7 Common Screenwriting Mistakes to Avoid as a New Screenwriter

Sep 11, 2023

As a storyteller delving into the world of screenwriting, you’re not just learning the art but also the technique. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a novice, there are certain expectations from script readers. Here’s a list of common screenwriting mistakes that could potentially do your script a disservice. It’s good practice to take note of these possible mistakes even before starting your screenplay.


1. Using Excessive Cinematography and Editing Terms

Every formatting element in your script has a purpose, but it should never overshadow your story. It’s easy to become obsessed with camera movements or editing transitions, but remember that your primary goal is to evoke vivid imagery and emotions. Camera terms and transitions can disrupt the flow unless you’re the director or it’s essential for the story. In most cases, it’s best to avoid these terms.


2. Overuse of Parentheticals

While it might seem obvious, it’s worth noting that parentheticals should be used sparingly. Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for the story, we start telling actors how to perform their roles within parentheses. This can clutter your script and potentially irritate actors. Parentheticals are meant to provide additional information about actions or delivery, so use them judiciously to achieve their intended effect.


3. Unfilmable Action Lines or Qualifiers

Unfilmable elements, such as character thoughts or deep insights into personalities, have no place in a screenplay. Your goal is to convey actions and elements that can be visually depicted on screen. For instance, instead of writing, “We see a portrait of a flower on his wall, which shows his love for flowers,” focus on describing actions and elements that allow the reader to infer the intended insights.


Common Screenwriting Mistakes - under-utilizing sluglines

What is a slugline? | StudioBinder


4. Underusing Sluglines

Don’t underestimate the importance of sluglines. They provide essential information to the reader about the location, time of day, and whether the scene is indoors or outdoors. Even if your character moves from one room to another within the same house, make sure to clearly indicate the change in location. This clarity is vital for your collaborators in bringing your story to life.


5. Over-Describing Your Characters

While it’s important to provide some character description, avoid going overboard. Some writers delve into minute details about a character’s appearance, including their choice of clothing. Instead, focus on conveying the key information that helps the reader understand the character’s role in the story. Casting directors often prefer concise descriptions that allow them flexibility in finding the right actor for the role.


6. Writing Pointless Dialogue

In screenwriting, every line of dialogue should serve a purpose in advancing the story. Unlike real life, where conversations can meander, your screenplay should maintain a sense of purpose. Even if a dialogue exchange seems witty or clever, if it doesn’t contribute to the story’s progression, it’s best to trim it down or eliminate it altogether.


7. Prose vs. Poetry in Screenwriting

Screenwriting is a form of storytelling that thrives on economy and precision. While it doesn’t demand the verbosity of prose, it should still possess the power to evoke vivid images and emotions. The key is to strike a balance between economizing words and crafting scenes that resonate emotionally. Avoid superfluous language and focus on the art of concise, impactful storytelling.


In conclusion, screenwriting is a delicate blend of art and technique. By avoiding these common screenwriting mistakes, you can elevate your script and enhance its appeal to both readers and collaborators.


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