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Mastering the Art of Screenwriting: 7 Tricks to Elevate Your Script

Apply these tricks in your re-writes and stop readers from 'passing' on your script.

Most readers, whilst welcoming original and brilliant scripts are actively looking for reasons to 'pass' on your script. They are looking for reasons to say no. This can be for a myriad of reasons, typically given to them from the higher ups. But regardless of the reasons, it results in silly mistakes and over-looked blunders working against the success of your script.

In light of that, here are 7 tricks to keep up your sleeve for your re-writes.

As well as improving story and fixing plot holes, re-writes are the perfect time to iron our creases and elevate your writing style.

So if you want to put yourself in a higher tier of screenwriters; follow these tips.

Don't Use Scene Numbers

Scene numbers are only needed on shooting scripts. This is why you'll commonly see them on produced scripts you read online. This accidentally encourages new screenwriters to use scene numbers in their early drafts. Unfortunately when sending out 'scene numbered scripts' to industry folk it's a telltale sign of a newbie. So don't let this be you. Scene Numbers are there for the purpose of production only. They have no business being on your script yet.

Use SpellCheck

This should really go without saying but it's far too easy to have typos in a script. Spellcheck isn't always a failsafe. It misses those pesky mistakes that are not technically spelt wrong. Like 'the' instead of 'they' 'you' instead of 'your' etc. Here at Script Stable we are especially aware of this struggle, being a neurodiverse office we are typo city over here. So we sympathise. If this sounds like you too, find help. Whether it's software or a hot-typo-spotting-friend you can ask them to proof read it for you. Make sure you've gone through your script with a fine tooth comb before sending it out to important people. The odd typo isn't the end of the world - but a script littered with mistakes gives them impression of rushing, or not caring. This is off putting to a reader.

Don't Use Camera Angles

Again, an issue of reading produced scripts online. Established writer/directors can use camera angles in their shooting drafts. Even if you are a director intending to shoot the script you're working on; you shouldn't be using camera angles in your action lines. If you want a Close Up of someone's eye in the scene, don't write 'Close Up of her eye' but instead elicit action that gives us that direction.

Something like:

'Her bloodshot eye darts to the door'

Get creative. Readers don't want to see this rookie mistake of over-stylised direction in the script. Not only does it take them out of the flow of reading, it also alerts them to your level of screenplay knowledge. By all means, have your own version of the script with direction and angles in it but keep that for yourself.

Use Active Tense

This is a very common faux pas. So many new screenwriters write their action lines as they would write a novel. Screenwriting operates in a visual, present world. Your action lines need to written in present and active tense. It is what the characters are doing in that precise second. Instead of

'He grabbed the glass'


'He GRABS the glass'

But even better than that is including more intention.

'Grabbing the glass he stares at her, ready to throw it at any second'

Keep it in the moment. Action is all about intention. It should mean something. It should not only enhance the scene but the plot and character. Action lines tell us what is happening in between the dialogue. It also helps the actors to understand their motivation in the scene. Get clear about what your characters are doing and WHY.

Don't Use 'We'

We see. We hear. We realise. This is a lazy form of writing. We know, 'WE' know, you've seen it in most scripts you read. It's not a forbidden rule by any means but by avoiding the use of 'we' you will become a stronger writer.

Instead of writing:

'We see her discreetly remove the keys from his jacket'.

It becomes:

'Donna discreetly removes the keys from his jacket'.

Instead of writing:

'We hear the sound of the church bells'.

It becomes:

'Church bells ring in the distance'. OR 'Church bells chime above their heads'.

Keep it present and keep us in the heart of the action. By saying 'we' you're breaking the flow of the illusion of story. You're essentially breaking the fourth wall between script and reader. It's not a cardinal sin but it is a lazy one. If it helps to write the lazy way in the first draft then go for it but make sure you correct it in further drafts to help elevate your impact as a screenwriter.

Be Economical

Endless text is off putting. Even if it's merely on an unconscious level for the reader. you should aim to create a balance of black and white space on the page. This is where editing is your friend. Cut down your paragraphs of description. Cut the fat off your dialogue. We want to see a nice balance of white page underneath the black text. It makes for a better read and is a great trick to use at a glance to assess how economical you're being as a writer.

Get Feedback

Script Coverage is vital before sending it to industry folk or competitions. This can be a paid for service from a company you trust or a friend/peer who knows what they're talking about. Writing is re-writing, so first drafts are naturally going to be a far from their full potential. Feedback and re-writes are imperative. You don't want to be ruining first impressions by rushing to get your script out there before checking if it's any good. But 'buyer beware' taking on feedback from someone who isn't a professional or someone who has no idea what they're talking about can cause more harm than not. This is why we strongly suggest Script Coverage from a trusted source. Paid or not.

Do you have any extra re-write tricks up your sleeve? Share them in the comments.



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