We just completed ONE WHOLE YEAR. So many amazing Writers, Stories, Characters and Story Worlds have passed through our doors. So much good, real world advice was gratefully received and has made our writers better. Some work opportunities were created, some networking accomplished and many new connections made.
The purpose of this whole shindig was to make screenwriting in Canada better. Whilst the lucky winners got one-on-one feedback, not everyone got notes. I put together some general thoughts gleaned from all the scripts I read over the year. This is real stuff and not from a book or a DIY guide. I catalogued what absolutely doesn't work and what stopped most writers making the final cut. This is a true snapshot of how we are writing right now. I hope this list is helpful for you.
The number one issue is the absence of conflict. Even when there is conflict, it is often implausible or easily resolved.
Introduce the main character as soon as possible. We should meet them early and have some alone time with them first.
A Pilot may have parts/acts but the first part has to hit all the story marks by itself. Does your First Act introduce the main character, the story world, their conflicts and hint at the story arc?
How long is your set-up? Get your audience into the story straight away. Save the lingering landscape shots for later if you need a filler.
Your dialogue may be too on-the-nose. A quick exposition dump without supporting action is, frankly, lazy writing and will turn off sophisticated audiences. Show. Don’t tell.
A heavy reliance on voiceovers. There seems to be trend of going into voice overs, intercuts and flashbacks all in the first page. This can work when needed but staccato pacing is more confusing than clarifying.
A lot of writers fall in love with their own scenes, characters and dialogue. They linger in situations endlessly, all the while contributing nothing to the story.
Have you spent time creating your story world? A lot of the scripts I read have no conflict in their greater universe thereby rendering them uninteresting. If your story world has no potential for adding additional characters, action and conflicts, there is no hope for a full season or even future ones.
The main character has no superpower. They are no better equipped to deal with situations than anyone else. They are usually broodier, more troubled, sexier but not unusually talented. Why would the audience care about them or wait to see what they will do next?
Avoid camera direction. “Angle on”, “Fade to” should be used sparingly and only if essential to the story. Don’t do the directors work in describing movement within fight or love scenes. Specify tone and outcome only.
WE CANT SEE THAT
Describing the inner workings of the mind wastes time on the page. Only write what the audience will actually see.
Relationships between characters need to be defined early and by way of action or dialogue. Preferably the former. Descriptors of feelings on the page are a waste of everyone’s time.
Avoid obscure references, insider jokes and stuff only you and your school buddies were interested in. You are writing for a broad audience. Help the director bring it to life by making easily recognizable references.
Don’t specify songs/music. Will you able to get the rights? Mentioning the tone of the music such as ‘upbeat’ or ‘melancholy’ song will work for now.
A Script Synopsis should explain the story, expected action and be written in the tone of the show.
A comedy is 30 minutes and a drama is 60 minutes. Think about that before entering your script as a 30 minute ‘dramedy’. It will be judged in the comedy category and most likely not make the mark as it wont have enough comedic content. Comedies have to hit a certain number of laugh-out-loud jokes per page.