One of the most common mistakes aspiring and experienced screenwriters make is what I call “not telling the story.”
In screenplays, this comes in many forms. Usually, it’s a simple lack of excitement. Or, just as I’m reading through a script, I’m suddenly faced with a scene or action that simply doesn’t “DO” anything. It doesn’t reveal any plot, theme or character that’s relevant to the story. I can ignore it and then pick up the story in a few pages. But what’s it doing there? Why did this writer actually interrupt the story?
Solving this problem is simply a matter of sticking to one basic rule: “ALWAYS TELL THE STORY.” Every good movie does it.
How many times have you been sitting there watching a film and suddenly you’re saying to yourself, “Why am I watching this scene?” Filmmakers tend to tremble when this happens. In my mind, it represents a complete failure to meet the audience’s expectations. It’s a big “shame on you” moment for everyone involved.
The audience is eager, hungry—even desperate—to be engaged by your story. While it’s perfectly okay to get as much detail as you can into the life and action of your story, the question you need to ask yourself whenever you review your work is:
AM I TELLING THE STORY?
Just think about when you tell a story. Do you deliberately try to make it dull? Do you throw in a lot of mundane material just to slow it down? Do you spend a lot of time telling us what the protagonist in your story is wearing? Their eye and hair color?
No. Your sole interest is to TELL YOUR STORY.
That's just what your script should do: tell the story without delay, extraneous material or unnecessary information.
This not only makes for a better script, it makes for a better “read”—just the thing that’s going to get your script passed to the actors, agents and producers who can do you the most good.
If you’ve got a clear idea of what story you’re telling, you should have no problem making sure that your story is ALWAYS BEING TOLD.