I’m frequently asked to read and critique screenplays.
Most scripts by inexperienced writers are pretty terrible. This is to be expected. The craft of screenwriting is demanding and it usually takes several years and quite a few scripts to master the form.
There are two central problems I see over and over again. And it’s worth pointing them out to those who aspire to write scripts that have any hope of being produced.
Problem #1: Missing a Main Character.
I don’t know how many scripts I’ve plowed through that do not have a main character. Several characters swirl about creating minor whirlpools of drama or comedy, but none of these characters carry the main narrative.
When I point this out I get two defensive reactions: a) It’s an ensemble piece. b) Hey, it’s like Romeo and Juliet.
My answers go something like this: a) A well written ensemble piece should still have a main character. b) You are not Shakespeare.
A main character is there to guide the audience through a moral fable. He is there for audience identification. The audience experiences the drama through that main character. Without a main character you have a black hole.
Problem #2: The No Ending Ending.
This crops up even more frequently than the missing main character. The ending of the script should neatly resolve the various storylines and the main character’s journey. Too often endings feel rushed and haphazard.
The secret in a good ending is for the writer to start with his ending.
This means the screenwriter should know his ending before he starts writing the script. Experienced screenwriters work from detailed outlines. And it is in the outline stage that the writer works out his ending.
Think of a Google map. You have to fill in your destination in order to get there.
Too many screenwriters and novelists tell themselves that they will work out the ending as they write their story. They count on inspiration. As a working screenwriter for over 30 years, I believe in perspiration.
Work out your ending so you can write towards that ending.