How to Avoid 6 Major Blunders and Elevate Your Screenplay Now
Don’t Let Your Ideas Fall by the Wayside
Written by Paula Brancato
In my career as producer and script developer, I have read over 5,000 screenplays. So many promising concepts fall by the wayside because of errors that a knowledgeable screenwriter can easily avoid. The errors screenwriters make are always the same, whether the writer is a novice or a professional.
Here are six fatal errors in screenwriting. Avoid these major blunders and elevate your screenplay now.
#1 Switching protagonists mid-stream.
If your leading man/lady has fewer lines after page 20, shows up on fewer and fewer pages, and maybe even disappears altogether for ten or more pages at a time, you have switched protagonists and your screenplay will fail. Another character has taken over the screenplay. Your leading man/lady’s reappearance on page 80 or 90 or 100 will do no good at all. Rule #1: Stay with the horse you rode in on.
#2 Having a weak, passive leading lady/man.
Maybe your protagonist is there on every page but just sits and watches or says inane things like, “Oh, my. That is not good,” while quietly sipping his or her beer. Not good. A protagonist, even one whose innate character is passive and iconoclastic must act. Small actions matter: crushing a flower with the heel of a boot, getting drunk, kissing a mirror, stealing a $20 bill. Onscreen the audience can only see action, not what is in a character’s head. If your leading man is thinking and feeling up a storm but the audience has no way to see it, your screenplay will fail.
#3 Having a weak, passive or nonexistent antagonist or one who arrives too late in the game.
A protagonist can only be as strong and interesting as his or her antagonist, the person he pushes against, the person he fights, e.g. the Joker in Dark Knight, who literally made that movie. An antagonist must be a very strong character, not an institution, not a feeling and not an idea, but a flesh and blood embodiment of antagonism, who shows up early and gives the protagonist an extremely hard time.
#4 Not enough conflict.
Every scene, even in a comedy, must have conflict. Two people have to fight over something, each at the expense of the other, for a scene to come alive. What are they fighting over? How do they get in the way of one another trying to get it? Nice, agreeable characters make for very bad screenplays. Give everyone trouble and don’t stop.
#5 Too much exposition.
Talking heads are, mostly, boring on the screen. Show don’t tell. Use action, move characters through various unusual changes of scenery, if nothing else, anything you need to keep the story moving forward. Movies are moving pictures, so keep your scenes and characters moving along.
#6 Not enough action, even small actions.
The audience can only tell the nature of a character in a play or screenplay by the way the character acts, the choices he or she does or does not make. The writer must dramatize what is in the character’s head with actions, because onstage or screen, the audience cannot be inside the character’s head, the way one can, for instance, through the words of a novel. A character makes an important decision. How do we see that moment of decision making? That action can be as small as a wink or as big as detonating an explosive device. Load up your scenes with action.
Most of all, keep writing!