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Q: How Do I Analyse A Script??

Bang2writer Matthew Prince has been back in touch, this time asking:

So many bloggers and websites recommend reading scripts, but they don’t offer a framework or checklist or step-by-step guide to use to get the most out of doing this. Sure, I can “read” each script for the story, but what do I look out for? What am I supposed to be noticing? How can I apply it to the scripts I am currently writing? It would be so easy if a screenplay website would actually provide a guide like an PDF file showing the comments made on a script or a checklist.

This is a very good question but one that requires a simple answer:

There’s no such thing as a checklist on how to analyse a script. And if there is one floating around somewhere? There really shouldn’t be.

There are many different stories – and by the same token, there are many different ways to tell them. This is a good thing and how we, as spec writers, avoid what I call “tick the box screenwriting“.

On this same basis, readers/audiences take these scripts in different ways. Some scripts are notable for their characters or dialogue, others for their arena, storytelling techniques, structure or plot. But essentially, at the heart of every good screenplay should be a GREAT STORY. It’s as simple – and as difficult – to quantify as that I’m afraid.

So I’m going to be really annoying and say to Matthew: JUST KEEP READING. Yes, it’s true that at first a new reader won’t have a clue what’s good and what’s not. Maybe certain things will appeal and others won’t instinctively; perhaps those new readers will develop it over time. Certainly ALL new readers have various reactions they can’t necessarily explain at first.

However, as someone goes on and becomes more experienced at reading – comparing various screenplays, techniques, craft elements, writers and stories in their mind – there will be one day when it all CLICKS! Suddenly you’ll KNOW what YOU think about screenwriting and how YOU think it works, because at the end of the day it’s your POV which is most important.

There are no rules here. That’s why it can be a daunting process. But Matthew has made the first step and downloaded all those scripts! So, my advice: go off and read them, talk to friends about them, think about how they work and how they don’t, watch the movie versions if they’re available, see how they differ (and they will). But don’t view those scripts in ISOLATION. Compare all of them to each other and think about what the “accepted” screenwriting methods are of the given moment (because they do change) and whether you even agree with those methods (because you don’t have to!). Who are your favourite writers? Why? Whose scripts do you absolutely DESPISE – and why? What subject matters/genres/writing styles appeal? Are some writers’ scripts better ON THE PAGE than rendered as image, or vice versa? Do read all the blogs and join all the FB and Twitter pages and hashtags like #scriptchat. Talk to your peers about writing, take part in online forums, find out what EVERYONE has to say – including much-maligned Gurus and yes, other newbies too. Everyone’s voice is valid.

Good luck!

For more on screenwriting craft like structure, genre, format, character and what readers *might* look for, check out The Required Reading List.

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3 thoughts on “Q: How Do I Analyse A Script??”

  1. I do think there's one thing you can do while reading a screenplay to help yourself learn to write better —

    Gauge your interest while you are reading.

    Realize the moment you lose interest in a script.

    Ask yourself why you lost interest.

    Another thing you can do, is the opposite. Gauge what you think the script does really well. Ask yourself why you think this. And how the script got you to that moment.

    It's a highly subjective process, but so is writing.

  2. Hi, I really enjoy reading your blog and would like to pass along The Lovely Blog Award.
    Bella Vida by Letty

  3. Why say "here's how to analyze a script" and then offer no tools?

    a) story structure
    b) do you get hooked (or feel the hook) in the first 5 pages?
    c) are you compelled to read more
    d) any connection to plot or characters?

    The story structure component is almost the most significant, but good writing style, character development, or an amazing idea can sometimes do the trick for a weak story. (Or watch some recent Hollywood million $ mistakes & see that even Hollywood blows it.)

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