Some random thoughts that occured to me as I read dozens of scripts.

My$15 script special blew up in a way that I haven’t seen before. I’m pleasantly surprised.

  1. When you’re writing an opening line, if you use a word like “susuration” or “diurnal” you vastly increase the odds of the reader leaving your script for google to look up that word. That’s not where you want my attention.
  2. If you’re going to do a ton of world building, setting up why the crimson androids hate the quantum nexus stellar zombies, make sure they’re payoff for that 25 pages of necessary exposition. If the script becomes two guys in a room talking about how they’re going to fight them, I lose faith that the setup was delivered in good faith, that i’s going to be used to bring me entertaining sequences that couldn’t have been used otherwise.
  3. If a script is longer than 120 I sigh and consider reading a shorter one with a better title. Now imagine how that would play out if I wasn’t contractually obligated to read material. It wouldn’t get read. Try to make scripts 105-115 pages, not because of the “rules,” but because it communicates a better first impression to a reader.
  4. There’s a note in improv that goes, “You followed the plot.” It’s not a good note to get. What it means is that rather than spending a three minute scene exploring the ideas presented and creating fun, textural details, the improvisers rushed to incident. If a scene is funny because of a nerdy wizard, we want to see more of that wizard, not rush ahead to pro forma plot points like the wizard’s plan, an attack by a barbarian, a murderous dragon. Screenwriting is more plot dependent than improv, but it’s still possible to “follow the plot,” or “rush to incident,” as a screenwriting professor might say. It’s not just about presenting a consistent barrage of ideas, it’s about exploring each idea, milking the entertainment out of it, and moving on.
  5. By the time page 25 rolls around, your audience is done learning about stuff. If you’re still explaining the rules of starship combat by page 90, you’re dead in the water.
  6. If a script has 86 pages and lots of white space, it tends to feel like a short that’s been unwisely stretched to feature length for “commercial viability.” I’m rarely wrong on this impression. Features aren’t features because they’re 90 pages, they’re features because their second act is full of smart, well written sequences that justify their existence as entertainment.
  7. Keep scenes active. In the second act, any time someone talks about what we’ve already seen/what could happen/what will happen, it’s dead in the water. Keep the scenes active by showing what’s happening NOW, not talking about it.
  8. In a similar vein, if a script has more than 5 pages of a reporter or a control room reporting on the action, it’s a very bad sign.
  9. Once the premise is set up, I have a rough idea of how it will end, you’re not going to surprise me. The trick is to use sequences to make getting there half the fun.
  10. A coda is the part of the script that happens after the main action is done (example: bad guy gets shot, good guy clears name. CODA: He opens a school). The coda shouldn’t be longer than 3 pages if that.
  11. I really hate this kind of grammar: Bill walks into the room. At the water fountain is Jimmy. It’s technically correct and some great pros do it, that’s just my taste. When I see it, it reads like people are trying to sound literary. If Jimmy is standing at the water cooler, just say that.
  12. I still stand by this article: most second acts suck, but I have evolved my thoughts on why. I’ll update that post when I’m done with my backlog of scripts.[2]

The $15 offer expires end of December. If you pay now, you can redeem at any point in 2015.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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