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New Year’s Resolutions for Screenwriters: A Script Reader’s Wish List

It’s that time of year again… And we end up with dozens of blog posts from dozens of scribes saying they’re gonna write *this or that* script, improve on *this or that* existing script and/or enter *this or that* contest or initiative. This inevitably means a flux in stuff *doing the rounds* (floodgates usually open around April time for me and last most of the summer, especially with so many writers being teachers too).

On this basis then, I’ve composed a (mostly) tongue-in-cheek look at a list of things I’d rather I DIDN’T see as a script reader in the forthcoming scripts of 2010:

5. Non Linearity. Please, please, please, stop writing your scripts upside down and sideways and back to front: chances are, your story is going to come across as disjointed, confusing and ultimately: nuts. So many specs in the script pile think they’re offering a “unique perspective” to the story by not employing the traditional order of beginning, middle and end. Think about STORY, not STYLE. If non-linearity is best for your story: be my guest – do it, as long as you actually know what you’re doing with it, of course. But 9/10? It’s really not needed. REALLY.

4. Cliches. There are a quite a few of cliches that sneak through again and again in the scripts I read, regardless of genre, story, or whatever. Three pop up with surprising regularity and the first is the kid who has an iPod on, thus doesn’t hear someone upstairs/the big monster/some huge ruckus. The second: the man who surprises a woman, who ends up screaming her lungs out and attracts the attention of police/passersby who assume he tried to attack her (when he didn’t). The third? The DARK STRANGER ON THE HILLTOP watching the house in a supernatural thriller, horror or spooky style script where a couple go on holiday in some kind of *weird location* because THEIR KID IS DEAD. Less often, but still bringing up the rear is someone who is drinking, hears something surprising then SPURTS IT OUT OF THEIR MOUTH ALL OVER EVERYONE, usually on a par with a character “having an idea” and bringing their hand to their head and hitting their palm against their forehead: “Eureka!” Please, please, please stop. Kthxbye.

3. Dr Who/Torchwood/any other SF big budget TV shows. I love that TV scripts are doing the rounds almost as much as features now, but wish I saw more pilots that are NOT SF-related AND big budget. This is not because I’m not keen on the genre – I’ve read some excellent pilots in this vein, actually – but because variety is the spice of life. In the last year, for every 5 SF pilots, I’ve got a period drama; for every three period dramas, I get a cop show; every once in a while I get a medical show. THAT’S MORE OR LESS IT. There is more to TV than these three/four things: show the readers what you can do, writers! Even a low budget, small scale “urban sci fi” would make a nice change. There is more to life than than time travel, monsters, giant vortexes, aliens and genetically modified people/animals/insects.

2. Joss Whedon-style dialogue. Yes, yes: Joss is God, even *I* can’t argue with that one. But why not write *your* kind of dialogue, rather than his? Besides anything, American vernacular rarely works in UK scripts; we might all speak English, but we don’t speak the same kind of English.

1. Female characters who are really men with their names/measurements changed. We often hear that equality is “women being able to do what men do”: this is utter, utter bobbins. Men and women are DIFFERENT: they have differing world views, thus differing responses to the conflict in their lives. Yet time and time again in scripts, female characters – even the ones that don’t kick ass – have male responses to the problems that confront them in the narrative they find themselves in, either because the writer is a male or because the female writer has bought into the ideal that women should somehow be the *same* as men. When composing the responses of female characters to certain situations in scripts then, I always think it’s worth considering the CONTRAST between men and women and the likelihood of what they *may or may not* might do. For example, if you’re writing about the break up of a relationship between two characters in your script, consider how men and women deal with breakups: is it the same… or different? Even when men and women react *the same* – ie. become crazed because they can’t deal with the break up – is that really the same? What is the difference between a BUNNY BOILER and STALKER? Which is which? What might they do, dependent on their gender, abilities, strength and world view?

So… Happy New Year and happy writing!

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2 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions for Screenwriters: A Script Reader’s Wish List”

  1. Will my script for a pilot episode of a cop drama where the female lead is an ex army field medic now detective ever get off the ground I wonder?

    She is vulnerable but has a keen intellect and a dark past, what with being haunted by her dead twin sister and flashbacks to a possible alien abduction.

    I've even got a nice gimmick to show her weakness as a woman.
    Every time her and her partner have to chase a bad guy she stops running and says "Whoops! I cant run any further I'm afraid my tampon may fall out"

    I'm thinking of calling the show Victor Alpha Juliet.

    A winner?

    Or should I just stick to my crappy office job?

    ps – I'm copyrighting this idea just in case.

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