What Is Surprising That Writers Can Learn From Reading Screenplays

Every movie industry professional reads screenplays as part of their job, I know this is nothing new. I have a production company and I read scripts often – but to me that’s maybe 3-4 scripts per week. Or sometimes people ask me to serve as judges of their festivals and contests, or people want me to give them script coverage. And I don’t always read the entire script, just partials. Some of those scripts are tools for me to improve my own writing. Some are to find new writers. Some are to consider projects to work on.

Takeaway From Reading Screenplays

When I read screenplays, I learn with every project, and I’ve learned to enjoy it, there’s always something good. There are usually things to be improved as well.

Titles are hard

Really hard. If you’re struggling with a title, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Pick something obvious, and genre-appropriate. Toss it around in a word scrambler, play with synonyms and test it out on a few folks. Instead of a super obscure title, try to get something in the ballpark so a reader may remember it. And be intrigued.

First 10 pages are important

These are basically traffic lights – go, stop, read with caution. If the first 10 pages are good, I can’t wait to keep going.

When the first 10 pages are tough, I will usually stick with it for another 10-25 but it’s a metric – is this script ready to read? Did the writer read it? Several times? While reading the blogs of agents, readers, development executives, writing coaches, and professionals who provide coverage is great, there’s nothing like doing it yourself. Reading many screenplays will teach you, in a hurry, what to do and not to do. Primarily I learned to value the reader’s time.

Scripts are not novels

Here’s the thing, reading scripts – as you probably know – isn’t like reading a novel or short story. It’s hard. The format isn’t eyeball friendly, scripts – when you print them out – aren’t particularly easy to carry around like your kindle or a nice, squishy paperback. Screenplays are an ungainly size, they’re bulky. Ok so there’s that – then there’s the other thing – if you read them digitally – which is necessary, because of the spacing, and so forth, they’re just a little too weird on the page for me to be able to have an entire page for me to read (type too small) then when going line by line – it was a bit awkward when I blew it up to 150%.

Where writers could improve

  • Slow Beginnings (speed them up, kick the door down)
  • Character Study type of story with skinny plot, no payoffs (add conflict)
  • Proofreading. Proofreading. Proofreading. (after your story is done)
  • Weak Endings (imagine what YOU would like to see)
  • Structural and formatting gaffes– either with bold headings, all caps in strange places,Random description in the scene headings which belonged in a different element. (read on paper to see things with new eyes)
  • In just a few scripts – No like-able character. Not one. Hated everyone. (design the characters you would root for)

Don’t listen to me, try it for yourself and see what you come up with! I’m willing to get there will be things that you learn by reading screenplays that may surprise you.