Friday, November 25, 2005

More tales from the feedback bucket

Here is a collection of feedback I've given on a number of different first time screenwriter's scripts. A useful reminder for ME! when I start writing my next script.

I think you can get more out of what you've got by just working the description (to make it more of a suspenseful read) and sharper dialogue so you bring out the conflict and tension and avoid easy situations for the protagonist. You have all the ingredients there now you just need to execute all the strands. It's hard because in a script you can focus on one thing and then you see that something else is missing. Most scripts have holes, but if you've followed most, not all of the dramatic rules then you can hopefully get away with it.

You are also bringing in more twists, rug-pulls and surprises - but again you could ramp this up - this is something that improved through all my scripts - because I consciously started thinking about how I could build in the surprise element at the outline phase. You should be saying to yourself - could I build in a twist/surprise in this scene?

William Goldman said there should be a surprise on every page! The more you do that, and the more tension and suspense you put in the script the more chance you have of the reader, agent, producer making it to page 120. Don't sell yourself short by letting the energy drop because you've now got strong story elements, an original idea, a strong and unique protagonist - don't waste it.

Wherever you can, increase obstacles, conflict, dramatic tension - you have a tendency of letting the tension drop - people agreeing with each other - this shouldn't happen. Avoid agreement in screenplays!

CONFLICT<>OBSTACLES<>TENSION<>CONFLICT<>OBSTACLES and then these obstacles have to increase! This accelerates the pace in Act 2.

Empathy, fear and catharsis - the essence of Greek drama. We need to FEEL and FEAR for our characters.

Now we're at the mid point of the movie so my question/concern is pacing/plot/narrative drive - do we see some major turning points now? - an irreversible change of circumstances for the characters that will move the plot forward - because it's kind of due around now...if you want it to be Hollywood mainstream rather than indie.


The main notes I have is that the script, overall lacks real dramatic tension and conflict. There is far too politeness going on. Characters in scripts should be at each other's throats!

You have whole scenes where nothing really happens. Each scene should if possible have conflict. You need to re-examine the script and pair it down into REAL dramatic beats. To me you have too much screenplay and too little story. There is not enough danger.

There is too much lengthy dialogue that a) creates no conflict and b) lacks dramatic tension. You have too much chit-chat - introductions, thank you's etc.

You need more extremity, the antagonist should be evil and menacing. It's okay if you have the bad guy being polite and civil if that is offset against something like a guy getting tortured in the room at the same time. Drama is contrast and contradiction.

The whole dramatic ante needs to be upped and you need to examine your character's motivations. I didn't believe X's motivations for instance. I think you need to go deeper into sub-text there.

The set up was far, far too long - the protagonist needs to be in a position where at around 25-30 pages he reaches an IRREVERSIBLE position where he has NO CHOICE But to move forward and act which then creates further complications. This didn't happen.

Never have it so that your character can decide to give up and go home. He has to be FORCED to act. X needs to be a much stronger protagonist with much bigger obstacles and he has to be really FORCED to act.

The antagonist should be one evil bastard - make him scarier!. We have to FEEL and FEAR for our characters (essence of Greek drama) especially the protagonist. I don't fear or feel for the protagonist enough. Overall the characters need to be developed more, this involves writing lengthy character biogs. See Linda Seger - 'How to make a good character great'. That might give you some ideas.

Also read up on exposition and on the nose dialogue. Harold Pinter is an example of almost pure sub-text. Read up on that. Read Lou Hunter's Screenwriting 434 and Robert McKee's story and read LOTS of dramatic scripts of films that have been made. 'Read 500 ways to beat the Hollywood reader' and 'How NOT to write a screenplay'. Read 'Save the Cat'.

You make the common beginners mistake of having expositionary dialogue, and lots of it, which is just revealing reams of information to the audience. Information has to be revealed on a drip by drip basis and must be in a dramatic context. Read scripts and examine why they create tension - study conflict and structure and dialogue.

Cut out all intros to scenes - go in late and leave early. Read LOTS of scripts. Every script should have a dramatic point and should push the story forward. Create more fear and menace so our heart beats faster.

There is nothing unusual with these script problems, all new writers write expositionary dialogue and write scripts lacking in tension and dramatic conflict.

Agents will dump a script after 5 pages even after one page! It is VERY brutal out there and the bar is very high. Also you need to read up on script style and technique. Go to for the various forums.

You have the makings of a good film but it's not there yet. It's time to start the re-writing process. Welcome to the machine!


I've read 65 pages of your script. To be honest I think it needs a lot of work. The weakest area in the script for me is the dialogue which reads quite flat and unauthentic - sorry. The characters and the situations come across as unauthentic as the result of the dialogue. I didn't really believe that I was in the world that you obviously intended to lead me into.

I think you need to work on some classic first time screenwriter problems like exposition i.e. too much relaying of information to the audience. Also a lot of the dialogue lacks sub-text, it's too on-the-nose, too obvious. Most screenwriting books talk about these problems.

The other aspect that needs work is the characterization - they seemed to be a bit two dimensional to me. I found it hard to believe them along with the situations. I think you need to break down each characters motivation and their particular qualities so they each have a unique voice and stand out as 3 dimensional people. The conflict needs to be clearer and the characters need more layers.

The whole upper echelon world needs to be more believable. Also you use parentheses a lot (angrily) which are a complete no-no. Also your descriptions sometimes stretch over 10 or 15 lines - this is also a complete no-no. It makes you look like an amateur straight away.

1) Sub-text - try and create situations where people don't directly say exactly what they feel - this is known as sub-text - it is written about in these books

2) Avoid exposition - where characters are relaying to much background information through dialogue - also written about in these books

3) Know your characters inside out - write detailed biographies on each one, map out the story and motivation for each character, also the character arc? Do any of your characters change? Learn anything? Why does X act like she does, why does Y act like he does - if you map out detailed biographies with their character traits then you will know them better and why they act like they do in certain situations. You need to make each character's voice and shape distinctive. Many of your characters are fuzzy like X, Y and Z - we can't see them clearly - who are they? Also if this is America they have to feel like Americans and talk like Americans. They have to feel real.

I think you need to research your worlds and your characters more so it feels authentic. If you don't know the world you need to research it. Read about wealthy Americans, learn the way they talk, their dialogue. It has to feel authentic.

Screenwriting is more craft than art as William Goldman says and you don't learn a craft overnight, it takes time and money to master a craft. I would avoid sending your script out to agents and producers until the script is ready.

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