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16 Amateur Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make on Your Screenplay

What makes script readers want to slam a bottle of whisky while doing coverage for a screenplay? These mistakes are the leading cause of alcoholism in readers worldwide (or just in the west end of Toronto).

  1. The script is a shit storm of technical errors. Typos. Spelling. Grammar. Tense. Writing waaaay too much description (save it for the Stephen King fan-fic, friend). These amateur snafus will make it difficult for a reader to give solid feedback because it’s incredibly distracting. And exhausting. And infuriating. WHY DIDN’T YA FUCKIN' PROOF-READ YOUR SCRIPT, YA MOOK?!?!?!
  2. Nothing happens in the first ten pages. Or the “big thing” that happens in the first ten pages has nothing to do with the rest of the script.
  3. The first ten pages are great, but… If the most action in the entire story happens in said first ten pages, you’ve delivered a script that will piss off every reader. You can and should start with a bang, but make sure the story escalates. Don’t leave your reader with blue balls, especially ones that last for 80 pages. OUCH!
  4. Characters that are cardboard cut-outs of other, not-that-interesting characters. Check your screenplay for placeholder dialogue. If you notice it, we notice it. What's the point of writing a character if they have none?
  5. Telling instead of showing. Telling us a character is experiencing an emotion is not good. Show us how we would see that emotion. "She's hurt" isn't showing. "Her gaze drops to the floor" is. Another crime is endless pages of characters telling other characters what we already witnessed them do. Unnecessary voiceovers. Unnecessary flashbacks. Stop it. 
  6. The story isn’t clear. Nothing is. What is it about? If you don't know, how will anyone else?
  7. Don't direct on the page. It’s annoying.
  8. Too many characters and/or locations. Especially in the first ten pages. 
  9. Don't "write what you know” - literally. This is how you get super-boring, dialogue-heavy scenes. You’re writing a story, not creating a platform to brag about how clever you are.
  10. It’s unoriginal and predictable AF.
  11. There is no conflict or the antagonistic force is weak at best. If it’s too easy for your Protagonist, then nothing actually happens. And if nothing happens, there is no story. A man doesn't transform by eating dangerously-almost-expired yogurt.
  12. Your character has no motivation behind their choices and no personal stakes in the story. 
  13. There’s no pay-off. Or you pulled an “it was all a dream!!!!” - which is a far greater sin than anything else on this list. How dare you? (Not you you. I know you wouldn't do that.)

3 BIG MISTAKES PEOPLE WON’T TELL YOU TO YOUR FACE

14. Sending off your script too soon. We’ve all been there. You spent a long time crafting this baby and you want the freaking praise you deserve! Wrong!!! Your job as a screenwriter is to tell a gripping fucking story. Sit on your screenplay for a few weeks. Re-read it with a critical eye. Get feedback from your peers - and actually consider it. Don’t have peers? There are a million aspiring screenwriters all over the internet. Find one. Don’t spend your money until you’ve really put in the effort.

15. Repeatedly sending your unchanged script to readers, hoping for different results. Why even bother with feedback at all? No soup for you!

16. Being annoyingly overconfident and bragging about what a stunning script you’ve crafted. No one does this unless they’re clueless. The script speaks for itself, you don't speak for it. Always stay humble. And for the love of GOD, don’t send angry emails to script readers. Be graceful. Everyone remembers an asshole. That stink don’t wash off.

SUPER VILLAIN TIP:

Download my checklist to ensure you aren’t committing any of these amateur sins before you send your script off for coverage.

GET YOUR PRE-COVERAGE CHECKLIST TO PREVENT THESE MISTAKES!