things said should be important for character and plot development, and each character should have their own voice. Keep it conversational, but make sure what they say is important to the plot.
6. Remember everything matters. I once had a professor say everything in a movie had a purpose. As I’ve watched movies since then, I realized he was right. Every prop has a purpose. Every character needs a reason to be there. Every word should serve a purpose and not just fill space.
7. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. One of the worst lines I read was “[Katie] flings her dainty wrists haughtily.” Enough said.
8. Balance dialogue and narrative. The best writers used both and not equally. It depends on the story, and both are important. Make sure you aren’t rambling on or slowing down the story with either.
9. Have people read it. Give it to your friends and family before finalizing it. Have them read the first 20 or 30 pages, and get their feedback. If you’re on the right track at 20 pages, the rest should be fine. Also, have a proofreader read it to ensure correct spelling and grammar – these errors can distract the reader and show the writer doesn’t care enough to fix the little things, so they probably won’t accept feedback well.
10. Have fun! Have fun writing, and let your story come to life.