5 common screenwriting mistakes to avoid

Tue 1 Dec 2020

As an aspiring screenwriter, you’re competing against thousands of other hopefuls for the attention of a reader at a TV, film, or production company. From the very first page, it will be obvious to the reader whether you know how to write – don’t miss your chance to impress by making some of these common screenwriting errors.

  1. Overdirecting

Have you described the physical appearance of your characters from the length of their hair to the colour of their shoelaces? Edit it out! A screenplay should be a blueprint that includes dialogue, action, and settings, nothing more. Leave the casting to the casting director, the costuming to the costume designer, and the directing to the director – there’s no need to include detailed physical descriptions of your characters, adjectives dictating how the actors should deliver their lines, or camera movements detailing how the scene progresses.

  1. Not knowing the real beginning of the story

In real life we may start our day reading the back of the cereal packet while we spoon granola into our mouths, but that’s hardly going to thrill an audience. Writers often find that their initial script has too much introductory information, and the real story begins two or three scenes further along. Don’t be afraid to rewrite your script – it’s just as important as drafting an outline before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Agents rarely have time to read an entire script, so the first 10 pages need to grab their attention.


  1. Poor dialogue

Writing dialogue for a screenplay is a difficult skill to master. Hyper realistic dialogue that we would use in everyday life lacks direction, but ‘on the nose’ dialogue in which characters say exactly what they are feeling or thinking sounds unnatural and can ruin a script. Try to keep dialogue to essential plot development and character detail, avoiding long description paragraphs or sluglines and unnecessary words. Read your dialogue aloud once you have written your first draft – if you can’t imagine anyone saying it in real life it probably shouldn’t be in the script.

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  1. Incorrect formatting

Font and spacing may seem like minor details that shouldn’t make or break a script, but screenplays have prescribed formats and all professional scriptwriters adhere to them. Type in 12-point Courier font, leave a one-inch page margin at the top of your script, and capitalise character names when you introduce them. Formatting rules are complicated, but screenwriting software such as Final Draft or WriterDuet can make life simpler and enable you to focus on the dialogue rather than the technical details.

  1. Failing to proofread

A single spelling mistake may not prompt an agent to throw your script in the nearest recycling bin, but multiple minor errors look unprofessional and won’t inspire confidence in your writing skills. Before you submit your script for consideration, check every page for spelling and grammar issues. Make sure your dialogue sounds realistic and serves to further the plot. Double check for any inconsistencies, such as character names that may have changed half way through your script. You only get one chance to make a strong impression on a producer – don’t let minor errors ruin it for you.

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Discover more:

5 signs your life is scripted for an MA in screenwriting 

How to become a screenwriter

Writing for Script & Screen, Blog

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