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Screenplay Writing Common Mistakes

  • By Josh Strate
  • Published 09/20/2010
  • Screenplay

Screenwriting is a glamorous career, no doubt about it. From all appearances, a successful screenwriter will garner fame, fortune, and the chance to fraternize with Hollywood celebrities. Of course, the reality of a screenwriter’s life is something quite different. The vast majority of screenwriters spend their entire lives writing and tweaking their screenplays without ever garnering the attention of a single production company. The truth is, most screenplays never go any further than the a computer’s hard drive. Sounds like a great career choice, doesn’t it? For the screenwriters who want to break out of the aforementioned, dismal description of a screenwriter’s life, there are a few common mistakes that should be avoided before you submit your screenplay to anyone for potential review. In order to create a polished screenplay that is ready for film production, a writer needs to invest discipline, time, and above all else, extreme patience. No writer has ever written a perfect screenplay on the first draft. You won’t either. The most basic mistake a newbie screenwriter can make is writing the screenplay at the wrong length. A screenplay for a feature length movie needs to be 90 pages long – not 130, and certainly not 75. If you’re a new screenwriter and you’ve never had a script optioned or produced, then you need to write your screenplay at the proper length. Doing otherwise would be a rookie mistake.

The second most common mistake a screenwriter makes is to ignore the three act format. The first act sets the tone of the story and is basically the hook that captures the audience’s attention and baits them into watching the rest of the film. The second act is kn

own as the chase and is the longest portion of the movie. During the second act, the hero will encounter increasingly difficult circumstances that ultimately lead to the climax, which is act three. The final act of the screenplay is the third act; it is typically ten to fifteen minutes of the film. What’s the lesson here? Rookie screenwriters don’t structure their screenplays into three acts! Once you have a few produced screenplays under your belt, you can deviate from the three act format and be a little more creative with your structure. Until then, however, you’ll need to do things “by the book”. Have you ever watched a terrible movie and wondered, “How in the world did that film ever get the green light for production?” Unfortunately, I often find myself asking that exact same question when I go to the movies these days. Despite advances that have been made in the film production process, it seems that Hollywood still churns out terrible films at an unbelievable rate. The one constant that I find between horrible movies is that they deliver irrelevant information in almost every scene. What exactly do I mean by that? It’s simple: every line of dialogue and every piece of information that is delivered within a scene must pertain to the further development of the storyline. There can be no exceptions to this rule. If you break it, you’ll end up with a screenplay that fails to captivate your audience’s attention and more than likely it will also fail to ever capture the attention of a production studio.

The above mentioned mistakes are basic mistakes that almost every new screenwriter makes, and it’s not easy to avoid making them! Now that you know about them, however, maybe it will be easier to prevent yourself from making them in the first place. Good luck with your screenwriting career!



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