This post was guest written by Script Quack. They offer professional script analysis and are currently giving readers of SellingYourScreenplay.com a special discount. Just enter the discount code “sellingyourscreenplay” (without the quotes) on the discount page which can be found here:
At Script Quack Script Analysis, we see plenty of screenplays each month. Our clients range from beginning writers to veteran scribes. Often, the scripts we read are entertaining, funny, thrilling and compelling. But many also suffer from the same simple mistakes. These missteps undermine story and character; they distract us from the writer’s true intentions, and disrupt the flow of the screenplay.
The most common error we see is overwriting. Scripts with dense action paragraphs and endless dialogue detract from momentum and waste precious ‘white space.’ These scripts put off agency and studio readers before they read even one page of your script.
Fortunately, overwriting is a bad habit that’s easy to break. Follow our advice below to learn how to recognize and correct these errors in your own writing.
– Long Action Paragraphs
A great rule of thumb in action writing is to break up action paragraphs into shots. Every time there would be a new shot, begin a new paragraph. If your action paragraphs are greater than 3 lines long, chances are you’re not adhering to your guidelines.
By shortening your action, you make it easier for a reader to scan the page, reading quickly. This improves pacing and flow, and keeps the momentum moving.
In addition, this will help you see your own movie better in your mind. You’ll begin to consider shots more quickly and with a more discerning eye.
– Excessive use of adverbs and adjectives in action.
Adverbs have very little place in good action writing. Usually, they can (and should) be replaced with action verbs.
Here is an example of poorly written, adverb heavy action: “Bob walks slowly into the barn. He looks angrily at Jim. Jim runs quickly out the back.”
Now read the sentences again. Here, adverbs are replaced by strong, dramatic verbs. The writing is snappier and more direct: “Bob saunters into the barn. Glares at Jim. Jim sprints out the back.”
Newly devoid of verb modifiers, the moment described above is much less ambiguous. And the clearer the image you depict, the more enjoyable your story will be for the reader. Often, the inclusion of adverbs is really just filler. The adverbs serve absolutely no purpose. Take the following phrases, for example: ‘sprints quickly,’ ‘yells loudly’ and ‘clatters noisily.’ In each of these examples, the verb itself is all that’s needed. The adverb is kind of an insult to the all-powerful verb.
I’ve often heard screenwriting compared to poetry writing, and that comparison is never truer than in action. Great action writing, like great poetry, is sparse and powerful. Adverbs are used sparingly, only to introduce new layers or elements to a scene, and never when a strong verb could be used instead.
Read through your script and circle every adjective and adverb. If you’ve got a lot, you’ve got a problem. Decide which to keep and which to cut on a line by line basis, always keeping your thoughts towards crafting sentences that will elicit strong images, using the fewest words.
– Domino Writing
It’s also possible to overwrite with very few grammatical redundancies. I call this ‘domino writing.’ Domino writing is when the action describes every single movement necessary for a simple task to be performed.
Here’s an example: “John picks up his phone. Flips it open. Searches his contacts. Dials a number. Presses send.” Like dominos, every tiny action leans on the next until the phone call is placed.
The writing is robotic, graceless, and really hard to read through the duration of an entire script. If you take this long to get through every simple act, your reader will fall asleep on your script.
To fix this, identify common behaviors and simplify them. “John grabs the phone and makes a call.” Or better yet, “John makes a call.”
– Too Clever for Your Own Dialogue
As writers, we’re all super clever, beautiful people. So when our character has something to say, we sometimes struggle to find the perfect word or phrase. Instead of just picking one, we choose them all.
Here’s an example. Let’s say John wants to call his Uncle Bob fat. It’s tempting to something like this: “You’re overweight, Uncle Bob. You’re huge. You’re obese. You’re the size of an elephant. Seriously, I’m worried. You’re super duper fat, you fat, fat fatty.”
Here, every line devalues the next. Until Uncle Bob’s epic fatness is almost an after thought. Calling Bob fat so many times actually makes him seem less fat, effectively transforming John into “The Boy Who Cried Fat.”
A better line would be: “You’re fat, Uncle Bob.” Perhaps this isn’t the most eloquent sentiment, but it’s direct and it will resonate with your reader, and that’s all it has to do.
This problem might not always be as easy to spot as it is here (hopefully not), but redundancies in dialogue are a simple fix.
Generally, once something has been communicated, visually or through dialogue, it doesn’t need to be said again.
For instance, in the next scene, John’s mom should not say “I heard you called Uncle Bob fat.” There’s no point to that line, because we already know that happened.
Instead, Mom’s line needs to add a new element to the Bob/John dilemma. It needs to push the story further. To that end, a line like “Uncle Bob was crying all night after what you said” is much better.
This line might seem at first like it communicates the same information, but it actually relates something new – Uncle Bob’s reaction to John’s insult.
Hold each line to these standards, and you’ll have crisp, important dialogue that serves your story well.
– Screenwriting and Frogger
On the whole, think of your script like Frogger. Your hero needs to get across the street, and you need to write him there. But if you’ve ever played Frogger, you know that the best games require the fewest jumps.
Similarly, you need to execute the journey with swift, precise moves. If you’re hopping all over the board, you’re probably going to die. So choose your hops wisely, don’t over write, and always keep hopping in the right direction.
Have they made Frogger into a movie yet? If not – – dibs.
– Script Quack
If you’re looking for a script consultant to give you professional notes on your screenplay SellingYourScreenplay.com recommends Script Quack. They are currently giving readers of SellingYourScreenplay.com a special discount. Just enter the discount code “sellingyourscreenplay” (without the quotes) on the discount page which can be found here: