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All The Things That Are Wrong With Your Screenplay In One Handy Infographic

A professional scriptreader read 300 screenplays for five different studios, all the while tracking the many recurring problems. The infographic he made with the collected data offers a glimpse at where screenwriting goes wrong.

If selling a screenplay were easy, all those people crowding coffee shops with their laptops would be millionaires, or at least optioned. It's not easy, though. So many factors that are totally out of the writer's control tend to combine and form a phalanx keeping him or her out of Hollywood. One thing that certainly is up to the writer, however, is whether the screenplay sucks. A new infographic offers some hard-earned insider tips about pitfalls the novice scribe should avoid, in order to refrain from sucking.

An anonymous professional scriptreader read 300 screenplays for five different studios recently, all the while tracking the many recurring problems found along the way. If it's frustrating experience to bang out a screenplay without much experience, just imagine what it's like to read some of these hastily banged-out doozies, one after the other. Eventually, the person doing so organized all the data into a handy infographic that could be read as a diagnostic on where screenwriters go wrong.

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As featured on screenwriting forum The Blackboard, the infographic presents all manner of information on the settings, genres, and characters that could use a bit of finesse. If it has ever even crossed your mind to attempt to write a movie someday, you should definitely read the following list of frequent script problems, and peruse the rest of the chart above.

  1. The story begins too late in the script
  2. The scenes are void of meaningful conflict
  3. The script has a by-the-numbers execution
  4. The story is too thin
  5. The villains are cartoonish, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil
  6. The character logic is muddy
  7. The female part is underwritten
  8. The narrative falls into a repetitive pattern
  9. The conflict is inconsequential, flash-in-the-pan
  10. The protagonist is a standard issue hero
  11. The script favors style over substance
  12. The ending is completely anti-climactic
  13. The characters are all stereotypes
  14. The script suffers from arbitrary complexity
  15. The script goes off the rails in the third act
  16. The script’s questions are left unanswered
  17. The story is a string of unrelated vignettes
  18. The plot unravels through convenience/contrivance
  19. The script is tonally confused
  20. The protagonist is not as strong as need be
  21. The premise is a transparent excuse for action
  22. The character backstories are irrelevant/useless
  23. Supernatural element is too undefined
  24. The plot is dragged down by disruptive lulls
  25. The ending is a case of deus ex machina
  26. The characters are indistinguishable from each other
  27. The story is one big shrug
  28. The dialogue is cheesy, pulpy, action movie cliches
  29. The script is a potboiler
  30. The drama/conflict is told but not shown
  31. The great setting isn’t utilized
  32. The emotional element is exaggerated
  33. The dialogue is stilted and unnecessarily verbose
  34. The emotional element is neglected
  35. The script is a writer ego trip
  36. The script makes a reference, but not a joke
  37. The message overshadows the story

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  • Very easy solution to this. Start off In the middle of the story. You don't need to spoon feed. People pick up by people's actions and whats going on. THE PERFECT example of this is STAR WARS. It's starts right in the middle of the action with Episode IV. It works. Or adapt a book where people have spent a tonne of time doing it properly.

  • Very easy solution to this. Start off In the middle of the story. You don't need to spoon feed. People pick up by people's actions and whats going on. THE PERFECT example of this is STAR WARS. It's starts right in the middle of the action with Episode IV. It works.

  • Jared

    I'm a produced screenwriter and I teach production at a handful of Boston-area colleges. While useful in broad strokes, the advice in this infographic (i.e., "The story is one big shrug," "The emotional element is exaggerated") is simply too general to help a writer. If you tell one, "The story is too thin," then that doesn't give them any real information. You need specifics. Give me a Blake Snyder, Richard Walter, Syd Field, or Hal Ackerman book any day. They go into enough detail to help a good amount, although having your script evaluated by an experienced pro screenplay coverage service is also a good way to go. Best of luck, aspiring writers!

  • This wasn't designed to be a teaching tool that writers could use to instantly know what was wrong with their script and fix it, merely a recording of information that passed through one person's hands.

    It's our job as teachers to take this info (which represents many of the issuesI have found in way too many scripts) and help writers learn what they are and how to avoid them.

  • Kristy

    But this is done by a reader who passes on screenplays or doesn't. I like some of what was done, but I agree with you. And yet this person is still the one who gets to decide…

  • This person gets to decide ... "no." This is not someone who can decide "yes." And while the OP apparently has quite a bit of reading experience, most readers making the first culling of submitted screenplays are in entry level positions and typically know very little about great storytelling, what it takes to make a great movie, or the industry in general.

    I had this job once. I was a student. I knew next to nothing. And all these screenplays written by people far more knowledgeable had to get past me.

    Any questions why Hollywood is so ingrown and puts out so much crap?

  • David D'Champ

    I think I would be safe in saying this person has never written a script that sold. This reads like someone who is bitter with their life.

  • Bobby Stokley

    I agree, this list describes a lot of films that got produced by hollywood and are on the big screen.!?!?!?!?

  • JimNauseam

    After reading this list I have to wonder how Tarantino got anything accepted. It describes his stuff to a "t".

  • Kitty Kat

    I disagree. For starters, Tarantino's films consistently feature strongly written, memorable female characters. That's almost unheard of in most action/crime/macho scripts.

  • onward

    Nah, I'd say they consistently DON'T. JimNauseam is right on about this. Tarantino is depressingly guilty of numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 21, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 32, 33, 35, 36. But then, yeah, so are the major studios. So it goes to show: don't worry about getting stuff "accepted"; just get out there and do it. So-called professional scriptreaders will be extinct in 10 years.

  • Greg Pace

    I'm curious how his movies have "anti-climactic" endings? I don't see how Django or Inglorious could have had more climactic endings.

  • Dave

    Interesting as this is about rejected scripts, yet covers just about every film I have seen in the last 10 years.

  • Ric Bretschneider

    So much of what's wrong with pseudo-graphic designers these days. (You graphic designers stay off my lawn, you hear!)

    While the content is amusing, it's a horrible "infographic" - uses almost no graphic elements to distill the huge amounts of text to easily reviewed or insightful pictures.