B.J. Novak is all about lists. He asked me to write this one about issues I frequently see in scripts written by beginning screenwriters.
1. Starting with a concept rather than a character
We don’t want a movie about a lost relic. We want a movie about Indiana Jones.
2. Being too nice to the heroes
I’m glad you love them. Now make them do something and suffer.
3. Trying to adapt their favorite book
It will only end in tears, because the thing that makes the book so great is probably not what would make a great movie. Adaptation is more like transmutation. It’s arcana narrative distillery. It’s not a great place to start your screenwriting journey.
4. Stock scenes
Hitting the alarm clock. Complicated Starbucks orders. Harried mom making breakfast. Parents at the principal’s office. Guys watching the football game.
You may think a stock scene will help shorthand the hero or world, but it just makes the reader stop paying attention. Unless you’re presenting a clever parody/inversion of a stock scene, you’re better off doing anything else.
5. D&D scene description
“This small bedroom has a twin bed, a bookshelf and a desk. There are two lamps, both lit.”
6. Characters with confusingly similar names
Wait, was Lucy or Lisa the girl in the museum?
7. Shoe leather
You rarely need to walk characters into and out of a scene. Most scenes can just be the heart of the idea and done. No doors, no hellos, no goodbyes.
8. Starting off in Final Draft
This isn’t even because of my frustrations with Final Draft as an app. It’s more about process.
If you were writing a song, you wouldn’t sit down with Finale and start dragging in notes. You would use a guitar or piano and start figuring out a melody. You would futz around until you had something you thought was good, and then finally jot it down. You wouldn’t make tidy sheet music until you were ready to show it to someone.
Scenes are like songs. They shouldn’t be made pretty until they are good.
Full disclosure: My company makes Highland, which follows my theory that words should come first. But pen and paper are completely non-proprietary, and another great way to start.