The Script Reader’s Top 10 Screenplay “Dos”

The following is a very basic list of items that get my attention as a script reader. If your script addresses each of these points, you’re probably doing a good job. I will be excited to read your script.

So, here we go, a list of my top 10 screenplay “dos” when reading:

DO keep your page count under 115 and, genre dependent, above 90. Horrors and comedies can easily come in at 95 to 105 pages. Most scripts these days do not come in at 120+ pages.

DO write with your own voice. From page one, I want to feel that you have your own voice.

DO write the hell out of your first 10-15-20 pages. I will forgive a LOT later on if the beginning is great. Conversely, if the beginning is poorly written or confusing, I likely won’t read to the end. That is a guaranteed pass.

DO write in ONE genre. You can mix genres, but then make sure you manage the conventions of both genres competently.

DO write something that feels familiar but is fresh, a new and unique take on subject matter we’ve seen before.

DO make me laugh and cry. Make me feel something. The more I feel about your script, the more the characters come alive, the more I’ll be willing to fight for your script.

DO use 4-5 action lines to introduce your character. Be vivid, unique, evocative. I don’t care what they’re wearing. I much more care about qualities of their person that indicate the character arc – where they’re at now and to where they will grow.

DO be sure you’re not repeating beats. Each scene should BOTH expose character AND move the story forward.

DO use the tone to your advantage. If you’re writing a horror, make it really scary – from page one. If you’re writing a thriller, thrill me. If you’re writing a comedy, make me laugh out loud. A lot. The tone should be abundantly clear from page one and remain consistent throughout.

DO think very carefully about theme and make sure the undercurrent and subtext of every scene touches upon that theme.

For a complete list of my Screenplay Competition “Dos,” click here.

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5 Responses to The Script Reader’s Top 10 Screenplay “Dos”

  1. Dean Schweinler February 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Hello,

    Would you please explain your preference for 115 pages? This first draft is around 122, and cutting anything resembles the process of pulling teeth. Any insight into 115 would be greatly appreciated in terms of being able to endure the pain. Thanks very much, and of course….

    My very best regards,
    Dean

  2. clee March 26, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Okay. Thank you!

  3. Monica May 25, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Dean, I wouldn’t say I have a “preference” for 115 pages, I would just say that scripts these days don’t come in longer. A tight script could be 103 pages, 107 pages, whereas a script at 122 pages smacks of a new writer, because professionally written scripts (although, genre dependent – some genres can be longer) aren’t usually overwritten. The contemporary model is closer to the 100 page model (25/50/25), whereas the older 120 page model (30/60/30) is just a longer, heavier read.

    You have to remember, for a professional reader who has dozens – if not hundreds – of scripts to get through, those extra 20 pages make a difference. To me, anything over 115 looks like it wasn’t edited, so I assume it’s either a new writer or a first draft. Either implication doesn’t inspire confidence.

    Cutting probably feels like pulling teeth now because you’re not used to it. Keep writing, get yourself into a brutal writers’ group, and soon it won’t feel as precious to you. Write to the beats of your story and cut, cut, cut!

  4. Dennis February 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Can you explain more what you mean by write with your own voice?

  5. djc May 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    each page is about 1 min. Writing past 120 means the movie is too long, it cost more to make, it will have fewer shows per day in the theater…. it is about cost and money.