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How To Know If A Screenplay Is Good

Adam Scott

This article will discuss how to know if a screenplay is good, but keep in mind that it's not so simple. Many well-intentioned directors and producers are under the impression that a script, if written well, should feel like a theatrical play or motion picture script.

With a few hundred words and some artistic license, this may be true. However, scripts written with the express purpose of being the basis of a feature film script are nothing like a play.

Shakespeare famously said "All the world's a stage" and that can be used as a cautionary tale. Of course, it's fun to create characters and settings for an audience, but ultimately, a script is not a play. People want to see the film they're going to spend a few hours in!

As a screenwriter, it's my job to create a blueprint for a film that fits the restrictions of a medium where acting is one of the few tools available to create emotion. If I have to get from point A to point B in 90 minutes without any meaningful character development or emotion, then my script is going to be bad.

Screenplays that fail in this department are destined for movie purgatory, an enduring life at a festival that won't bring in an audience. This will discourage producers and financiers from watching.

It's hard to predict how many of these scripts will make it into production. They're not easy to produce (anyone who's been a writer for even a few years knows that scripts need to be heavily edited to meet editorial deadlines), and there are just so many good scripts out there.

However, a negative sentiment is noticeable, so let's talk about the difference between a bad screenplay and a good screenplay.

Realism – and lack ofbrown and black typewriter

Dialogue

Dialogue drives the pacing of the film and is what brings viewers into the world a filmmaker has created. However, dialogue doesn't always need to be natural.

Using cliches and redundancies is cheap writing. Also, don't shy away from fake sounding dialogue if it makes the story stronger. Putting "yep" and "yeah" in the same sentence isn't exactly the most exciting thing.

Putting bad dialogue in the mouth of a believable character is better than putting good dialogue in the mouth of a character who is a talking dog.

Realistic characters

Having one or two believable characters in the entire cast of a film is good enough. There's nothing wrong with having three or four main characters in a movie, but the magic of film is the cumulative effect of a series of characters you see over and over.

Don't make two of these characters say the same thing three times in one scene. That's lazy writing.

Bad writing gets very difficult to watch. You don't need to know a screenwriter's name to see what a script is like. It's on the page.

Character names

If the name of the main character, the antagonist, or any other character in your script is "Doctor," "Professor," "Jack," "Bill," "Steve," "Bob," "Peter," or anything else with "Dr." in front of it, run away. Do not watch this movie.

Do not read this script. Do not discuss this script with anyone.

Never watch this film.

Story is kingcup of coffee near open book with eyeglasses

For the purposes of a screenplay, every plot point needs to advance the plot in the way you outlined it. If you couldn't see how your character got from point A to point B, then you have not created a compelling screenplay.

If you had no idea how to get from point A to point B, then you probably shouldn't be writing scripts. Try to avoid a series of scenes that are easy to recognize as being connected as well as the characters.

  • Characters who try to help, but don't do enough to help.
  • Characters who show up late and leave early.
  • Characters who are passive aggressive.
  • Characters who overdo their emotion.
  • Characters who try to be funny, but aren't funny.
  • Characters who try to be heartwarming, but are really annoying.
  • Characters who take themselves way too seriously.

Novels tend to have weaker characters. A lot of fiction is character driven. But most people will enjoy watching a movie more than they would enjoy reading a novel.

Story beats in a screenplay

  • Internal story
  • Suspense
  • Climactic battle
  • Deceptive character
  • Return from climactic battle
  • Action

Good storytelling doesn't leave out anything or go overboard with too many of these basic elements.

Ending too quicklywriting person beside glass filled with black liquid on turned off iPhone in front of turned on MacBook Air on table

I've read screenplays where the ending came in about 30 to 60 pages before the first scene. That's pretty much impossible to write a movie and have it be good.

If you can't write a movie that is well-written, you don't deserve to be a screenwriter. Most movies will be resolved in the last 30 to 60 pages, but that doesn't mean that your movie should end there.

One flaw I have seen in screenplays I've read is the lack of the end-of-the-world twist. This is the most boring way to conclude a screenplay.

There are so many better ways to end the screenplay.

When writing a script, you need to tell the story that you want the audience to see in the movie. This could be a pretty good movie, but if the audience doesn't care about the main character or the antagonist, then it's not going to be a hit.

Learn to tell stories.

No matter how many movies you see or how many screenplays you read, no matter how many examples you see, you need to learn how to tell stories and how to create characters.

Learn to write screenplays.

Good luck, and good script.

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