We asked some of the most active site members what were the most common notes they had seen, whether in feedback on others’ work or their own. These are collated and posted here as a handy reference guide and provide an invaluable tool to help you craft strong scripts.
It’s interesting to note that these ‘Top Tips’ directly correlate to the notes given to writers outside of this initiative, and which are regularly posted on the many screenwriting Internet sites and within many of the screenwriting self-help books.
Of course they are not an exhaustive list.
Work out what the emotional heart of your story is and focus on that. Too many scripts spend far too much time on set-up. Enter your scene/story late, and leave early.
Also, think of your story as part of the finished film. Does your story really need a r
e-run of the President’s message, that news broadcast or that radio announcement? It is the reaction that we need to see. Can you find a less on-the-nose way of letting the audience know whether your characters are aware of ‘The Impact’ or not.
Ask at every point what do we need to know? What can we know just by seeing, just by what they do (although be wary of too many ‘gestures’ with eyes, hands etc which is often false action and ‘directing actors on the page’) and cut anything that we can’t actually ‘see’ (ie no internal thoughts etc) as much as possible – okay the odd’ aside’ for voice is okay in a longer script but in 2 pages… less is definitely more.
Take each action/description line and each line of dialogue in isolation and chisel away to pare it down to describe only what you really need to, so as to convey the visual image to the reader (action) and only what needs to be said to get the subtext/information over (dialogue).
Don’t overdo staccato – you may be pushed for space but your sentences still need to be intelligible.
Choose every word with care and vary sentence length – let your writer’s voice shine through.
BIG BLOCKS OF TEXT
Cut to the chase as much as possible. Don’t make the read too ‘heavy’ with words. Break up the blocks of text to make the read pacier and easier and have more
‘white space’ on the page. Aim for no more than 4 lines in any text block or dialogue… less is better.
Try to infer the shot you envisage with each action/description line or block as that helps split it down more evenly. Look to see if you can intersperse your action lines with your dialogue a little more evenly to break those big blocks of writing up more and keep the writing visual.
Can you introduce you characters in action doing something that gives us a
glimpse of them as people, shows us their essence? (Using your unique writer’s voice to colour the characters in a bit is usually okay here, as long as you don’t
Try to avoid ‘cliché’ generic descriptions. For example, if having blond hair and being attractive isn’t essential to the plot, then don’t write this. It not only tells us little about the character, it restricts casting options.
Try to avoid giving characters similar sounding names, or names that start with the same letter, as this can lead to confusion.
Remember film is a visual medium. Don’t make the dialogue do all the heavy-lifting in your script.
Use dialogue sparingly. Show don’t tell! Ask of every dialogue line, does it sound natural, read it out loud, is it just exposition/explanation/backstory, do I need it all? (possibly not).
Characters are what they say and do. Anything we can’t see or hear up on screen means we can’t know it – you can only infer it with action or description.
Avoid describing internal thoughts or feelings that we can’t see. Again a little writer’s ‘aside’ here and there is usually okay here but in moderation. Always consider, does that really add to the script or does it detract from it?
Avoid overuse in directing how something is said throughout the script, especially when it is obvious through what is being said – like:
PETER (confused) What do you mean?
or overuse in describing action (where such lines should be in action description lines)
PETER (his finger taps his forehead rhythmically as he talks) I'm thinking about it.
Avoid camera directions as they take readers out of the story by shouting ‘I am a script’, but also they are really a director’s choice and are more for use in the final shooting script.
SCENE INTRO DESCRIPTIONS
Keep these brief – two or three details that capture the essence/atmosphere of the scene. If the fact that there is a pink chintz cushion on the sofa has no story value, then don’t mention it! (The production designer won’t thank you for trying to do their job either.)
Try to use active word choices and keep it visual and present tense. Less is more. For example,
INT. KITCHEN - DAY PROTAG is sitting languidly in the kitchen...
Firstly, you don’t need to repeat that the protagonist is in the kitchen because we already know that from the slugline (location).
Secondly, try to use the most active tense of verbs (sits versus is sitting) for a smoother read.
Finally, avoid using adverbs (words ending in -ly), since this is considered to be the writer directing from the page, and directors and actors alike tend to take exception to that. Also avoid filler phrases like ‘starts to’ and ‘begins to’, as these slow down the read and are not ‘active’ word choices.
FORMAT & GRAMMAR
You may have a cavalier attitude to format and grammar, but readers (who are often the gatekeepers in the film business) do not. Don’t let your script fall down because of something as silly and easily fixed as incorrect format or a lack of apostrophes/full-stops etc.
USE OF (CONT’D)
Although not ‘wrong’, they are not really necessary as these are not yet shooting scripts where they would be necessary for the actors; it makes for a cleaner read without them.
Outside of the Create50 project, writers would run a check on IMDB to see if their preferred title is already in use. There are now several instances of the exact same title being used for two scripts by different writers in the project- sometimes even for similar stories. Using the search box on any of the ‘Read’ pages on the ‘The Impact’ section of the website, you can search for scripts by title and that’s an easy way to check if your preferred title is already in use or not.
Don’t forget your soundcape. It adds atmosphere to a script to ‘hear’ things other than dialogue. Also, juxtaposition of noise(s) can help draw attention to silences or changes in tension etc.
Using a specific track would incur expense and/or music rights issues. Although you can name them, you might need to indicate that the script is not dependent upon a specific music track as that might scare off any potential filmmaker. One way to do this is to tweak your script to indicate it is ‘an appropriate music track like….’ or words to that effect. If however the track is in the public domain and you know it to be rights free you can indicate this on the cover. The same goes for video footage, copyrighted images or games etc.
*** RIDER ***
Created by Dee Chilton, Milethia Thomas and KT Parker and who, to date, have posted comments on nearly 2000 scripts between them in their enthusiasm to help other writers where they feel they can, whilst also learning from the process themselves.
They wish to point out that none of them profess any expertise and always bear in mind that the writer knows their story best and must always stay true to their vision. All feedback given is just food for thought for writers to use or ignore as they see fit in crafting the best version of their stories that they can.
They also wish to assert that they do not have any undue influence on the initiative outcome nor do they expect their activity to have any bearing on their own submissions. It is for the Create 50 team to decide all outcomes when they deadline is reached and the final drafts are all taken into account.