The basic “do nots” before you send your script to a competition. The following is a very basic list of items that do not impress me as a competition reader and, more often than not, will get your script a resounding pass. If your script contains any of these points, consider rewriting before submitting to a competition.
DO NOT junk up your title page. Title and perhaps name and contact info. Not necessary to put WGA registration info. Do not put any revision information. No draft dates.
DO NOT put production company info on your script. We’re not looking for scripts that are in production. This does not make you look more professional.
DO NOT submit a draft that includes production revisions (locked drafts that star lines that have been revised). This is for production purposes only. Your script is not in production. Don’t do it.
DO NOT fudge the margins. A half-inch margin is NOT an inch margin. That’s a big no-no. The reader will dislike you even before getting to the content of your writing.
DO NOT extend the dialogue margins. I personally find this particularly annoying as it really affects page count.
DO NOT use mores and continueds on every page. Not necessary. As well, do not use a CUT TO: after a scene unless you’re making a pointed break.
DO NOT write an idea as a script that is basically a stage play. It can be done, but it’s unlikely you’re John Patrick Shanley, so I don’t recommend it.
DO NOT choose obscure subject matter that will not appeal to millions of people. MASS appeal. Remember, this reader is your first stop on this track. If you write something poorly that is grossly offensive or too limited in scope, it’s not likely to get past me. Be in good taste.
DO NOT tell me a story I’ve heard, seen or read before. This is where doing your homework comes in. If you are going to take a previously produced concept, rewrite it in a fresh, unique and current way. Be creative. Wow me.
DO NOT switch genres. Don’t begin your movie as a drama and then suddenly switch it up so that it becomes a thriller. The only thing this will accomplish is to annoy your reader.
DO NOT write long blocks of action lines. Yes, there are writers who write like this. And they get paid a lot to do it, and because they’re well known, people read their block text. Most readers have too much to read and read down the page (dialogue), unless your prose is very sparse and also stellar. The more text on the page, the less compelled I am to read it.
DO NOT have deadly pacing. You might be writing the most exciting sequence on the planet but if the pace of the read is slow, it won’t be fun and exciting to read. The physical read should mirror the experience of watching it. Pay attention to pacing.
DO NOT waste your character introductions with an ambiguous name, no age, no gender, and clothing as a description of character. I don’t care if your character is wearing khakis. Be smart. Make use of your page count.
DO NOT introduce primary characters in a group. It is impossible to really get to know them or see who to track. Make sure your protagonist has his own scene and make it outstanding. Introduce other primary characters in unique ways wherein I will really remember them and be able to track them.
DO NOT give every single character in your script a name. It is fine to introduce “WAITRESS” as long as that is a minor role.
DO NOT have too many principal characters. If you do have to introduce a lot of characters or are writing an ensemble piece, make sure you’ve written a very strong protagonist who can help us track these characters as you introduce them. Otherwise, the reader will likely get confused. Make each character vividly unique, give them a unique name (i.e., different from the others, such as Sally and Melinda and Todd; not Tom, Tim and Tod) and speak in a unique voice so I don’t get confused when I read down the page.
DO NOT transcribe an accent or foreign language. Use an action line to give a 1 line description that the individual speaks in a foreign language or with a specific dialect. Don’t write it out phonetically.
DO NOT direct the camera. That’s not your job. Your job is to tell an awesome story. Your job is not to tell the director how to do his job.
DO NOT overuse parentheticals. It is distracting.
DO NOT put your name, the title or any other text (other than page numbers) on your script as the header or footer.
DO NOT write ANY scene that neither exposes character nor moves your story forward. That’s why we outline. Beat out your project before you start writing.
DO NOT break up the flow of dialogue with too many action lines. If you need one action line in a scene to indicate a major emotional beat, then use it to good effect.
DO NOT dump multiple story beats in one scene. That is simply confusing.
DO NOT have people talk on the phone just for the sake of it. If there is a specific beat that needs to happen on the phone, so be it – but it’s all the better is that beat is underscoring something essential about the story. Just because we do it in real life doesn’t mean it’s cinematic.
DO NOT have breaks in logic. Don’t write a confusing world that I don’t understand. Things should be abundantly clear. I won’t be invested enough to try to understand your convoluted world.
DO NOT have typos. Check your grammar, have someone proofread your script, and make sure your language looks smart. If you can’t be bothered to proof your script and write in English, why should I be bothered to read it?
DO NOT send out a script that’s been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years or more without a serious polish. I don’t want to read a script that is current about the Bush era (and not a period piece). I don’t want to read about hip teens listening to “Baby Hit Me One More Time.” Be current. Be relevant.