How to Write a Standout Script
Whether you’ve written ten scripts or you’re embarking on starting your very first script, there are several ways to polish your writing skills and stand out from other writers. Let’s take a deeper dive into the scriptwriting world on how to write a standout script.
Read Lots of Scripts
Reading lots of scripts, in all different genres will help you write a standout script more than you could ever imagine. The key here is learning through visualization. You pick up a script, read it and see how not only it’s formatted but how it’s written. Different writers have different styles of writing, different descriptive ways, different vibes. And if it’s a script that’s been produced, even better, because you can now see how other elements of production influenced the script. Reading one of the Fight Club script edits is a great way to learn and an even more amazing script to watch and so is The Hours script.
Think Outside the Box
Speaking of Fight Club, it is such an original concept and extremely original in its production. I can’t imagine another film coming close to this movie. It would just never compare. Another, more recent movie I saw that had such an original and interesting concept as well is Do Revenge. I honestly thought it would be a fun film to just space out to and I found myself deeply enthralled by the entire movie, the script and plot, and how complex the main characters were yet still so relatable. If you want to write a script that stands out and gets you noticed, don’t follow a cookie cutter template. You know, the same character stereotypes, the typical plot, the same ending as so many before in that genre. Make it different. Make it interesting. Make it you. All of my scripts have an essence that only I can bring to the characters and to their world. Make your script standout because you wrote it.
Format. Format. Format. You may think this is a no-brainer but you would not believe how many people call themselves scriptwriters, yet have no clue how to properly format a script. No one will read your script if it’s not properly formatted. Why? Because it screams that not only do you not know what you’re doing because the technical concrete of being a writer is proper format, but it also shows that you don’t care about your work (or the time of your readers) enough to research how to format a script. If you still don’t know, check out this article from Studio Binder that gives you insight on script formatting.
Take Time Away
One of my scripts, a zombie rom-com pilot (I call it a zom-crom), I wrote back in 2015, got new life last year. It was the first episodic script specifically written for TV I had ever worked on. I’d spend my time on break as a legal writer at a law firm in my car writing this script, daydreaming about what being a zombie going to therapy would look like. I ended up putting the script down for many years and forgot about it only for it to resurface last year. I dug in with some big changes, mainly on my writing style and a clean up of the dialogue. My writing style had changed, big time, and I appreciated the new me. I fixed it up but was still proud of the work I had created both then and now. Back in 2015, I didn’t know much about what I was doing, now I know way more. I sent it to a friend to read, and they loved it, and it made me realize how much I loved this script and will eventually get it into production. Even if it becomes just a pilot. Had I not taken time away to work on other things and written other projects, I don’t know if the script would have been that good as it is now. My friend even remarked how ironic it was that there was an outbreak in my script which was written five-years before Covid made its impact on the world, and got me wondering if the script is now more relevant than it was five-years ago. It’s okay if you have to step away from writing and come back. Your characters will always be there for you.
Re-Reads and Re-Writes
In the publishing world, agents constantly talk about authors needing to polish their manuscript and that if an agent finds typos in a manuscript or cover letter, they automatically flag it as a no. I’ve read/heard this from so many literary agents. The same goes for film and tv scripts. Take the time to comb through for typos and other things that may be a turnoff to others and a red flag that the script wasn’t given the time it needed in the final hours. I, personally, will pass on projects if I see typos and I’ve given this advice to many friends. And the projects that I or friends have worked on that had these grammar issues that could have been solved, turned out to be very unprofessional sets. Re-writes, in my opinion, are one of the most important parts of writing. This is where you can tighten dialogue, create richer storylines and character arcs, cut excess script fat and so on. You should always reread your script and give rewrites, if necessary. Trust me, it will help you as a writer because every day you learn something new that helps you in some way, shape or form.
Less is More
Some great tips writing friends have bestowed on me from having Oscar nominated and award winning script writers critique their work is that when writing a script, excess words shouldn’t make the cut. As writers, we often want to add detail and flavors to a story, enriching it with vibrancy and paragraphs of action, but it isn’t needed and often not wanted. When writing, keep in mind pacing and timing and how heavy your actions are in detail. You don’t want to write a book. You want to give clear, concise action and direction while setting the scene in your script. It may be hard at first, or maybe not, but the objective here is to polish your skills and create a script that you can be proud of.
Time and Experience
You may hear me say this a lot that one of my favorite movies, Stuck in Love, is about love, and the journey of a writer and his family. In the film, the father Bill, played by Greg Kinnear, has two children who want to work as writers. Bill gives some of the most insightful tips on becoming a writer I’ve ever heard to his children. One quote in particular that I live by is, "a writer is the sum of their experiences.” The other which I’m paraphrasing a little bit is that “by age 25, a writer will have experienced enough to write a lifetime of stories.” While this may not be too exciting to hear, the more you live, experience, explore, the better writer you will become naturally. Most things become better with time. So if you’re stressing that you need to do this now, or need an idea now, or have something at this moment, stop. Let yourself live a little and when you come back to the page, you’ll find that the end of your script is interwoven in your life experiences and all you need to do is just be, and it will come through.