When you read a ton of scripts, patterns start emerging. Little things occur here and there that indicate you’re dealing with an amateur. This article is not meant to attack these mistakes, but rather highlight them so that anyone can avoid them.
(Continued from last week)
By Carson Reeves
I never give up on a script if I encounter a couple of these red flags, but when they start piling up, especially early on, I know I’m in for a long read. Here are ten common things that tell me I’m dealing with an amateur, and therefore ten things you should avoid!
7. Too Much “Movie Logic”
When I’m reading a script, one of the things that separates the pros from the amateurs is how they treat logic. In professional scripts, whether it be fantasy or drama or comedy, things always happen for a reason, and that reason makes sense.
In amateur scripts, choices are made more because the writer *wants* them to happen. They don’t really care if they make sense or not, as long as they solve the immediate story problem.
In amateur scripts, choices are made more
because the writer *wants* them to happen.
For example, is your female lead agreeing to go out with your male lead because he’s done something to impress her, or is she simply going out with him because you need them to get together? Is your babysitter going to check out that noise in the dark dangerous basement because it makes sense or because you need to kill her off?
Why is your hero, who you’ve established as afraid to fly, flying his date off to Vegas for the weekend? This may seem obvious, but I read so many scripts where characters do illogical things because the writer isn’t putting themselves in the character’s position and asking if they’d really do those things or not.
8. Shifting Tone / Genre
One second your script is a crime caper. The next it’s a romantic comedy. Once we hit the second act, it’s a thriller!
I’ve actually spoken to writers about this. Sometimes, they’re not aware of it. But other times they try and tell me that they don’t want to make a “Hollywood movie,” and are instead trying to create something original, different, and cutting edge.
Well, okay, you can do that. But unless you understand intricately the genres that you’re working in and have a logical and original plan as to how to jump back and forth between genres, your script is not going to come off as profound. It’s going to come off as hackneyed. There’s only one Quentin Tarantino.
I excavated this out of some notes that I gave because I think it’s the perfect way to describe this issue. You don’t want your plot to be too predictable! Readers being able to predict every plot turn is death for a writer. It means you’re not doing your job, which is to tell a story that we’ve never quite seen told this way before.
You want to use our assumptions against us. You want to think, “Okay, they think we’re going to do *this*, so instead we’re going to do *this*.” This is a great way to think while writing in general, because it challenges you to go against the obvious choice, a surefire way to make your screenplay more original.
You want to use our assumptions against us.
10. Boring On-The-Nose Dialogue
This is probably the biggest clue that you’re dealing with an amateur. The dialogue is really straightforward and boring. Characters say exactly what they mean: “You make me so angry!’ Characters get way more specific than people in real life would: “I’m going to head over to get a cheeseburger at Portillo’s and then call my mom.” (instead of “I need a chili dog before my stomach starts eating itself.”)
There’s no nuance or slang. People talk like robots. There’s no subtext or conflict. Characters aren’t hiding anything from one another (which always makes for interesting dialogue). You need to understand all of these things in order to get that dialogue to pro level.
People talk like robots.
And there you go. Those are the things that scream “amateur” to me, but if you’re a fan of this site, then you’ve read your share of screenplays as well. What are the things that clue *you* in that you’re reading an amateur as opposed to a pro?
Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.
Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.
Her latest series Project Integrate is out now.
5 thoughts on “10 Red Flags of The Amateur Script (2)”
er, what happened to number 6?
The original article on the ScriptShadow web site had 150+ comments and no-one noticed.
Then again, I numbered them. :)
In any case: sharp eyes, Mr Hopkins.
Yay!!! Finally got to read Part II! I admit I’m struggling a bit with #10. But I’ve set them in 1691 Ireland, so a bit of it is the nuance of how people spoke in that time and place, coupled with wanting there to be more silence than dialogue in the short film. But I discovered early on that silence doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward! I just feel that the more they speak, the more wooden they seem.
*sigh* I’m working on it… :)
I liked the article, for the most part. It was constructive, and should be helpful to beginners who don’t want to look like beginners. I can think of several famous exceptions to the part about too much “movie logic.” Why does the Nazi officer go to the airport by himself, when all through the film he’s been surrounded and guarded by other Nazi’s? It’s so the hero can shoot him and get away with it. But we accept it, because we’re involved in the story, and because we want the good guy to win.
I didn’t notice the missing Part Six, either, but it makes sense. There is no Part Six, because that would be too predictable.
While I agree that dialog should be interesting I don’t necessarily agree that it can’t be straight forward. There’s a lot to be said for INTERESTING albiet straight forward dialog. Too many writers, particularly independent film makers who write their own scripts, go out of their way not to write “on the nose”. You’re left wondering if characters are talking to each other or the voices in their heads. I call these writers the “try too hards”. They throw in some distracting plot device every few lines just to keep the dialog “interesting”. (Do you really need to do three things in between answering a simple question in order to not be too predictable?) Personally I think writing great dialog takes a lot of talent. It should hum along in a beautiful, uncluttered way. Because lets face it, dialog can actually get in the way of the story! And trying too hard not to be boring can be worse than BEING boring!