Six Monsters Tips For Screenwriters To Slay Writer's Block
I’m making this post in the hope that it helps some of the new screenwriters out there, wondering why they get so many rejections or what’s up with their screenplays.
I’m a director. I’ve directed successful shorts for a decade. I’ve just completed my first feature film, which was low budget but looks set to do pretty well judging by the way distributors are fighting over it. I’ve just got the greenlight for my second film.
I’m not quite a nobody but I’m pretty damn close, so take this with a pinch of salt or just downvote and walk away… but remember, if a script’s flaws are crystal clear to a nobody, it’s unlikely to be optioned by a somebody.
A few ugly monsters rear their heads again and again. If you can keep them in mind when writing or rewriting, you'll end up with a far stronger script.
Almost unanimously, the scripts I reject have no characters. They have clichés. We’ll have Jock 1, 2 and 3, the loser, the idiot, the geek, the guy who’s a ‘pretty much Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing’, ‘attractive but stupid college girl (who says ‘like’ a lot)’, the stoner (this is usually a pair).
These aren’t characters, they’re stereotypes and as a director, I can’t see an actor worth their salt accepting the role. I can’t direct them in that role either because the character doesn’t exist.
Please, think about your characters. This is too basic and I didn’t expect it to be such a common problem.
Closely related: Characters don’t make decisions or react to things like real people. Someone will lose an arm or get shot in the leg, but conversation will continue like nothing happened. If an old man kills someone he believes to be a drug addict, he’s not going to carry on cooking dinner without mentioning it to his wife. Selfish people will still have a moment of guilt before sending their best friend out as a decoy to be killed. There needs to be a reason for people to act the way they do on screen, not just because it’s cool or funny or scary. It has to come from something real even if the situation is absurd. Please, don’t let the plot decide how charcacters should act.
Exposition. So many scripts with unneeded exposition. Bizarre amounts of dialogue telling a story from the past during the opening scene:
‘Remember the time we took down the Albanian government’ ‘Yeah, you went crazy on all those guards’ ‘Yeah, but you were the one who killed loads of them’ ‘Maybe but you killed the president!’ ‘I do go a little far sometimes’
Why is this scene one? Why do we even need to know this? Who on earth has ever heard a conversation where two people recount with each other, blow by blow, something that happened to both of them, while filling it descriptions of the
character sitting opposite them?
SO. MANY. ZOMBIES. The market is flooded to the brim with cheap zombie films now. Five years ago this would have been a good idea, but now you’ll struggle to fund or sell a zombie film – particularly if it adds nothing new. I’ve read a derivative of Shaun of the Dead so many times it’s absurd, and honestly not once seen anything I’ve not seen before. If it’s zombies you’re writing, please make sure it’s unique from start to finish. That holds for any script really. I’m not going to spend the next year or two of my life working around the clock just to make a lacklustre copy of another film. I need to fall in love with the story, the characters and the central message of
Punctuation and spelling are important. It does take me out of the moment when I’m reading and I can’t tell what a word or sentence means because of a misplaced apostrophe. If it’s full of errors, let me know beforehand that you’re aware of them and will correct them soon.
I’ve had a huge number of messages offering an idea that hasn’t been written yet. So, why do I insist on completed scripts only? I’ve worked with enough writers to know that the problems only really start once the first draft is complete.
You might have an awesome idea. It might be the next big thing. But until it’s on paper, neither of us will know and I’m not going to do the work pushing you to complete it if you don’t have that drive.
I don’t know how fast you work, and it’s quite possible that this first draft might never materialise. You can’t wait for a director, producer or studio to ask you to write your script; you’ve got to have the drive to do that yourself.
Looking at this list, it’s all really obvious: Make believable characters. Make characters drive the plot rather than the other way around. Work on your exposition. Offer something new rather than something derivative. Check your spelling. Finally, write the damn thing so when opportunity comes knocking at the door, you’re ready to answer!