Screenplay Notes

Screenplay notes … Love them or hate ’em, we need ‘em! It’s a fact that rewriting your screenplay or television pilot is an absolutely essential part of the successful process of perfecting story, character, structure, tone and theme.

Since every script’s problems will be different, some of these standard notes may not apply and writers will need more specific observations to help fix its problems. The following are the most common notes given and how to tackle them …

1) Please clarify

Simply put, something doesn’t make sense. Whatever it is, it’s taken us out of the flow of the read and we’re confused. Confusion might make us put the script down. Asking for clarification just means, ‘help!’

2) This is contrived

AKA ‘We have seen this in many scripts and movies before and you need to get creative and find a new way for this to be relayed on the page.’

An example might be the protagonist needing money to save a dying son/daughter/wife/husband and doing something out of their wheelhouse to obtain that money. Sure, it works, but we’ve seen it before.

Turn ideas on their heads. Make the bad guy a good guy or instead of the happy ending, make it end badly. That’s life. Don’t be afraid to surprise us … It’s what everyone wants.

3) Your characters need more depth

Characters are the meat of any script. When they’re written too one-dimensionally, the action around them (though perhaps intriguing), doesn’t give energy to the page. We have to care about all the characters; whatever the emotion may be.

  • Write character bios. When characters need layering, we ask that writers create character biographies. These ought to include everything about a character from their relationship with their mother to the sport they played in high school. It just allows the writer to draw on information that shapes a more formed person.
  • GET CREATIVE! Even though your protagonist is the active character who moves the story forward, find new ways for them to do it. Often basing characters on people you know or an amalgam of people can breed reality into their actions.
  • Heroes are flawed, villains are appealing. Try not to make villains moustache-twirlers and heroes saving the girl tied to the train tracks. This is contrived! The story will work out the moral and theme. Let your characters be big and real, so we engage with them on their journey.
  • Use supporting characters to add the humor or moral center (or any other active scene stealing attribute) that the protagonist might not have. Stories at their core are about relationships (with people, the world, ourselves), so allowing characters to bounce off one another and learn from it will add depth to the page.
  • Life is complex. Characters ought to have mixed feelings, make mistakes, thrive and then turn around and fail. Think about how you feel about a situation and all the different ways you might look at it. Those layers make you interesting and they’ll make your characters interesting too. MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

4) Your structure is lumpy

There can be many problems that create issues with structure. Structure holds the story up and helps the reader follow as the narrative unfolds.

  • A Three Act Structure is the norm for a script and follows a basic path. Act One starts the action and creates backstory for the narratives and characters. Act Two is the meat of the story and the development of emotional, conflict and narrative beats and Act Three allows the resolve of the conflicts and reveals what we need to know about what was mentioned in Act One.
  • Acts One and Three are always connected. If Act One does not have enough information about the conflict, various narratives and character backstory, then, as the script progresses, the reader will ask questions that don’t get answered. Almost always, that’s going to result in a confusing story and a plot that doesn’t hold water.
  • Most scripts ought to hit two structural beats: the midpoint (approximately halfway through when there is a change of tone and the protagonist moves in a new direction) and the low point (approximately 25 pages or so from the end of the script when a mentor character leaves, making the protagonist’s goal hard to achieve.) Though these beats are not 100% necessary to a successful script, often these moments help us track the important movement of the narrative and conflict and allow story to flow. MORE: 9 Top Tips On Acts 

5) The story doesn’t make sense

This is the advanced version of ‘Please clarify’. Almost all the time, the solution is outlining the script. Outlining is a big topic, but at its base we suggest it start like so:

  • Write a one liner of what the script is about.
  • Write a paragraph about what the script is about.
  • Create character biographies
  • Make lists of emotional, action, conflict, and narrative beats. What moments in the script provide us with the most information? Which move the script towards the protagonist’s goals?
  • Make sure all main characters have a connection with one another. Make sure the beats are clear, then your script will be able to stand on its own.

Good Luck!

BIO: Jenny Frankfurt is the founder of http://www.finishlinescriptcomp.com/, which provides extensive script development notes to improve your script while it’s in contention to win. Writers can resubmit new drafts at no extra cost.

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