I’ve read a LOT of scripts (screenplays, novels AND pitch material) and try and demystify the spec pile for writers whenever I can … So when script editor Philip Gladwin asked to write a guest post on getting your script ready for his competition Screenwriting Goldmine, I of course said yes! Enjoy and good luck!
What did reading 1,000 scripts teach me?
In the last two years I’ve been a production script editor on two primetime TV shows, and I’ve been a head of development looking for new writers and new projects. I’ve also been running the Screenwriting Goldmine Awards and I’ve read every single entry. In that time I have read a lot of scripts. Call it 1,000 scripts for simplicity.
In that time some things have become very clear. A lot of scripts miss the mark.
A lot of scripts don’t do what the writers think they do.
A lot of scripts simply don’t work.
Is your script ready?
If you’re going to enter a screenplay contest like the Screenwriting Goldmine Awards, I really want you to have the best chance. So before you do, I’d like you to look at your script and ask yourself these questions:
1) Does your script have a strong protagonist?
Is it about someone in particular? If you had to talk about your script could you say “It’s about a woman who…”, or “It’s about this guy/these couple of guys who…”? You can usually do this with stories that stand the test of time. MORE: Submissions Insanity: Demystifying The Spec Pile
2) Does something HAPPEN over the course of the script?
Does something happen to the protagonist? Do they start in one emotional state and end in another? If they remain the same, have they changed or saved the world in some way? MORE: Is “Good” Characterisation Really About Change?
3) Does this protagonist WANT something very, very much?
And over the course of the script do they pull out all the stops they can to get it? MORE: A Look In The Spec Pile: Top 6 Submissions In 2014 Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition
4) Do you have a strong antagonist?
Is there one person in the script whose main job it is to attack the protagonist and block them from getting what they want? MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters
5) Where is your Act Structure?
Can you see an inciting incident for your protagonist, plus an end of Act 1, end of Act 2, and a good satisfying climax towards the end of the script? If you’ve chosen not to have these things, do you have a genuinely good reason for flying in the face of thousands of years of story-telling technique? (And if you don’t know what any of this means, then why not?)
If you have these five things in place then your script is up on its feet and ready to fight. You could even enter it to the contest and I bet it’s going to be a good read. MORE: Why Structure is about your character “climbing walls, each bigger than the last”
But there’s more!!
You could ask yourself these questions too:
6) Did you plan your script?
I hope you did. Planned scripts tend to turn out better. In fact I really hope you spent quite a lot of time thinking about a beat sheet of some kind BEFORE you wrote any dialogue.
7) Do you use voiceover properly?
Voiceover needs to counterpoint and add depth and conflict to what we see on screen.
Voiceover that just repeats what we are watching is bad voice-over. Best cut it. MORE: All About Voiceover
8) Do your flashbacks earn their place?
Flashbacks are best when they genuinely propel the present day story forwards.
Bad flashbacks stop us dead in our tracks in order to explain something we don’t actually need to know. MORE: Good Examples: Voiceover, Flashback, Montage, Intercut, Dream Sequence
9) Does every single scene have some conflict in it?
In every scene someone must want something, and try to get it. And something or someone must block them.
There are three main types of conflict:
External – people battle each other verbally or physically;
Internal – person battles themselves and their inner destructive impulses;
Environmental – person battles their environment.
Go through your script and look for one of these conflicts in each scene or sequence of scenes. If you can’t find any conflict then that scene/mini-sequence is almost definitely boring or dead. Find a clever, organic way to add conflict, or think about cutting it.
10) Have you cut all the dialogue you don’t need?
Your characters probably don’t need to say hello and how are you.
And here’s a useful guideline:
You really need to earn the right to have a character’s speech last more than four lines of dialogue in standard screenplay format.
If (and only if) you’re Aaron Sorkin or Bruce Robinson or Quentin Tarentino then please ignore this point. MORE: 6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy
11) Is your dialogue any good?
Of the dialogue that’s left, does it lay out clearly and openly what the character is truly thinking? If so, then it’s probably bad dialogue. Good dialogue flirts with us. It misdirects. There is a gap between the words, and their real intent. Good dialogue has subtext.
To quote script consultant Philip Shelley: “If a scene is about a man who goes into a shop and the dialogue in the scene is all about him asking to buy a packet of cigarettes, then the last thing this scene should actually be about is him buying a packet of cigarettes.”
Have you used dialogue as a last resort, after the character has made all physical attempts to get what they want? Or are you too in love with words? Think about it! MORE: 5 Reasons Dialogue Is Overrated
12) In general, are you too in love with beauty?
The story is the thing, the battle between your protagonist and your antagonist, not the beautiful stage directions. MORE: 10 Ways To Revitalise Your Scene Description
About The Screenwriting Goldmine Awards:
The Screenwriting Goldmine Awards was founded in 2012. Its mission is to connect good new screenwriters to the industry professionals who can hire them.
Almost! I’m working on making my protagonists’ goals clearer, my conflicts more intense and dialogue punchier! 🙂
Good article, although I don’t like when people say unless you’re so and so don’t do that. The reason they are the writers they are is because they write what they want, how they want. And let’s face it sometimes it works and I’m sure even for the examples above, sometimes it doesn’t.