Too often, spec screenwriters think “craft = format”. No. NoNoNoNoNoNo!
Format involves the “look” of the page and is the VERY LEAST you should do, Bang2writers. What’s more, you can get on top of the latest expectations and preferences in format by script readers and their bosses very easily, by checking online lists The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop, or The Top 5 Format Mistakes in this very series.
So, if Format is the ‘done thing’ (aka WHAT you do), Craft is HOW you do it – ie. the actual storytelling. Le duh!
So, what are the top 5 mistakes in Craft? Chew on these:
1) Overly Long Scenes
I read somewhere – I forget where – that screenwriters should allow for the following:
- ‘ordinary’ scenes = UP TO 1 page
- ‘extraordinary’ scenes = UP TO 3 pages
Obviously you don’t want to stick to these rigidly (there are NO RULES, people!) but I think it acts as a good general rule of thumb to keep our scenes in line, no? MORE: Are You Making Any Of These 20 Killer Errors In Your Screenplay’s Scenes?
2) Chains of dialogue
Repeat after me, everyone: characters are not what they SAY, but what they DO. Don’t really get what this means? Okkkkkk … Basically it comes down to this:
Do not place TALK at the heart of every scene, or allow it to TELL US STUFF about the story or characters too much.
So, instead invest in your VISUALS. You do this via scene description.
3) “False Movement”
Aka BAD scene description. When you have characters doing random actions that aren’t really part of the story, like waving arms, moving eyebrows, sitting down, standing up or walking to and from windows, this is FALSE MOVEMENT. This does not push the story forward OR reveal character, it becomes filler. This then leads to static scenes. So don’t do it!
4) Bad structure
Whether you’re writing a two, ten, thirty, sixty or ninety pager, you’re gonna need a beginning, a middle and an end. But you don’t want your script to end up as a “Bunch of Stuff Happening” (B.O.S.H).
Instead, your structure – whether you use 3 Acts, 5 Acts, 22 Steps, Save The Cat, WHATEVER – needs to represent the idea of your character getting over obstacles. We want a sense of ESCALATION. That’s the point. Your character/s should be climbing walls, each bigger than the last.
5) Indiscernible character role functions
Whilst most spec screenwriters realise characters need motivation, they frequently forget characters need ROLE FUNCTIONS as well:
- A protagonist wants something for some reason.
- An antagonist gets in the way of that, for some reason.
- Each secondary HELPS or HINDERS the protagonist in that goal.
The secondary role functions are where it frequently gets murky. Writers too often want to reinvent the wheel, especially when they confuse archetype and stereotype. So know the difference. Twist your characters, make them left of the middle, NOT out of the left field.
Not hitting the ground running
Too often, spec screenwriters think they have to introduce the characters first, THEN kick off the story. Nope. You kick off the story and chuck the character in the deep end (even if you begin with slowburn techniques!) – this way, the WAY our character deals with what is going on is how we GET TO KNOW HIM/HER. Neat, eh? MORE: 10 Tips For The Perfect Ten (Pages)
Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!
We all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st, 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!
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