49 Fixable Reasons A Screenplay Reader Passed On Your Project

49 Fixable Reasons A Screenplay Reader Passed On Your Project

Every writer has experienced that moment of wanting to throw the towel in after getting rejected. However, it’s important not to be defeated by the thoughts of the person typically on the other end of your screenplay: The Screenplay Reader.

Getting that ‘Pass’ on the screenplay you’ve put your blood sweat and tears in for months or years can be tough to swallow.

It’s too easy to take the screenplay reader’s verdict to heart. What is important to remember is that a reader will have sometimes passed on your screenplay for reasons that you can fix.

  • This screenplay reader will be someone skilled in the art of working out what works and what doesn’t in the journey from script to screen.
  • Therefore, it’s fair to say their judgement is not a personal attack on your screenplay but a measure of whether or not it feels strong enough to make an impression.

A ‘Pass’ is not the end of the road. In fact, it is just the beginning. You need that ‘Pass’ from a reader in order to take your screenplay to the next level.

So what are some of the reasons that a screenplay reader might have passed on your work?

1. No Strong Visual Imagery.

When screenwriting it’s easy to forget that the story is meant to be seen rather than just read. With that in mind, it’s important to create an idea of how the movie will look.

The screenplay reader needs to be given a strong impression of the visuals of this potential movie. Visual imagery can go a long way to creating a memorable impression for the reader.

  • Make sure to fill the script with memorable and impactful images.
  • Be illustrative and imaginative in your descriptions.
  • Make it appealing for a potential director to get their teeth into.

2. No Context to the Setting.

It’s a commonly heard pet hate of screenplay readers. Where is the story set? No indication of where the story is taking the place is a rookie error but a surprisingly common one.

  • Setting is not only important for the purposes of the story but also for production purposes.
  • A producer or company will want to know where the potential production of this script will be taking place and the practicalities that come with that.

Whilst writers might like to keep their options open with a generic location, this ignores the value that can be found in utilising a setting and the context that comes with it.

3. Vague Character Introductions.

Similarly to a lack of instruction about the setting, vague introductions to characters waste the opportunity to make a lasting impression.

This applies to the supporting characters as much as it does the protagonist. Particularly within an ensemble cast, the character introductions need to efficiently set up a lasting image of who these characters are.

  • Who are these characters?
  • How old are they? What do they look like?
  • What distinguishing characteristics do they have that say something about who they are?

It’s very hard to get a sense of a story if you can’t get a sense of who the characters are. Make this as easy and as memorable for the screenplay reader as possible.

Top 10 Character Introduction Scenes in Movies

4. No Protagonist Journey.

For your protagonist, their character arc is essential. What is the journey they go on?

A script with no visible change in the protagonist is one lacking in conflict and therefore lacking in much dramatic potential.

  • You need your character to have a clear start point and a clear end point, with convincing action and drama in between.

Too often screenplays feature a protagonist who doesn’t change throughout the story, an anchor amidst change around them.

Audiences (and readers!) need the protagonist to be someone they can hook onto and visible change is the way to make that hook powerful.

5. No Distinct Acts or Meaningful Structure.

Whatever your screenplay structure, make it have purpose.

  • Is there a reason you have chosen this particular structure?
  • Does it work for the story?

Structure is a way of organising the story to best captivate and keep the audience’s attention. It’s therefore frustrating when structure feels disorganised or employed without purpose.

If the story flows without change in pace and tone, then it becomes harder to follow. Similarly, if the structure lacks purpose then it can get in the way of the story.

It might, as a result, feel like a gimmick employed to make the script just feel more dynamic, rather than actually adding to the power and pull of the story.

6. No Discernible Theme.

What is your screenplay about? This may seem like a simple question. But really though…what is it about?

This speaks to the screenplay’s theme. Beneath the surface of the story, what is it saying? Ask yourself the following questions…

  • Why are you telling this story?
  • What does your script reveal about its subject matter?

From the perspective of a screenplay reader, too often screenplays have no discernible theme beneath their surface level story.

Okay so The Godfather is about a mafia crime family and the son poised to take the reigns…

  • But what is actually about beneath this?
  • It’s about the American Dream, American capitalism, American justice, family, immigration.

Make your script much more than the sum of its parts.

The Godfather (1972) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

7. Too Low Stakes.

Whilst a story doesn’t have to be set in the face of an impending apocalypse, the stakes always have to be high, either literally or figuratively.

Often a screenplay reader will pass on a script because it doesn’t set the stakes high enough for its characters and story overall.

  • Are the characters forced into a life and death situation?
  • If not literally, is there enough internal conflict to make life and death figurative?
  • For example, does the mental wellbeing of the character rest on the outcome of the situation we are seeing?

Too often writers don’t set the stakes for their story high enough. A simpler way to think about this is…if the script is posing a question, is the answer worth caring about enough to invest for the length of the story?

8. Too Easy Conflict.

It’s well established that conflict is at the very heart of drama. However, this conflict needs to believable and challenging enough to make it interesting.

  • Writers can often too easily fall into the trap of giving their protagonist conflict to overcome just so that they can overcome it.
  • There needs to be significant debate for the audience as to whether the protagonist can actually overcome the conflict they are presented with.
  • Otherwise, the journey in overcoming this conflict isn’t interesting or complex enough to sustain a narrative.

9. Muddled Tone.

What reaction are you seeking to get from your audience? This is how to best find your script’s tone.

  • Are you looking to thrill or create suspense? This is the tone of a thriller.
  • Are you looking to provoke thought and/or emotion? Likely it’s a drama.
  • Trying to make an audience laugh? Obviously this is a comedy.

Tone’s can certainly co-exist. But this speaks to the need to balance the tone in the right places.

  • Are you making your audience laugh in appropriate places?
  • Is your thriller weighted in the right places in terms of structure?

Overall, do different tones complicate and subtract from each other? Or do they compliment each other?

Furthermore, the purpose of tone can often be traced back to the purpose of telling the story in the first place.

  • If your intention for your story is to create tension, then it’s likely all other elements will have been designed accordingly to achieve this goal.
  • If your intention is less clear, this is likely to be reflected in the tone.

A Reader will see a mismatch in tone as a sign of a lack of clarity in terms of the script’s overall purpose.

10. No Clear Audience.

Similarly to tone, who is the audience for your film/TV series? Who are you looking to speak to and how does your script achieve that goal?

  • For example, if your audience is mature and seeking drama, then the themes, characters and plot-lines will need to be complicated, nuanced and filled with depth.
  • If your audience is more family orientated, then keep the narrative simple, humour coming and characters varied and identifiable.

11. Little Cultural Relevance.

What does your screenplay say about the world around you? And around the screenplay reader!

How are your reflecting the world back at itself? What are you saying about the modern world?

Obviously a screenplay doesn’t have to have a strong relevance to current real world events. But where possible, there should be some kind of vision for how it sits within the broader cultural picture.

  • Even if a story is set in a period setting, seemingly a million miles away from the modern world, it can say something about the world the audience watching it are actually living in.
  • Even if a film is directly made for entertainment or comedy purposes it can reflect something of what is happening in the real world.
  • Game of Thrones is set in an entirely fictional medieval world. Yet it says something insightful about politics, war and power – all of which have relevance.
  • Booksmart is a comedy. Yet it says something powerful about modern day teenagers, young women and female friendship.

Your screenplay doesn’t have to say something directly or overtly culturally relevant. But it doing so will give the reader a better vision of how it could sit within the marketplace and culture at large.

It will also be proof that you have something valuable and distinctive to say, worth investing in for producer and eventually, an audience.

12. Empty Dialogue.

Is your dialogue serving a function? This is the key thing to ask of dialogue to make it sure it doesn’t just feel like page filler.

  • Is there enough subtext?
  • Is the dialogue moving the plot along?
  • Could you condense paragraphs or sentences into one sentence or a few words?

Dialogue always needs to be valuable in moving the story forward in terms of plot, characterisation or theme.

13. Unimaginative Plot Devices.

Whilst plot devices can sometimes move the script forward in a dynamic and exciting way if used at the right time, often they feel representative of a lack of imagination.

  • Plot devices can feel like the writer running out of ways to move the plot forward.
  • A cliffhanger to generate suspense or an expositional montage, for example.

Make sure if using a plot device it is justified in its presence in relation to the characters, theme and tone of the rest of the script.

14. Genre Generic.

A screenplay reader wants to see how your screenplay both fulfils and subverts genre expectations.

  • Make sure the choices you make in relation to your genre have purpose.
  • If you’re following a familiar and well established genre pattern, the reader will see through it.
  • Use genre as a way of supporting your story rather than as a guiding light.

15. No Identifiable Reference Points to Other Movies.

A screenplay reader wants a vision of how your script is going to look as a movie/TV show.

  • How will it fit in within the context of the modern cinematic landscape?
  • What are movies that it is similar to?
  • How does that come across within the screenplay?

You want the screenplay reader to come away from reading your screenplay with as clear a vision as possible of your movie. The poster, the trailer, where it fits in.

Nailing genre and tone will signal these aspects.

16. Passive Protagonist.

Does the protagonist enact change or does change just happen to and/or around them?

  • A reader will be put off by a protagonist that is a weak force within their own story.
  • Make sure that the protagonist is a driving force behind the story.
  • They might well be a passive personality but they can’t be passive within the story.

17. Simplistic Antagonist.

Does the antagonist feel a believable opposing force for the protagonist to overcome?

  • Do they feel a complex and unique character or force?
  • Often a weakly drawn antagonist will feel like a cliched villain type.

For example, in simple terms, if your antagonist‘s goal is to destroy the world…

  • is there a convincing justification for this goal?
  • Or is it just an easy way of making the character villainous and evil?

The antagonist should feel almost as three-dimensional as the protagonist in their goals, motivations and characteristics.

Top 10 Film Villains Who Had Justifiable Motives

18. Hollow/Stereotypical Supporting Characters.

Similarly, do the screenplay’s supporting characters feel three-dimensional? Or do they feel that they merely serve a simplistic, expositional function?

  • When characters don’t have a lot of time to come across, it can be easy for them to seem cartoonish and functional.
  • Make sure that the time they have to come across is not wasted.
  • How do they relate to the protagonist and their journey?
  • Don’t rely on stereotypical signals to express who they are, use their dialogue and action to convey their character.

19. Lack of Contemporary Feeling.

A screenplay reader will find it hard to visualise your screenplay in the marketplace if it feels old-fashioned in story, tone or intention.

  • This doesn’t mean it has to be contemporary in its setting
  • or have a relevant, important contemporary theme at its core.

It’s more about how much the screenplay feels aware of its context, both real world and cinematic.

  • Does the screenplay do something new within its genre?
  • Is there a style or tone that feels contemporary even if the story and setting isn’t?

For example, The Favourite seems a familiar period film on the surface.

  • However, its anachronistic tone and dynamic, offbeat style (as well as some of its subject matter in Queen Anne’s relationship with Sarah) makes it feel altogether more contemporary than its setting or genre might suggest.
THE FAVOURITE | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight

20. No Second Act Change.

Is there a distinction between your first and second acts?

Screenplay readers will often be frustrated by a screenplay that doesn’t change enough in its transition from first to second act.

  • Is there new and sufficient conflict for the protagonist?
  • Have the action and stakes been raised?
  • Has a subplot been introduced?
  • Is the story building to a third act?

21. Too Easy Resolution.

This could be talked about as an ending being cheesy or unbelievable.

You want the screenplay reader to come away from your screenplay with as strong as an impression as possible. A simplistic resolution will undermine any previous good work.

  • Does the protagonist overcome their conflict in a believable way?
  • Is there a gradual build to the protagonist achieving their goal?
  • Is the antagonist defeated convincingly or do they shrink away easily, perhaps uncharacteristically?

22. Rushed Final Act.

Take time with your final act and the way in which you build to a conclusion. You have time, there’s no need to rush.

For a reader, a rushed final act will feel indicative of a screenplay that doesn’t feel ready yet. Perhaps the writer has lost interest in their story before they finish it or they are so keen to finish it they have rushed the ending.

  • The final act is where everything in your story comes together and ties up.
  • To rush this part of the screenplay is to waste the opportunity to leave a strong impression of your story on the reader.
Top 10 Most Iconic Movie Endings

23. Bad Formatting.

This is a basic element that you HAVE to get right. For a screenplay reader, it’s surprising how much poor formatting gets in the way of digesting a script.

  • The basic principle is to make your screenplay as easy to read as possible.
  • There are basic screenplay format rules to follow when it comes to writing a screenplay.
  • These rules are the best way to make your screenplay easily comprehensible.
  • You are speaking a language and shorthand to the screenplay reader that they will be well versed in.

Of course, writers can break rules. But you need to establish a groundwork first so that any such broken rules can be understood by the Reader within the context of screenplay format in general.

24. Not Enough for the Camera to Do.

If a director were reading your screenplay, what would excite them about it visually? Too often it feels that writers almost forget that their screenplay is meant to be filmed. With that in mind…

  • Is there potential for visual dynamism present in your screenplay?
  • Are there montages/action or comedy set-pieces/journeys/conflict (either physical or verbal)?

Think about how much your screenplay is conveying motion? Even if there is a limited setting, what movement is present for the camera to convey dynamically?

Storytelling with Cinematography

25. No/Weak Subplots.

Subplots are important in keeping the narrative moving forward as well as keeping it interesting.

  • You should be introducing subplots within your second act.

Even a very strong primary narrative plot arc should have some kind of subplot. It adds layers to the narrative, layers that can be tied together eventually to make for a satisfying concluding act.

However, a reader will see through subplots added for the sake of it. Make sure your subplots make sense within the rest of your narrative and connect to your protagonist in a meaningful and satisfying way.

26. Elusive or Bland Stage Direction.

Remember, the goal is to make your script as easily comprehensible for the reader as possible. There is no use being purposefully elusive for stylistic purposes. Be descriptive and illuminating in your description.

  • The screenplay reader and the audience are not the same thing. You can tell a reader things that you wouldn’t reveal to an audience for fear of spoilers.
  • If you want to string the reader along, however, use questions and prompts rather than merely hiding information.
  • Be colourful in your descriptions of scenes, setting, character motivations. This will help give the Reader as clear a vision as possible of your story and how it could look on screen.

27. Too Much Stage Direction. Not Enough Content.

Conversely, your screenplay should be well-balanced in terms of the stage direction/description and dramatic action/dialogue.

A screenplay reader will find an abundance of description overwhelming. It will make it more difficult to imagine how the screenplay will play out on screen, if all there is is direction.

  • Make sure that dramatic action makes up the bulk of your screenplay.
  • How does your screenplay look on the page?
  • A healthy looking screenplay will likely have an even balance between direction and dialogue, although this needn’t be a strict rule.

28. No Clear Premise.

What is the premise that guides the screenplay throughout?

  • Every scene should be in someway speaking to or answering this premise.
  • Your premise should be present in your logline and therefore you can use that as a guide.

A reader will see through a screenplay without a premise pretty quickly. A screenplay without a clear premise is one without a clear purpose, definition or identity.

What is your screenplay fundamentally about? This should be the starting point for your screenplay and if it’s not present it will signal poor intent to the reader.

Of course, a great premise can still be poorly executed. But it’s the start that is needed.

Top 10 Awesome Concepts Wasted On Mediocre Movies

29. No Coherent Narrative Journey.

Your protagonist needs to go on on a journey throughout the screenplay and the screenplay reader needs to be taken on that journey too.

  • How is this journey conveyed by the screenplay structure?
  • Whether a traditional three act structure or a non linear structure, what is the journey from A to Z?

Put very simply, where does the script start and where does it end?

  • Where is the protagonist and audience at the beginning and where are they at the end?
  • What has the journey from that starting point to that end point been?
  • Is this journey clear and satisfying to follow through?

30. Arcs that Tease but Don’t Conclude Satisfyingly.

A reader will be frustrated by plot arcs that are raised only to not be finished appropriately. This will again speak to a lack of a clear purpose and intention for the story.

  • Make sure every narrative and character arc has a distinct purpose serving the story overall.
  • If these arcs are integral to the story then they will be integral to wrapping up the story.
  • Therefore, it’s important that they have as satisfying ending as the primary narrative or character arcs do.

Don’t let arcs trail off or remain unanswered, the reader will notice.

31. No Sympathetic or Understandable Characters.

Relatability is an important part of what makes characters engaging. Are the characters in your screenplay relatable even if they’re unlikeable?

  • Make sure your characters have flaws, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses.
  • Furthermore, make sure these characteristics manifest within the action of the screenplay.
  • Seeing this action will help an audience understand a character, even if the empathy part is harder to generate.

Movies and TV can help us understand and empathise with characters who through their actions seem completely unlikeable.

  • Through seeing the motivations behind character’s actions we learn about why they do what they do.

A screenplay that features characters who are impossible to understand why they do what they do will struggle to generate audience engagement.

Top 10 Sympathetic Villains in Movies

32. Feels More Like a Play that a Movie.

This speaks to how much visual storytelling the screenplay is doing. Dialogue cannot be the sole driver of the plot, characters or themes. ‘Show Don’t Tell‘.

  • Ask yourself why you have chosen to tell this story in movie (or TV) form?
  • What about the form is key to the way in which you are telling the story?
  • Justify your screenplay’s existence as a screenplay.
  • Utilise the medium within your screenplay.

Readers will often note that copious dialogue, a lack of visual action and a direct approach to the writing in general, makes for a screenplay that feels more like a play than writing intended for the screen.

33. Too Complicated.

Whilst the nature of your story might be complicated, make sure that your narrative is following a simple enough through-line. Don’t unnecessarily complicate the narrative in the quest for depth.

  • Look out for too many subplots.
  • Look out for too many characters.
  • Try and avoid making the plot twist and turn too many times.
  • Keep an even pace and distribution of plots and sub-plots.
  • Don’t overload the screenplay with plot devices, set-pieces or visuals.

A story can be complex but don’t make the screenplay complicated.

34. Too Bold with Not Enough Explanation for the Reader.

It’s good to be bold in the story you are telling and the way you are telling it. However, make sure that boldness, however it manifests, is clearly conveyed.

Don’t take the reader’s understanding of your bold concept for granted. Make sure they understand where they’re at within following the story, rather than them having to play catch up.

  • Don’t hesitate to introduce a specific world or idea within direction and description.
  • Similarly, don’t disorientate the reader on purpose. If a specific structure or technique is being employed (like in Memento, for example) signal it to the reader. Don’t expect them to always automatically follow.
Memento (1/7) Movie CLIP - I Finally Found Him (2000) HD

35. Unfilmable

A screenplay reader will have an innate understanding of what is actually possible and plausible in terms of production. Therefore, a screenplay that is unrealistic in terms of its expectations of production is unlikely to impress.

This could manifest in a number of different ways:

  • Is the action/setting/scale likely to push the budget up to unprecedented levels?
  • Does the story world require visuals that are very difficult/impossible to achieve (for example CGI, graphics, technology required).
  • Is there violence and/or sex that is too graphic or distasteful to render?
  • Is there a seemingly unending amount of characters and/or locations?

It’s good to let your imagination run wild. However, make sure you have an understanding of the practicality of filmmaking before you get too ahead of yourself.

  • Look at past budgets.
  • Try and understand the nature of production and technology.
  • Have a look at previous movies or TV shows that have historically been deemed ‘unfilmable’.

36. All Message No Story.

Are the themes too on the nose or direct in how they are conveyed within the screenplay? This is an aspect that will grate on screenplay readers.

Your screenplay might have an important, pertinent theme at the heart of it. In fact, if it does, fantastic! This will be a great asset for readers.

  • However, this theme needs to be worked into the story.
  • How is this theme conveyed through the characters, action and narrative?

Audiences want to be told a story and not given a lecture. Make sure your are embedding your message within a story. The most powerful way to convey a message is to tell a story containing it.

Top 10 Masked Political Messages in Film

37. No Dramatic Subtext.

What is the meaning lurking underneath scenes, dialogue and character’s actions/motivations?

Dialogue within a scene needs to be more than just plot exposition. Action needs to be more than just reactive. Scenes need to be more than just plot filler.

  • What are the differences between what the characters are saying and what they are doing and/or mean?
  • How does each scene relate to the wider story being told and its themes?
  • Is there enough of a difference between the surface level meaning of scenes and the deeper meaning in relation to the story/themes overall?

A lack of dramatic subtext can speak to a number of different weak aspects within a screenplay.

  • It often represents weak dialogue. Great dialogue is filled with subtext.
  • It speaks to a lack of a wider purpose, meaning and resonance for the story.
  • With no dramatic subtext often comes a lack of cinematic purpose. Why is this story being told in screenplay form rather than in another writing form? Dramatic subtext is an inherent part of screenwriting.

38. The Screenplay Has No Identity.

How would you market this screenplay? Where would it fit in? How would it stand out? These are some of the questions a reader might ask of the screenplay in terms of its identity.

Your screenplay’s identity will speak to a number of different aspects.

  • Is the tone clearly defined and purposeful?
  • What is the standout and takeaway theme?
  • Is the premise noteworthy and memorable? How could it be more so if not?
  • How does the screenplay both utilise and subvert different elements of screenwriting practice to convey its story? In terms of genre, devices, tropes, dialogue, description.

Your screenplay’s identity should be indelibly linked to your identity as a writer.

  • What is it that you love (or maybe even hate) about film/TV that has drawn you to write?
  • What aspects of screenwriting most speak to you and how have you utilised that to tell your story?
  • Why you? Could anyone else write this screenplay?
  • What does your screenplay represent in the wider world that no one else but you can?
  • What is your perspective on/experience of the world and how is that filtered through in your writing?

39. Characters All Blend into One.

Make sure that your characters are distinguishable from one another. Aside from the protagonist, the supporting characters need to all have a distinct purpose.

  • If they seemingly serve the same function, the reader will see question their presence.
  • Give all characters purpose and then the characteristics and actions to match that purpose.

In simplistic terms, a group of characters might be able to be boiled down into, for example…The Stupid One, The Quiet One, The Clever One, The Hero.

  • This is particularly relevant for a genre where an ensemble is important to the action (i.e Comedy or Horror).
Top 10 Ensemble Comedy Movie Casts

40. Writer’s Voice Overwhelms Everything.

Linked to characters being indistinguishable is how much their voices feel recognisably their own.

  • A screenplay reader will be frustrated if the writer’s voice overwhelms the story rather than helping tell it.

Make sure that your characters represent themselves and are not purely just extensions of yourself. There will be a little bit of you in all of them of course, but mostly they need to be able to stand alone.

  • Is the character’s dialogue/the way they act different from each other?
  • Do they have and/or represent contrasting viewpoints?
  • Do they represent  such viewpoints convincingly and believably (for example, two sides of an argument should be as equally as well presented as each other)?

This speaks to how well crafted the screenplay is overall in telling its story.

  • Does the writer’s voice feel a vessel for the story?
  • Or does the story feel a vessel for the writers voice?

The latter will undermine the potential power and reach of a story for a reader.

41. No Reason to the Setting.

Don’t leave your story with no and/or a generic setting. Certainly indicate the specifics of the settings (for example, USA isn’t enough), overall and from scene to scene. Where possible expand on the setting and indicate how it plays into the story.

A clearly defined setting will give the screenplay strength and depth and better illustrate the look and feel of the story for the reader.

  • What is the reason you have chosen to set the story where you have?
  • What is the context of the setting?
  • Does the setting say something about the themes? The setting doesn’t have to speak directly to the themes but it shouldn’t be irrelevant.
  • How does the setting look, sound and feel?
  • How does/could the setting inform the tone, genre or characters?
Settings are Characters, Too

42. No Distinct Protagonist.

Make sure your protagonist is clearly identifiable. If the reader ever finds they are searching for who the protagonist is, this will be a major barrier to the potential they see in it.

There might well be multiple protagonists. However, the principle stays the same.

  • Make sure the protagonists are clearly defined and identifiable throughout.
  • Their journeys need to last the entirety of the screenplay consistently.

43. No Reason to the Protagonist.

Furthermore, is there a distinct and meaningful enough reason for your protagonist to have this role?

  • Do they have a distinct and engaging journey?
  • Do they relate well enough to the screenplay’s plot and themes?
  • Are they central to the story or relatively subsidiary?
  • Are they the best suited character to represent this story and themes?

Don’t make a character your protagonist out of instinct or familiarity. Interrogate your decision making when it comes to choosing your protagonist.

It will be frustrating for a screenplay reader to see a character elsewhere in the story who feels a more appropriate protagonist for the story. And it will quickly undermine the pull of the chosen protagonist.

44. Been Done Before. Not Doing Enough Distinctive.

This is a somewhat instinctive reaction for a screenplay reader.

Audiences are saturated with so much TV and Film that a screenplay needs to show that it can stand out. In genre terms, audiences will see through familiar tropes, devices and plot movements.

The screenplay reader will also be saturated. They are used to seeing certain kinds of stories and certain kind of styles.

So, question the ingenuity and uniqueness of your screenplay.

  • Are you telling a new story?
  • If telling a familiar story, what is the new spin on it either in terms of content or style?
  • If the story’s potential is strongly tied to its genre, does the screenplay do enough to subvert genre expectations (whilst also perhaps fulfilling some)?
  • The story might be well-known and/or well-tread, but has it acquired a new distinctiveness considering the cultural/social/political context of the time?
LITTLE WOMEN - Official Trailer (HD)

45. No Action.

This doesn’t mean action sequences but dramatic action.

  • What is propelling the story?
  • Do characters enact change rather than just watch it happen or talk about it?
  • Instead of merely just dialogue, what are the scenes depicting?

Put very simply…what actually happens? 

A screenplay not made up of enough action is one that is hard to see existing as a movie or TV show.

Action is the springboard for all the elements of a screenplay that will prove the most interesting – conflict, dynamic characterisation, theme representation, meaningful dialogue.

46. No Internal Conflict.

This is particularly relevant for your protagonist. What is their internal conflict?

A reader is likely to think that a character without internal conflict is one uncomplicated and potentially two-dimensional.

It’s important to note that this can be dependent on genre.

  • For example, in an action movie a protagonist without much internal conflict matters less, considering the context of all the external conflict that is put on them.
  • In drama, the internal conflict is more likely to make up most of the protagonist’s conflict and journey.

Internal conflict is essential to making characters complex, nuanced and relatable. This feels a particularly relevant aspect to characterisation in contemporary movies and TV.

47. No External Pressures.

Even in a drama there should be some kind of external forces for the protagonist to battle against.

A reader will find it unconvincing for a character to go through a whole screenplay without encountering any external obstacles.

This would make for drama that would struggle to justify its existence as such. After all, drama is conflict.

  • Even a drama made up of mostly internal conflict will likely feature some kind of external conflict pressuring down on the protagonist.
  • External conflict forces characters to react, which in turn forces the plot along.

48. For TV – No Return-ability.

When looking at screenplays for TV, it’s highly likely that a reader will be looking at the return-ability of the series.

Is this a story that could run for multiple series?

There are a number of ways the screenplay might convey this…

  • Are the character arcs substantial enough to last?
  • Is there enough depth and complexity to the characters?
  • Are complex thematic questions posed that it could take many series to answer?
  • Is the story world rich with avenues for new plots/characters/conflicts/even spin off series?

This is dependent on your intention for the TV show. You might just be seeking to write a one-off special or a three part series. In which case, return-ability matters less.

However, return-ability will only ever be an asset for a screenplay.

49. Un-impactful/No Final Image.

What are you leaving your audience (and your screenplay reader!) with? Where possible try and close out with an impactful, meaningful final image.

Some images are always going to be better than others. However, a lack of a final image could potentially signal a damp ending and conclusion to the reader.

An image that encapsulates the story’s conclusion, the protagonist‘s journey or the themes will likely leave the reader with a strong visual memory of your story.

Screenplay Reader, The Godfather Closing Image
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3 thoughts on “49 Fixable Reasons A Screenplay Reader Passed On Your Project”

  1. Very informative I learned a lot from this article and to my surprise as a first time writer I have at least 85% of this information in my screen play, thanks.👍💯


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