5 Ways to Identify a Poorly Written Screenplay

Sep 16, 2023

Professional screenplay readers, talent managers, producers – they all share a common goal: to unearth that gem of a script, They’re looking for a potential blockbuster that will make everyone involved some serious money. Reading a captivating screenplay could mean plenty of money for all parties involved, this is why these industry experts swiftly move on when they stumble upon a boring script.

Now, the question that plagues many aspiring writers is this: What exactly makes a screenplay bad? Well, we’re here to break that down for you. Here are 5 ways to identify a poorly written screenplay:

 

1. Poor Formatting

Picture this: You’ve penned a brilliant story, brimming with creativity, but you decided to take a shortcut and skip the formatting bit. Bad move. 

Formatting is a writer’s way of speaking a universal language in the film industry. Properly formatted scripts signal professionalism and a strong work ethic. If you neglect this aspect, your script may be tossed aside as unprofessional and not worth the reader’s time.

 

2. Weak Dialogue

Dialogues in a script are like the glue that holds it all together. They convey essential information between characters and, more importantly, to the reader (and eventually the viewer). Yet, crafting the perfect dialogue isn’t a walk in the park. 

Long-winded or overly informative dialogues can be a turn-off. Instead of telling, show the readers what’s happening and let them infer the reason why using the crumbs you’ve expertly laid out. 

Use dialogues to reveal inner thoughts through actions and reactions, or to unveil backstories subtly. Let the characters’ voices shine naturally. For example, in the real world, not everyone speaks fluently, so why should that be so in your script, which is a mirror of the real world?

 

Poorly Written Screenplay - Albantsho Blog - westworld

British-Zimbabwean actress, Thandie Newton in HBO’s “Westworld” (2016-2022)

3. Bland Characters

If your main character lacks charisma or depth, you’re steering your script toward disaster. 

Regardless of whether they start the story as a good or bad person, your main character should be the beating heart of your story, someone the audience can rally behind. This principle extends to all characters; they should be relatable and endearing. 

Think of series like “Westworld” (2016-2022), where a diverse array of characters confront morally complex situations. A tip for your next screenplay: Craft characters that interestingly walk the fine line between good and bad; they’re typically really interesting to follow on a journey, and this will allow readers to emotionally connect.

 

4. Predictable Plots

Nothing deflates the excitement of a movie or script more than predicting the ending within the first 10 minutes. A good script should be an unfolding journey, a narrative that constantly surprises and intrigues. 

Audiences despise predictability; they prefer stories that keep them engaged and guessing. Take the movie “Knives Out” (2019), for instance – a gripping murder mystery that masterfully keeps viewers on their toes.

 

5. Lack of Basic Genre Tropes 

Genre matters. Audiences come with expectations. Imagine picking up an action script, only to find a scarcity of thrilling action sequences. Or diving into a comedy with not even a laugh in sight. 

It’s crucial to deliver what the genre promises by way of tropes. If it’s action, include the adrenaline-pumping moments. For comedy, ensure the laughs are abundant. Align your script with, at least, the basics of the genre you’ve chosen; don’t leave the reader (and viewers) sorely disappointed in a bid to surpass expectations for your movie.

 

In conclusion, crafting a compelling story is just the beginning of correcting a poorly written screenplay. To do justice to your creation, you must present it properly. So, write your script not only as a good story but also in the proper format it deserves. 

Did you find this insightful? Share your thoughts with us! There are more valuable screenwriting tips here. If you have a topic you’d like us to write about, let us know in the comments.

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