When you read a ton of scripts, patterns start emerging. Little things occur here and there that indicate you’re dealing with an amateur. This article is not meant to attack these mistakes, but rather highlight them so that anyone can avoid them.
By Carson Reeves
I never give up on a script if I encounter a couple of these red flags, but when they start piling up, especially early on, I know I’m in for a long read. Here are ten common things that tell me I’m dealing with an amateur, and therefore ten things you should avoid!
1. Misspellings/Mis-used Words (Especially in the first 10 pages)
Of the hundreds of scripts I’ve read with rampant misspellings, there have been maybe two that turned out to be good. The thing is, misspellings and misused words speak to a larger issue — that the writer isn’t putting enough effort into his/her script. All it takes is sending your script off to a friend for a spell check, or combing through the script religiously yourself, to fix the problem.
Misspellings and misused words speak to a larger issue —
that the writer isn’t putting enough effort into his/her script.
People who don’t put a lot of effort into spelling most likely aren’t putting a lot of effort into bigger issues like plot construction, character development and rewriting. Keep in mind, professionals take a lot of pride in their work. When they finish a script, they want to present it to you in the best light possible, so they make sure everything is perfect. Therefore when everything *isn’t* perfect, it’s natural for a reader to assume they’re not dealing with a pro.
2. Blocky Chunks Of Text
I get that some scripts are going to require more description than others, but when I’m repeatedly seeing blocks of text 5-6 lines long (or longer) I know I’m dealing with an amateur.
Blocks of text need to be lean in order for your script to be easy to read. Pros know this. They know that taxing the reader’s eyes is going to result in a less enjoyable reading experience. So they keep descriptions lean, and when they do have to go into detail, they break those chunks up into multiple paragraphs so they’re easier to digest.
Taxing the reader’s eyes is going to result
in a less enjoyable reading experience.
Some genres get a little more leeway in this department. For example, I’m okay with paragraphs *occasionally* getting 5-6 lines deep in a period piece. But if I’m reading a comedy, you better have a damn good reason to go over 3 lines consistently.
3. No Character Description
This one kills me, however I acknowledge that some pros are guilty of this as well, so it’s not always a guarantee that you’re dealing with an amateur.
Here’s how I look at it. Your characters are your everything. They’re the lifeblood of your movie. If we don’t know what they look like, how are we supposed to connect with them? Here’s a description for you: “Gene, 40, takes in the world behind a pair of steely gray eyes. He always looks at you for a little too long, as if he’s sizing you up for some later experiment.”
If we don’t know what they look like,
how are we supposed to connect with them?
Here’s another: “Gene, 40, short and stocky.” Try and convince me that the reader doesn’t get more out of the first description. Obviously, you’re going to give shorter descriptions for less important players, but an attempt should always be made to bring characters to life when they’re first described.
4. Too Many Characters
Amateur writers love introducing new characters. 20-30 characters counts are normal to them.
Pro writers not only understand that too many characters become hard for a reader to remember, but that by combining characters and/or focusing on less characters, it allows them to develop those characters more, therefore making them more interesting. Keep your character count down. Only introduce characters if they’re absolutely necessary to the story.
Keep your character count down.
New writers aren’t yet aware how much is enough when it comes to evoking emotion, and usually way overdo it as a result.
Someone dies. A couple of scenes later someone gets cancer. A couple of scenes later there’s a car crash and someone goes to the hospital. It feels to the writer like they’re creating captivating drama, but the overindulgence of it all actually creates the opposite effect, making it feel ridiculous and unrealistic.
Someone dies. A couple of scenes later someone gets cancer.
A couple of scenes later there’s a car crash and
someone goes to the hospital.
Pick and choose your spots where your script gets heavy. And don’t cram too many intense dramatic moments together.
(To be continued next week)