Please no tired, old workhorse jokes, e.g. “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?” or anything to do with “tickets to the gun show”. See also: the Oscars telecast.
Easy reading is hard writing. When you read an action paragraph that flows well, has a nice rhythm and conveys all the necessary information quickly and smoothly, you know that the writer worked her ass off to get it like that.
Every comedy spec for the next six months is going to contain at least one bad Charlie Sheen joke. Please, don’t be part of the problem.
You know how the A, B and C storylines in a TV episode are usually thematically linked? You can, and should, attempt that in a pilot script. Even if readers don’t consciously notice it, they’ll feel it.
Don’t just break two characters up; put them on opposite sides of the planet. Don’t just wound a character; kill him. Basically, go hard or go home.
When they say ‘write from experience’, they don’t mean that backpacking trip across South America you took when you were twenty. If it could happen to anyone, it’s probably not a screenplay idea.
If you’re going to do comedy, don’t write it safe. Push your jokes as far as they’ll go (and no, I don’t mean swearing and dicks). Offending somebody is preferable to boring them.
You have 100 pages in which to tell any story in the world. Don’t waste them by aping a story that’s already been told a hundred times. Give the world something new.
The annoying man-child best friend is, at this point, a horrible cliché. Do something new with it or don’t do it at all.
Writers do not make interesting protagonists. Why do you think all those Stephen King adaptations sucked?
If you’re going to send a writing sample, always send your most recent work. The crappy romantic comedy you wrote four years ago does not represent you well.
The fastest shortcut to emotion is family.
Recurring events like birthdays, Christmas, etc. are an elegant way to show the passage of time. It sure beats ‘SUPER: ONE YEAR LATER’.
In real life, two people happily in love is awesome. In screenwriting, it’s boring.
Don’t show off your research and world-building — sneak it in as incidental dialogue and background detail. Save your info-dumps for the DVD commentary.
When should you break the rules — about directing the action, or describing character feelings, or using ‘we’?
When it would increase the emotional payload of the scene.
Don’t overdo it with rhyming scenes, matching dialogue cuts and other clever structural tricks. Good structure is mostly invisible.
There are three reasons why someone will buy a script:
1) It’s a brilliant concept, brilliantly executed.
2) It’s written in a fascinating and unique voice.
3) It made them cry.
Don’t underestimate the power of emotion in screenwriting.
Stop creating throwaway secondary characters for the leads to interact with (e.g. GIRL #3, BUS DRIVER, MAN IN HAT). They’re the lead characters — let them talk to each other.
Misunderstanding is an awesome tool for flipping a scene. Not only does it create drama, but the audience is left wondering if it could have gone a different way.