Article by Don Macnab-Stark

The Three Most Common Screenplay Mistakes

When you send your screenplay off to someone to read, you want to make a good impression – producers and readers see hundreds of scripts, so it’s vital that yours is looked at favourably right from the outset.

However, before you even get to the quality of your story, there are three common mistakes that screenwriters often make, each of which is guaranteed to immediately put a reader’s guard up. It is vital to ensure that this doesn’t happen with your script, because once people start to form a negative impression of someone or something, it takes a huge amount to change their view.

In other words, if you are making any (or all) of these basic screenplay mistakes, your script is going to have to be exceptional in every other way if people are to look past your mistakes.

So before you send your screenplay to anyone, make sure that the basics are in place. That means ensuring that you have paid extra careful attention to:

Spelling and Grammar: I know this sounds obvious, but you would be amazed how many scripts are sent out that have poor spelling or dodgy grammar. You have to check and double-check your spelling and grammar – think about it, almost by default, anyone that you send a script to (production company, analyst, etc) is likely to be someone with a love of words. Abusing the English language will immediately give them a negative feeling about your work.

Format: There are no ifs and buts here – you have to get the format right. Poorly or incorrectly formatted scripts drive readers crazy. By far the easiest way to avoid formatting problems is to use screenwriting software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. If you can’t afford either of those, you can try using free software like CeltX, or even set up Word to format your writing properly. But whichever route you take, make sure your script is properly formatted. Poor formatting is the mark of an amateur.

Length: Size matters! Too many spec scripts are over length, which is another huge turn-off for readers. Why? Put yourself in their position – would you rather read the tightly written 110-page script or the loose and fuzzy 150-page script? The bottom line is that your script should be between 90 and 120 pages – any shorter than that and it’s not really a feature film, any longer and it suggests that you don’t have control of your craft – it’s your job as a screenwriter to write a script within those parameters.

Are there exceptions to this? Of course – Peter Jackson’s King Kong script runs around 163 pages. But until you have directed a trilogy of movies that have grossed over two billion dollars you need to stick to the rules!

These are the absolute basics, the things you have to get right every time you write and send out a spec script. Think of them like strikes in baseball – each of them is one step closer to striking out. Three strikes and you’re out!

Are you a great writer? I have no idea. But I do know that if you don’t pay attention to the basics, no one will ever read your scripts all the way through.

By making sure that your spelling and grammar, your layout, and your script length are all on the money, you are giving yourself the best chance possible that people will read your scripts with an open mind – and as an unproduced screenwriter that’s a good place to start.

Don Macnab-Stark is a screenwriter, script doctor and consultant living in England. Don consults with writers from all over the world, helping them to improve and develop their scripts, and has written almost twenty feature scripts, including:

Long, Cold Winter: Shooting in Sweden, 2011, Greencap Films

Rabid: Shooting in Michigan, Fall 2010 (Director Brian Lawrence).

For a free screenwriting newsletter packed with more tips, visit:

Screenwriting Tips

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Technorati
  • Live
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace