Next Level Screenwriting by Hayley McKenzie


Guest blog by Hayley McKenzie, founder and CEO of Script Angel

Congratulations! You’ve written ‘Fade Out’ on your script. It’s been a herculean effort to get here and you’re rightly proud of your 100 pages (or 60, depending on whether it’s a tv pilot or a feature film screenplay) and it actually reads like a script; it’s formatted like a script for film/tv, it’s got a pretty solid story, you’ve delivered on your chosen genre, you’ve got a couple of interesting characters and some zingy lines of dialogue you proudly quote to your friends.

Time to hit ‘send’, right?

Maybe, but… is it really going to impress the industry? Could you elevate it further, so it really wows the tired producer/agent ploughing through their very large script pile?

Here’s my top tips on next level screenwriting to take your script from good to great.

Concept

Basic: It’s clear, focused and compelling and you can sum it up in a one or two sentence logline.

Next level: Does the logline make people want to read the script? When you’ve pitched the logline to friends or family, did their eyes light up? Is your ‘what if…’ intriguing and truly original?

Genre

Basic: Your script delivers on the expectation of your chosen genre; your thriller is thrilling, your drama is intensely, emotionally dramatic.

Next level: Does it deliver all that your genre fans would expect, and then surprise them? Does it avoid cliched tropes and subvert genre expectation?

Story

Basic: There a clear driving story, with a strong beginning, middle and end, each related to and dependent on the other. Your main story tracks right through the script and doesn’t disappear for whole swathes of screen-time because you’ve gone off down a story dead-end. Your first ten pages got the story going and hooked us in.

Next level: Is the plot giving your characters a tough enough time? Is this really the worst that you can throw at them?

Is the story well paced? Is there strong momentum but with peaks and troughs?

Have you taken the story in directions we didn’t expect, or see coming, but which feel completely true and right? Your first idea for ‘what happens / what your character does next’ is probably the same one lots of writers will have, what about idea number twelve on your brainstorm list?

Are the subplots well developed? Do they have a clear beginning, middle and end? Do they track through or have you lost sight of them for too long? Are they linked to the main story thematically or through plot intersections and interdependences?

Theme

Basic: It’s a story about ‘love’.

Next level: Have you got something to say with this story, some truth you want to share with the world? Is it focused? ‘Love’ is not a theme, but ‘love makes you crazy’ might be. Does the story dramatise it?

In my next post, we tackle characters, dialogue, scene-shaping and that all-important unique screenwriting voice.

Part two of this article will be dropping next week, or the full article will be in the App.

Hayley McKenzie is an experienced script executive and the Founder & CEO of Script Angel; a professional writer development organisation which helps emerging writers to elevate their scripts, develop their voice and advance their screenwriting career.