ON LOCATION Saturday, August 27, 2016


The Two Things ALL Writers Get Wrong In Early Drafts


You won’t find a lot in this episode of Wayne’s Movie World that you didn’t already know. I’d like to let it serve as a reminder of the basics in the two areas where every writer goes astray.

  1. Character

If your characters miss the mark by a country mile, here’s why.

    1) Too many characters.

It’s very simple. You just DON’T NEED dozens of named characters in your screenplay! 6 to 8 main based on what story you’re telling and whether it’s for film or TV. Give a good think before introducing a new named character. Instead, think about character function and what the character contributes to the story. Watch TRUTH and you’ll see what not to do in this regard. The same is true for VALKRIE.

    2) Bizarre characters.

No reader, agent, producer, or audience member has ever said:

“You know those boring clichéd or stock characters? I want something that’s the EXACT OPPOSITE and what’s more, I want those characters to be TOTALLY UNRECOGNISEABLE.”

Balance! Create something new, but don’t take us to the other end of the scale.

  3) Un/Likeable characters.

Your characters don’t need to be “likeable”. Equally if they’re so obnoxious they have no redeeming features whatsoever, then we can’t get behind them. Characters must be RELATABLE. The audience must say “that’s me up there or someone I know”.

  4) Characters without a clear motivation.

Sure the objectives of various stories differ, but if I grind your story up into the basics, what do we get? Using a character that wants or needs something. So if I don’t know what your character wants, why s/he wants it, how s/he proposes to get it and when, then:


Why have we dropped into these characters’ lives AT THIS POINT? If you can’t answer, then neither will the reader.



Good characterization is not about being “the same”, but it’s not about being completely off the wall, either. Audiences want to recognise **something** of themselves – whoever they are – in your characters, so make sure you are authentic and don’t EVER write clichés or stereotypes. Last of all: ensure your characters know what they’re doing, else you will give your audience NO REASON to go on the journey with them.

  1. Structure

I gave a seminar this week and in it talked about an aspect of structure.

I said, “The most important part of your script is the first ten pages and the most important part of your movie is the last ten minutes

   1) The First Ten Pages.

Screenwriters: make sure you have an OPENING IMAGE. Make sure your first page hits it ‘outta the park’. Don’t start with clichés. Let us know who the characters are. End with a page 10 that MAKES the reader want to read more. Unless you are produced, the HOOK must be in by page ten


Non linearity, guaranteed to make a script reader’s brain EXPLODE for a multitude of reasons! Usually because the writer doesn’t know what s/he’s doing.

Does your story need to be nonlinear? If it does, then you need to RE-structure your structure. Know what you’re doing structure-wise, before you re-arrange stuff.


When it comes to storytelling devices like intercuts, flashbacks, framing stories, dream sequences, montages etc., ask yourself: are they “fillers” — does the story warrant them a) at all? b) at this particular place in the narrative?


  2) Jeopardy vs. Lethargy.

Are your scenes or moments too long? Be honest with yourself. When I read early drafts of screenplays often characters will talk for pages and pages. As a result, the work becomes rather theatrical and play-like, so dialogue “leads” the story. Remember, show us movies about characters DOING stuff. If you ever feel compelled to write a long conversation in your screenplay, then ask if you could turn it into ACTIONS instead.



3) Treading Water vs. Climbing Walls.

Sometimes screenplays will hit the ground running, then slow down and tread water from page 11 or page 20 onwards, painstakingly setting up the entire story world, and everything about its characters before kicking it off. Don’t show JAWS in the first ‘reel’. I run into this problem often. You don’t need not tell us everything right away.


  4) Page count and you’re DEAD!

There is nothing duller than a spec screenplay where the writer has clearly said:

“Well I need to ensure [THIS] happens on [THAT] page to keep my audience interested.”

It is NOT interesting. It’s “tick the box writing. Have faith in your characters, your writing and in your story. Be intuitive. Don’t let structural methods or formulas dictate what you write and where.


Use all the structure advice on the internet and in books to your best advantage, but there is NO SUBSTITUTE for using your own intuition and having faith in your characters, your story and own writing

Hey, thanks for checking out this episode of ON LOCATION.

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