Script readers have the difficult task of reading spec script submissions sent to studios, producers and agents, the good and the bad, and a lot of the later. I’m always interested to hear what they have to say about storytelling. They may not be great writers or teachers of screenwriting, but just by virtue of swimming in the slush pile they have some good insight for writers.
One such reader is Terry Rossio who keeps a blog called Wordplayer. In a blog post titled “Death to Readers” he provides a checklist of 60 guidelines that he compiled and used to help him analyze the scripts he read for six different studios.
Here are a few guidelines from his checklist.
- #48. What does the audience want for the characters? It’s all right to be either for or against a particular character — the only unacceptable emotion is indifference.
- #53. Character conflicts should be both internal and external. Characters should struggle with themselves, and with others.
- #56. ‘Character superior’ sequences (where the character acts on information the audience does not have) usually don’t work for very long — the audience gets lost. On the other hand, when the audience is in a ‘superior’ position — the audience knows something that the characters do not — it almost always works. (NOTE: This does not mean the audience should be able to predict the plot!)
Ken Miyamoto was a script reader for Sony Pictures, often writes for the website Screencraft. In an article titled 75 Things you SHOULDN’T Do When Writing a Script he offers some good, practical advice on the nuts and bolts of writing a screenplay.
- 12. Try to avoid using CONTINUOUS in your scene heading because most people misuse the term anyway.
- 20. Don’t direct the actor by telling them where they should have a beat between dialogue.
- 34. Don’t go into every major detail about each scene’s production design. That’s not your job.
- 45. Don’t follow screenwriting guru beat sheats to a page number tee. Those types of scripts are overly predictable.
A script reader named Alex analyzed 300 script submissions and broke them down into into an interesting infographic detailing characteristics as well as recurring story problems. He did this exercise in 2013, but the information is still useful.
Second part of the infographic.