Most Glaring Screenplay Problem: Lesson 1

Most Glaring Screenplay Problem: Lesson 1



I love this visual. In fact, I love it so much I thought I would spend 10 articles writing about each category.

I came across this image in an email recently (you may have gotten too). Maybe it was the cute symmetry, or the cool chart-like feel, but I thought it illustrated so clearly where screenplays go wrong. And I want to add that it’s not just amateur scripts — I’ve read professional scripts that make some of the mistakes too. However, don’t start strutting yet. This picture pretty clearly shows what’s happening, and after reading many new and experienced writers, I have to say it hits the mark. I’m even guilty of some of them now and then. (That’s what rewriting is about)

Look at the high number to the left – 45% – underdeveloped plot. BOO! HORRIBLE. DON’T BE THIS PERSON!

This is common and I’m going to agree.

We want a good story well told, and if your plot is underdeveloped your story can’t possibly be well told. Your story is the thing that keeps us hooked, and if it fails, well…. no amount of beautiful verse, cool characters, awesome dialogue, gun fights, sex scenes or cursing can save it. Period. End of story.

Lesson 1: develop your story. That’s why people outline. I know, many of you don’t think it’s necessary. I do. It’s like a map that will take you from Dunsmuir to Taos to Nashville to Wilmington. It’s doesn’t have to be elaborate, but you should know what happens in each scene and how it moves the story forward. You should know what information your characters need to get across, where you want your audience emotionally, what you need to set up now for pay offs later… all that good junk. Yes. You’ll discover cool stuff as you write, and @hit will change, but you’ll save yourself so much time, and emotional turmoil if you do the planning ahead of the writing. Farmers till the ground before planting. Designers draw a pattern before cutting. Writers plot the story before writing.

So, put a stop to underdeveloped plots. Now. But how? Get feedback. Ask questions? Don’t expect people to read your damn outline. Just pitch it until all the pieces fit. Find somebody who gets structure, or story flow, and beat your story out together. You’re looking for logic issues. You’re looking for ways to elevate scenes and move action forward. You want your protagonist to be active and take action. You need your antagonist to thwart the protag’s plans every chance she can. You must have ups and downs, surprises, twists and moments of discovery. Plot your character’s arc (more on that in lesson 2).

Whether you follow Save The Cat or Lew Hunter or The Hero’s Journey… plot and structure are your friends. You don’t have to follow a Hollywood formula – please don’t, surprise us – but if your story meanders and goes nowhere fast, you have a problem.

Of course, you can always hire me as a consultant. Short or features – start with a strong foundation and you’ve just landed yourself in the top 50%.