by Ken Aguado (@kaguado)
I’ve been a production executive and producer for several decades, so needless to say I’ve read a lot of scripts. Despite the mileage, I like to pride myself on having never succumbed to cynicism; I know that screenwriting is a tough job and anyone who can get the job done has my sincere admiration.
That said, I have my cranky side, and there are a handful of things I’m just tired of seeing when I read a script. I’m not just talking about bad dialogue or unclear actions and descriptions, most of which I chalk up to… let’s call it “unprofessionalism.” No, I’m talking about the bad habits, tropes, and clichés that I see often enough for it to drive me nuts.
I’m sure you have your list, but without further delay here’s mine:
1. A female lead described as “beautiful, but doesn’t know it.”
I’ve met some beautiful women in my life. Trust me, they all know it. I’m sure this goes hand in hand with why we see so many film and television romances where the pretty gal falls for the “schlub.” Think about who’s usually doing the writing and do the math.
2. A male lead described as “struggling with inner demons.”
For some reason this character is always sitting alone at the bar, nursing a drink. My hunch is that some writers believe this makes their character sound “deep.” But to me it sounds like the only actor who is right for the role will be Mickey Rourke.
3. A screenwriter who loves the sound of his or her own voice.
Usually this manifests in dialogue that goes on and on and on. Even if the dialogue is good, I always find it a little self-indulgent. I’m talking about you, Quentin Tarantino.
4. Too much description of a character’s inner state of mind.
This is a corollary to #2, above. A little is okay, but it’s usually a sign of lazy writing. If you like to describe your characters’ inner life, such as “struggling with inner demons,” please consider writing a novel instead.
5. Characters who are not introduced or established properly.
This is mostly a rookie mistake but I see it so often I’m starting to worry I’m reading too many rookie scripts. There are rules for establishing characters for the first time in a screenplay and for establishing their presences in scenes. Learn them.
6. Characters with similar-sounding names.
This is a pretty well-known piece of advice. Kevin, Kent, and Ken don’t belong in the same script, unless it’s supposed to be a gag that we can’t tell one from the other.
7. Female characters who have a boy’s nickname.
Okay, admittedly this one is kind of petty, but you’d be amazed how often I see Samantha called “Sam,” Louise called “Lou,” and Josephine called “Jo.” It’s just trite.
8. Working-class characters who are portrayed with wildly unrealistic lifestyles.
Really, enough is enough. Unless you’re writing a script about Rupert Murdoch, please stop portraying characters who can actually earn a living in publishing. Also, characters who can afford to live in a loft or brownstone in New York City are more properly referred to as “the one-percent.”
9. Soundtrack suggestions.
Unless you’re writing a musical or a specific song is relevant to the plot, just don’t do it. And while it’s on my mind, don’t sent me your mix tape.
10. Too many suggested camera angles.
You can get away with a few if they are well-justified, but unless you are directing and financing the film yourself, be very judicious with their use. There are other ways of accomplishing the same thing without making your script read like a shot list.
Okay, so I’ve shown you mine. Please share your thoughts below.