Monday, 7 November 2016


 I do a lot of coverage of screenplays these days. I see a lot of common mistakes.

The following are a series of concise screenwriting tips.


One of the most common tells that differentiates an amateur script from a professional one is how well it is written.

The cleaner the sentences, the clearer the storytelling, the easier the read.

Writing well is not as hard as some think it is. 

Before you start writing - stop and think about what each scene is trying to convey.

Ask yourself, WHY am I writing this scene? 

If you don't have a really good reason why the scene exists, then cut the scene. 

Only start writing the scene when you know what its core is, what the story-beat is that you're trying to convey. 

As a reader, you can easily tell if a scene has been thought through before it was written, or if it evolved on the page. 

When you know what your scene is about - don't start writing it in detailed form, do a rough structure for the scene.


SCENE OBJECTIVE: Convey that SUSAN is a strong character, that she thrives in the boys'-club of high-business. 

Start the scene with ALEC (Susan's co-worker) taking control in a business meeting with Chinese clients. He marginalizes her.

Alec's brash ways end insult the Chinese businessmen.

They threaten to walk out on the important meeting.

Susan steps up and saves the business deal by offering to have Alec removed from her team within 12 hours. 

The Chinese men are impressed with Susan and agree to wait 12 hours to re-open negotiations without Alec.

Alec is furious that Susan would make such a deal.


Follow on goal - Susan now has 12 hours to convince her boss that cutting Alec from the negotiation team is the only way to save the deal with the Chinese businessmen.

Now I have a basic structure for my scene I begin writing.

Don't write the description in detail yet.

Just put holders for starters.


Assuming this is the first scene in my script my description structure will look like this.


(My POV character for the scene is Susan, so I start by describing her first.)


Describe Susan. Describe Alec & other Chinese businessmen. Describe setting. 

(I want to start hard - I don't want to start the scene with polite greetings.)


Start on Susan answering a question (unheard) from the Chinese businessmen.

Halfway through Susan's answer, Alec interrupts her.

Alec takes over the conversation.


SHOW Susan's irritation with Alec. 

(Remember, it's important to show Susan being annoyed, don't just write - Susan is annoyed with Alec.)


The Chinese businessmen try to renegotiate the price of the deal - a figure that's already been settled upon.

Alec isn't having any of this. He's angry with the Chinese businessmen for going back to a point they've already settled on.

Alec manages to insult the Chinese businessmen.

Description: The Chinese Businessmen pack up to walk out of the meeting. The deal is over.


Susan makes her offer, if they'll continue to negotiate the deal, Susan will have Alec cut from the negotiation table.


Show Alec's response to this.


The Chinese Businessmen confer, then agree. She has 12 hours to have her boss contact their boss with confirmation that Alec is cut from the negotiating table.  


Finish on Susan. 


There, I have my scene structured.

The next step is to go through and write in the dialogue. 

When I'm happy with the way the dialogue is flowing, I then go back and write in the descriptions. 

I only write description that covers what is NOT conveyed through the dialogue. 

Write your descriptions in short sentences, and keep them to the point.

Here's another quick tip for cleaning up your writing. 

The single most common writing mistake I see is...

John is running on the beach.

Michelle is drying her hair.

Lucy is swimming in the pool. 

Every time I see a sentence written like these I know I'm dealing with an amateur writer. 

Where possible try not to use ING words.

John runs on the beach.

Michele dries her hair.

Lucy swims in the pool. 

That's how each of those sentences should be written.


Go to the script you're working on at the moment and do an ING pass.

Go through and look at every sentence that uses ING and see if you can write it cleaner without the ING word. 

It's not always possible - there are many occasions you will need the ING word. In which case, leave it. 

But where you have sentences that are similar to the above examples - please - do yourself a favor - re-write them.


Remember that DRAMA IS CONFLICT.

If there is no conflict in your scene, your scene will fall flat. 

Go through the script you're working on at the moment and isolate each and every scene. 

If there is NO CONFLICT in that scene, either cut it or re-write it so there is conflict. 

You can decide the degree of the conflict - it doesn't have to be that every scene is two arch-rivals going head-to-head. 

It can be two best friends having a minor disagreement about something benign, but there needs to be a degree of conflict or your scene - no matter how well written it is - will be dull and lifeless.