TOP FIVE MISTAKES YOU'RE MAKING WITH YOUR SCREENPLAY

We are reading great work from our Women Who Write Wednesday contest winners. It's true, and let's get that out of the way so we can talk about what isn't great. Our winners are all making similar mistakes. Why? Because they're the mistakes that everyone makes, because they are the most difficult aspects of screenwriting. 

INCITING INCIDENT: This is the moment your story really gets going, the moment your heroine starts her journey. In Thelma & Louise,  it's the moment they kill the rapist and go on the run. Inciting incident needs to be a turning point that is clear and dramatic and it needs to send your heroine in a different direction than the one she was heading on Page 1. Many writers don't create an inciting incident that is clearly dramatized and clearly transformative. 

CHARACTERIZATION: If your heroine is not clear to you in your head, don't pass go. Stop and write about her to get to know her. Ask yourself questions about her dreams, her childhood, her favorite music, her best fiends, who broke her heart, her politics and her fears. Once you know her, tell us on the page through her actions (as big as shooting the rapist, as small as biting her nails), her specific voice (everyone speaks differently; stop and listen.) and the way that people interact with her. 

ACT 2 IS A MESS: Oh, Act 2, how you haunt us. Act 2 is where it gets real, because this is after the world is established and character is introduced, but before the ending we've been dreaming of, what with all its car chase and epic love scene. Act 2 is where a screenwriter must do her hard, disciplined work, crafting scene after scene in which the Heroine Pursues her Goal Against Increasing Odds. These scenes must escalate in conflict, and they must be the direct result of what happened in the previous scene. This is where your outline stage is absolutely critical. Look at it in simple terms in your outline: Are your scenes repetitive? Combine them, cut them. Are your scenes escalating? Shuffle them so each obstacle is more formidable than the last. You are bringing your heroine to her breaking point, where she has done all the fighting she can and at the end of Act 2, there is no more fight to give. in this way, you earn the transformation she will undergo in Act 3. Watch Thelma & Louise and break down each scene in Act 2 for a great guide to crafting an Act 2 of increasing stakes. Or Lord of the Rings. 

WRITE VISUAL: The screenplay is a guide for what happens in a visual medium. Actors don't just speak your dialogue, or this would be a radio play. They move, they DO. And we see it. Remind yourself that this film does not exist on the page for reading. Think visual. Write visual. Add dialogue when the image can not convey the information. Dialogue is icing, not a meal. For a lesson in great visual storytelling, watch a silence film. Or watch Hunger or Shame by Steve McQueen. McQueen began his career as a visual artist and he knows how to use the image to tell the story. 

WRITE DRAMA: Drama means conflict. Drama means a scene begins in one place (I love you) and ends in another (I hate you) because of something that has happened during that scene. This is required of each scene. In each scene, something must happen that causes transformation. Without this, scenes are flat and repetitive and the script is muddy.