Monday Prescriptions – Screenwriting Sins

Hi Film Doctor Friends!

This Monday Prescription is dedicated to something we haven’t discussed for a while – the screenwriting process. The Film Doctor Team  have realised that there has been an unforgivable deficit of ‘Prescriptions’ for the Writers amongst you,  so let’s turn our attention to 5 of the deadliest sins in screenwriting.






 Film Doctor begs you – never ever submit your script anywhere,  if any of the following is present:

1. “Conveniently” Tied Up Plotlines // Deus Ex Machina – How many times have you seen a film where, after a series of very intricate events and occurrences, the resolution on offer is quite silly/’convenient’/unbelievable or the ending is served rather suddenly, with no further explanations? Or a film where the character’s plight is suddenly over by a newly (and very conveniently) introduced person/event/force of nature? Like, a character suddenly meets someone who gives him/her a “life-changing speech”, after which the character redeems him/herself. Or there was no indication of a possible/plausible way out, but the character is ‘miraculously’ saved by a sudden gush of wind/flood/friend with a gun, etc.  “Deus Ex Machina”  is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. It can be roughly translated as “God made it happen,” with no further explanation, and, depending on usage, is primarily used to move the story forward when the writer is ‘stuck’.




2.  Episodic Structure – Meaning your character(s) go from one event to another, with no particular correlation or logical progression; or simply a number of events occur that don’t amount to anything plot-wise. Your script reads like a collection of shorts or TV series episode guides rather than a coherent, completed story.  This is a common “sin” in scripts with multiple protagonists, as there are multiple storylines that need to tie in together yet feel like completely separate entities. Hence, the danger of writing episodic parts.

3.  Jokes for The Sake of Jokes – Relates to the episodic structure problem, but when writing a comedy. What happens is that your script ends up looking like a series of sketches, where laughs might be abundant but plot-wise there’s no development or progression. When writing comedy, be wary of the ‘sin’ to just make as many jokes as possible – the “As long as it’s funny”-approach – because even comedy scripts need character journeys, story and plotlines and resolution.  If you can’t answer the question “What’s it all about?”, then you don’t have a complete screenplay – even if people laugh at every page.

4. Plot Holes – This is when you have a great set up and ending, but don’t have enough action in-between that would take you from A to B.  Maybe you haven’t worked out the right sequence of events or you haven’t fully developed your character(s) to know where they might take you /where the story might to.  Holes in the plot often lead to the “deus ex machina” sin – you don’t know how to tie something up and end up with ‘unexplained circumstances’.

5. Typos – Easiest to get rid of but often the most ignored.  It’s a screenwriting sin that simply cannot be excused in the digital age where proof reading is made so easy and automatic.  Never submit your script anywhere before re-reading the contents at least once!

 

‘Monday Prescription’ No.37 – Check your screenplays against the most common ‘sins’ of screenwriting and don’t rush with any submissions / presentations. Your script is not ready if any of the above are present.

 
 
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Have a great week!
 
The Film Doctor Team
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