How to Strengthen Weak Plots in Screenplays

Sep 25, 2023

Let’s dive right into the heart of storytelling – the plot. A plot, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the interconnected sequence of main events in a play, novel, film, or similar work, as devised by the writer. A strong plot seamlessly weaves together characters, settings, and events, while weak plots can leave your audience uninspired.

The strength of a plot can vary depending on the story’s elements and genre. Action films demand explosions and epic showdowns, while comedies thrive on humor. It’s crucial to understand your genre and its conventions in order to create a compelling plot.

Now, let’s address some common pitfalls weak plots encounter and explore strategies to fortify them.


1. Unlikeable Protagonist

Crafting a relatable and flawed main character is paramount. Audiences today seek depth and authenticity. Perfect protagonists don’t resonate; flawed ones do. Regardless of the genre, your protagonist should be relatable to regular people and rooted in the story, this is how they become likeable. 

Consider Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant yet socially challenged detective. Embrace imperfection to engage your audience fully.

Weak Plots - Sherlock Holmes

Robert Downey Jr. in “Sherlock Holmes” (2009)

2. Unimportant Dialogues

In early drafts, it’s easy to indulge in witty or fascinating dialogues. However, during revisions, prune the excess. Keep dialogues purposeful, advancing the plot or developing characters. Less can be more when it comes to dialogues in screenplays.


3. Wrong Genre Tropes

Each genre has its recipe. Action demands thrilling sequences, while coming-of-age relies on heartfelt conversations. Analyze your script, know your genre’s tropes, and embrace them to create a convincing story. Ignoring these can lead to disconnection between your story and the audience.


4. Confusing Plots

While complexity can enrich a story, confusion often messes things up. It is important to maintain momentum during high-tension moments. 

Let’s illustrate this with an example: picture a man rushing his laboring wife to the hospital but suddenly veers into a lengthy flashback about a chance encounter at a grocery store. He thinks about what the person has on and then wanders off even further, thinking about where the person lives.

Do you see the issue? At this juncture, the audience grapples with uncertainty, unsure of where to invest their empathy – in the pregnant wife or a random grocery store stranger.

To prevent such confusion, steer clear of unnecessary detours and protracted delays in reaching crucial plot points. Offer your audience a clear, well-guided narrative journey to keep them fully engaged. Complexity is welcome in your story, but confusion isn’t.


How to strengthen weak plots

“Soole” (2021)


5. Disappointing Plot Resolution

A hero’s journey centers around achieving a goal, whether they initially realize this or not. Consistent character growth is key. 

Consider this scenario: your protagonist, a timid individual unable to assert themselves, finds themselves in the sole position to avert a world-ending crisis. However, upon arrival, they freeze, only for an unforeseen, practically irrelevant savior to swoop in at the last moment.

Many popular movies are guilty of this bizarre narrative choice.

To maintain narrative integrity, whenever possible, avoid introducing a deus ex machina—a sudden, unrelated savior—to save the day. Such a plot twist disconnects the audience and calls the story’s purpose into question. Remember, your protagonist’s journey embodies the essence of the tale; ensure it carries significance throughout.


6. Scenes That Add Nothing to the Plot

Like dialogue dumps, any scene that has no use in the whole story should be removed. Every scene should contribute. Whether it reveals character traits or advances the plot, each moment matters. 

If someone spits on the main character, it should signify something. The character’s response, too, should reveal something about them and where they currently are in their journey; perhaps they hate confrontation or are weak.  Avoid unrelated diversions; they confuse the audience, disrupt the story’s flow, and result in weak plots.


7. Contradicting Storylines

During intense moments of the creative process, contradictions may emerge. When confusion and fatigue set in, contradictions sneak through. Review your work meticulously. Read your script multiple times to uncover and resolve any inconsistencies. You can also employ the help of friends, family, and trusted colleagues to review with a fresh pair of eyes and give opinions.


Which of these issues have you faced lately? Share in the comments below.

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