Ken’s Top 10: Annoying Things I See In Scripts

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.

Read more of Ken’s Top 10 lists here.

~

Ken Aguado is a producer and co-author, along with Douglas Eboch, of The Hollywood Pitching Bible. Follow Ken @kaguado

11 thoughts on “Ken’s Top 10: Annoying Things I See In Scripts

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  1. My least favorite is #6, similar names, because it’s so easy not to do, but done so often. If I could, I’d turn anything like that to mulch in a heartbeat.

    #7’s common variant is the runner-up: gals with unnecessary guys’ names. I’m three pages in, picturing each of the characters in hi-res, when suddenly, with no warning, Cameron or Morgan sprouts tits. Compost.

    You’re entitled to be cranky.

  2. Oh, how I hate the leading character who is just there to show how cool (most of the time it’s a) he is. There is no challenge he can’t take on without breaking an emotional sweat from charging into a brigade of bad guys with guns armed only with a quip to being bullied by the mean kids.

    1. I agree with you 100%. I’m also annoyed by the movies which shows the poor female (lady in distress) being rescued by the handsome, rich man. He marries her and all of her problems go away.

  3. Thank-you for your honesty. I’m always opened to suggestions since I’ve never gotten anything produced and I hope to someday either see my material being performed on stage or on the big screen in movie theaters.

  4. Good to know. As a novice to screen writing I am happy for any hints. Many of your pet peeves are also applicable to novel writing, namely #’s 1, 5,6,7,and 8. Number 6 really drives me crazy in novels and any cinematic forms. I’ve noticed similar names used even by experienced, some famous, authors. Thank you for this post.

  5. Ken, I have to say I respectfully disagree with #9 but let me explain. I get pumped when I see a certain scene or event in a film and they’re playing a song by an artist that not only I like but the song fits the moment. Example: You have an intense chase scene on foot and a Beastie Boys song hits the right note. Please note: I have added songs to my scripts but will think about that moving forward. With that being said, I do agree with the other nine. Thanks again for taking the time to share and have a great rest of the week.

    1. Remember, it’s a business (or so I’ve heard. Not that I’ve ever sold anything). There are a lot more people out there writing spec scripts than there are producers willing to buy them. If you write a script where a song is an integral, essential part of the story, what is a producer likely to do if the song is either unavailable to license or ungodly expensive? Pass you right by, and go to the next script on top of one of the three 4 foot tall stacks of scripts in her office. IMHO, it’s just not worth it.

  6. Ken…Peeve 8 – It is Murdoch with an ‘H’ not Murdock with a ‘K’ (petty, but noticeable).

    JD…Ken is right, unless your film depends on it avoid writing in commercially successful songs/music. Why? Because the ‘clearance’ costs of publishing and or performance rights will probably send your film way over budget. Secondly, (unless you have the reputation of someone like Tarantino) Studios and Investors generally run a mile from your screenplay.

  7. Thanks for the feedback. Remember, is is my “cranky” list, but I think most pros in the business will advise you to avoid song suggestions, with the two exceptions I cite. But write a great script and everyone will be singing Beastie Boy songs along with you!

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