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8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Drama Screenplay DEAD


Drama can be ANYTHING. Literally, anything. So why am I reading the same stuff??? Whether short film, TV pilot or feature, here’s how to KILL your drama screenplay’s chances in the spec pile:

1) Write about the same-old, same-old

These are the facts. Everyone writes dramas about:

  • i) depression/suicide
  • ii) addiction
  • iii) domestic violence
  • iv) terminal cancer
  • v) poverty

Sometimes ALL of these in one piece! True story. Now, you CAN write about these things, but you gotta have some authenticity and emotional truth, otherwise DON’T BOTHER (see number 2). Also, make sure it’s not written the same way as countless other specs. Humans prize novelty, you know? So get ORIGINAL with your approach, or go home. MORE: Want to get noticed? DON’T write depressing dramas

2) Fill it full of clichés

Look, writers. Stop copying movies and TV you’ve already seen. If I never read a screenplay about a teenage mum who works as a stripper and goes out with a drug dealer, whilst living in a towerblock on a shitty sinkhole estate, it will be too soon! Be original. MORE: Misery Loves Company? Drama Clichés

3) Make theme stand in for plot

Dramas are by their very nature highly thematic, but that doesn’t mean these worthy themes can replace plot. You need a STORY, the most basic being: your character wants something, something gets in the way of that, so they have to do X. Build whatever you like on top of that. MORE: All About Theme

4) Suddenly turn it into a genre piece

So we’re introduced to the characters and their struggle … This seems like this is going to be a character study about human relationships? Okay. I can get down with that. Then BAM! Tarantino-style action, or aliens appear. Or something else high concept. ERM, NO. MORE: Genre Vs Drama: The Difference Between Them


5) Only write about straight, able-bodied white men 

OF COURSE white men can be inspiring. They’ve done some great stuff. But here’s a thought, so can a stack of otherwise marginalised people, including (but not limited to) women of various races, religions, sexuality and ability. Women’s stories need telling too … And not just as the WAGs of famous men!!! We’re in a period of transition where audiences are demanding more diversity, so let’s go looking for the women inventors, scientists, soldiers, sportspeople, pioneers, writers and activists and tell their stories as well. MORE: 8 Female-Centric Biopics That Need Writing NOW

6)  Write chains & chains of dialogue

Yes, dramas tend to be more “talky” than genre pieces. But that doesn’t mean you can write pages and pages of the stuff. It’s gotta earn its keep, revealing character and pushing the story forward, every bit as much in a drama screenplay. Quite possibly, your dialogue has to be BETTER than in genre even! MORE6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy 

7) Make it “symbolic”

Every year I get sent dramas in which everything is explained as SYMBOLIC. Don’t know what X is supposed to be? It’s symbolic. Don’t know why character Y does this? It’s symbolic. Not sure of the storyworld? It’s symbolic. Look, I’m sympathetic: I LIKE arty stuff. But guess what: audiences don’t want symbolism, they want storytelling. Ipso, fatso. MORE: Simple Symbolism

8) Make it really, really, really DEPRESSING

Look, I can’t stress this enough: drama is not supposed to be depressing, it’s supposed to be DEVASTATING. Or uplifting. Or intriguing. Or whatever. Something ACTIVE, because “good” drama is about STRUGGLE. MORE: Writing The Drama Screenplay

Your story not being told?

Then it’s up to YOU to tell it!! Download Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays on Kindle now, just £6.99. Also available in paperback. Click the pic or to look inside the book, CLICK HERE.

 Also in this series:

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Thriller Screenplay DEAD

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Horror Screenplay DEAD

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Comedy Screenplay DEAD

8 Mistakes that Will Kill Your Sci Fi Screenplay DEAD

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1 thought on “8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Drama Screenplay DEAD”

  1. Okay, so I might have committed sin 1.1, but in my defense, I did combine it with a lot of glamor, romance, friendship drama and people being their own worst enemies. Hope that worked 🙂

    And I would argue that my feature containing “suicide” doesn’t exactly have suicide…

    I like my story because I didn’t just pick a theme and write it according to that. The characters and situations came to me as a connection of two weird what if questions and their answers and I went on from there. I couldn’t not write it. I really hope I’ve created an enjoyable reading/watching (fingers crossed, I can dream) experience despite some of the darkness. 🙂

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