Continuing in the Top 5 Mistakes series, I’ll be concentrating on screenplay format today. (I’m assuming your layout, spelling, punctuation and grammar are awesome already – but if not, you can check here: 10 Common Errors In Your Writing You Need To Fix Right Now.)
Ready, then? Let’s go …
1) Overly long sluglines (aka ‘scene headers’)
A slugline or scene header in a spec screenplay is simply to “anchor” the reader, so we know *where* we are. They should be as plain as possible and shouldn’t draw the eye too much. That’s it.
However, lots of sluglines are WAY too detailed, sometimes running for two or more lines. They’ll note things like whose house we’re in; which room; what number the house is; which road — you name it! Nooooo! MORE: All about slugline layout and what you can include
2) Too many fillers, plus parentheticals
Fillers happen when screenwriters realise they need to “break up” a chunk of scene description, or a chain of dialogue. As a result, we end up with dull little moments that are there for the sake of it, as they don’t advance the story. Here’s 10 Of The Worst Screenplay “Fillers”.
I’ve often said parentheticals are useless – and that’s because they can too often become fillers as well. Even worse, writers may mistakenly use parentheticals for action, instead of putting it scene description. Ack!!!
3) Chains of dialogue
NEWSFLASH: Too much dialogue in a scene makes it STATIC. This is the last thing any good spec screenplay wants, not only because “what you see is what you get”, but because great screenwriting is about MOVEMENT. Not just *actual* movement either (though that can help), but the movement of the STORY.
Also, think on this: when was the last time you saw a movie or TV show where characters stood around, just talking, for 7 or 8 MINUTES (or pages)? Yet spec screenplays do this all the time. MORE: Are You Making Any Of These 20 Killer Errors In Your Screenplay’s Scenes?
4) Bad scene description
Anything labelled “bad” in screenwriting is nearly always open to interpretation, but I’d venture “bad” scene description does NOT:
- Move the story forward
- Reveal character
- Both of the above
Spec screenwriters forget screenwriting is a VISUAL medium, first and foremost. This means they will probably need to write more scene description than anything else in the script. But they forget that scene description is SCENE ACTION. MORE: 10 Ways To Revitalise Your Scene Description
5) CAPITAL LETTERS ALL OVER THE PLACE!
In a spec screenplay, capital letters are used on a character’s name when we meet them for the first time.
You do not need them for:
- Sound effects
- Random objects
- Animals (that are not actual characters)
- or anything else. ANYTHING AT ALL (arf).
Oh and while we’re on the subject, in a spec screenplay, you also don’t need:
- Scene numbers
- bullet points
- Different colour text
- OR ANYTHING ELSE!
In other words, as plain as possible, please. Save the reader’s eyes!! MORE: Screenplay Format: The B2W One Stop Shop
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