SUBMISSIONS INSANITY # 8: The Spec Screenwriter’s New Year Resolutions

new-year-s-resolution-pic-getty-681635794-191676So, Christmas is over, the goose got fat and here we are writers, in another shiny, brand spanking new year! Of course, no new year would be complete without some writing resolutions… so here’s ten for your consideration:

1) “I will write fantastic format.”

Whilst it’s certainly true the average spec screenplay looks better than it ever did thanks to the plethora of screenplay writing information freely available online now, there are still loads of finicky, annoying things that still make it on to the page.

This year saw the sudden rise of useless parentheticals in B2W submissions, as well as the overuse of bold; not to mention the dreaded OVER CAPITALISATION OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING! Nooooooooooooo … stop it at once, there really is no excuse.

Check out The B2W Format One Stop Shop, a complete rundown of the format issues I see most regularly, plus solutions to make your spec screenplay read as smoothly as possible, without distractions like these.

2) “My opening image will be original.”

It’s always surprises me when writers confess to “not really thinking about” the first IMAGE a screenplay opens with. Too often, the script will be too obviously “set up” and feel “static”: the writer will painstakingly describe EVERY SINGLE THING in a scene, or a character will be simply walking down a street, or into a room. Very, very BORING.

That first image is an OPPORTUNITY: grab the reader’s attention! And remember, there are a lot of openers that turn up again and again. Here’s 5 of the most frequent.

3) “I will write a rocking first page.”

It’s now generally accepted by spec writers they have but ten pages to impress, or
their screenplay will end up “return to sender” or “moved to trash.” However, what many writers STILL don’t realise is, in real terms, they often only have just ONE PAGE.

This may sound shocking, but first impressions really DO count … So if your opener is boring, or your format, spelling, scene description or dialogue is rubbish on page 1? That reader is going to figure it’s rubbish THROUGHOUT the screenplay. You need to start as you mean to go on. 7 Things Readers Can Tell From Page 1.

4) “I will write a perfect ten.”

So you get past page 1… fantastic. But there’s 9 more to go before you’re home free and your draft gets a full read. So, let us know: who is your protagonist? What does s/he want/need? Who or what is in his/her way? Why? What’s the genre? What’s the audience? Check out The B2W First Ten Pages Bundle for more on these all-important pages.

5) “All my characters will be capable (**whatever** that means).”

Take it from me: reader and audience member alike are BORED of the same-old, same-old when it comes to characterisation. We want varied, flawed characters with discernible motives and/or goals and we want them NOW.

So don’t go for the “usual” – take what you know and what you’ve seen before and twist it. But be authentic with it! Audiences are particularly interested in representations of female characters at the moment, so don’t drop the ball on this… But equally, don’t think you’re home free if you’re writing male characters either, because representations of men and masculinity need a serious overhaul as well.

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6) “My structure will be superb.”

Lots of screenplays realise the importance of “hitting the ground running” now, which is great to see. But readers are still seeing the age-old issues of characters “running on the spot” for extended periods, especially in Act 2. Remember: structure is NOT a formula, but a framework. No one cares HOW you do structure, as long as you do it! Take us on a journey! 

7) “I will pay attention to audience.”

If your screenplay doesn’t have a discernible audience, then it doesn’t have an identity. It really is as simple as that. So don’t say “everyone” when people ask who your audience is: know your target EXACTLY (or as well as you can for a generalisation). Just remember: trying to please everyone NEVER WORKS. Who is your script FOR?

8) “I will write Genuine Genre …

You need to know what brings genres together and how they can be mixed, but you also need to know what separates them too. Know the various conventions and think about how you can be original, without going OTT. Be an expert at what has gone before, to INFORM how you create a “new take” on something “pre-sold” or “the same… but different.” Want to know how others have done it? Then check out the numerous case studies on B2W.

9) … Or Definable Drama.”

Too many spec writers don’t know the difference between drama and genre is how the industry sees them. Also, too many drama spec screenplays are overloaded with misery, as if that’s what “makes” drama. It doesn’t. Equally, too many spec drama screenplays simply “movies of movies,” rather than stories in their own right. So know exactly what MAKES a drama and why – and be truthful and honest and heartfelt; don’t mimic what has gone before in a mistaken belief it’s “gritty” or “real” ‘cos it generally isn’t.

10) “I will come up with brilliant, creative concepts and road test them all.”

Your concept is everything; without it, you’ve got nothing. But too many concepts misfire because they’re either too samey or too different… Or simply, muddled. Don’t fall into any of these traps. 7 Steps To Road Testing Your Concept.

BONUS:

But most of all?

“I will showcase my voice, by whatever means possible.”

This is the way you get noticed and how you get others to champion you. And that’s all (!) it takes – someone who believes in you and your work, who recommends you “up the chain”. We don’t want those vanilla screenplays… we really do want a VOICE that stands out from the rest.

So basically: know who you are, what you do … and DO IT! What are you waiting for??

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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