3 Common Pitfalls of the First Screenplay

Don’t be boring. Visual media is about constant action. You need to represent this in your writing. Waste not. Paint pictures with fewer words. Be better, don’t make these common mistakes:

1. Simple, Present

“The window was smashed by John.”

A common mistake in a first screenplay. Some writers can find screenwriting a rather alien landscape. It progresses, forever, in the present.

“John smashes the window.”

In the now, it’s constant action. Screenplays should read like if you blink, you’ll miss it. That’s how movies work. There can be a twist:

“Mark chops parsley. Suddenly, a rock smashes into his head.”

2. Be Visual

“Paul is 26. His long auburn hair, inherited from his grandfather, falls on his mother’s shoulders. He makes a mysterious whistle, something he learned in the depths of the Peruvian mountains, whilst on his shaman sabbatical from his day-job as a corporate chartered accountant.”

This tells us a lot. But we’re reading, and much of this isn’t visual. It’s detail that can’t be exposed to the viewer. Use it in your character bio. Keep the script pure.

“Paul (26), auburn hair enveloping a tailored executive suit, whistles an alien song.”

By concentrating your descriptions, you train yourself to say a lot with fewer words. And it leads to:

3. Short and Sweet

“The year is 2025. Robotic trash compactors have taken over, enslaving the populace into feeding their ever-constant lust for juicy waste materials. The dark tempest of nuclear winter hangs over humanity, bleaching skin with the lack of sunlight and raping their souls, destroying their will to dominate the landscape.”

Setting the tone is one of the most important and challenging parts of writing your screenplay. The first scene, that opening paragraph, sets the audience up. It’s the primary deciding factor whether they will continue reading. Make every word ooze drama and intrigue.

“2025AD – Armageddon. Robotic trash compactors rule the world. Feeding their lust for detritus, pale husks of humanity meander through a worthless existence, raped of their will to dominate the landscape.”

Every iota of your opening lines must bounce with compelling image. Speaking with numerous submission readers over the years taught me that it’s the difference between turning to the next page or the shredder.

The first paragraph is your pitch, don’t waste it by being boring.

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