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Archive for the Category "Quick Screenwriting Tips"

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Don’t depend on one line of dialogue Oct 21

Quick Screenwriting TipQuick Screenwriting Tip:

The comprehension of a scene or scene sequence should never depend solely on a single line of dialogue.

I’m still surprised by how often I see this mistake, in both scripts and movies. If something significant needs to be revealed in dialogue, that significant detail needs to be reinforced with some banter, or an action. In most cases, multiple times.

If not, the audience might miss it, and be left in the dark later as to how a character knew something, or why a character did something, or to the payoff of a key moment.

Example of how to do it right

In The Shawshank Redemption (SPOILER ALERT), written and directed by Frank Darabont, imagine if Andy (Tim Robbins) had simply said to Red (Morgan Freeman), “Tell you where I’d go. Zihuatanejo.” — and just left it at that. We’d probably be left scratching our heads at the end when Red shows up on the beach.

No, instead Red repeats the location (Zihuatanejo) back to Andy. On top of that, Andy has the following dialogue:


Mexico. Little place right on the Pacific. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I’d like to finish out my life, Red. A warm place with no memory. Open a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up like new. Take my guests out charter fishing.


You know, a place like that, I’d need a man who can get things.

Red stares at Andy, laughs.

It’s an important point, with a huge payoff later, so the dialogue reinforces it in the audience’s mind.

And when Red retrieves the package that Andy’s left for him, we are again reminded of the destination reveal:


Dear Red. If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?

Never rely on one line of dialogue alone for the audience’s understanding or enjoyment of a key section of your movie.

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Quick Screenwriting Tip: Deus Ex Machina = Bad Aug 24

Quick Screenwriting Tip

Avoid a deus ex machina ending to your story.

What is deus ex machina? According to Wikipedia:

A deus ex machina (Latin for “god out of the machine”) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability, or object.

I feel the need to bring up this writing tip after reading Dean Koontz’ recent novel, Relentless. The ending was so contrived, so preposterous, I had to check the spelling of the author’s name twice to make sure it was indeed that Dean Koontz.

The novel was a good reminder of why it’s important to properly establish the rules of your world in the beginning of the story.

For example: If your story’s a western, with no sci-fi components, then it shouldn’t end with the hero saving the day after discovering an alien laser gun hidden inside a spittoon.

Can you think of any movies that use deus ex machina successfully?

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Quick Screenwriting Tip: Don’t Sweat the Backstory May 08

Quick Screenwriting Tip

Don’t get hung up on writing character backstories. What’s important is knowing how your character will react to situations right now.

We all react differently to trauma and events. For example, someone who grows up in an abusive household may become an abuser themselves, become a crusader for the abused, or just carry on unaffected and lead a normal life.

Backstories are therefore irrelevant for the most part. What matters in your screenplay is how your characters react to things at this moment in their lives.

The only time a backstory will be important is when an aspect of your character’s past will be brought up, or depicted, in the movie — and will have a direct bearing on the plot or another character.

A Simple Rule

If you know what your character would say and do in any situation, you’re ready to start writing the dialogue and actions for your character.

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Redundant Parentheticals Apr 28

Quick Screenwriting Tip

If a parenthetical provides obvious information, it should be removed.

Example of UNNECESSARY parenthetical usage — (angrily):



I’m going to kill ALL of you!

We know Jake is angry because of what he says and how he says it. The parenthetical is redundant and slows down the read.

Have you eliminated all of the unnecessary parentheticals in your script?

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Quick Screenwriting Tip: Proof for homonym errors Apr 26

Quick Screenwriting TipWhen proofing the final draft of your script, don’t forget to do a homonym pass.

While we’re blazing through our first draft, it’s easy to inadvertently mix up words or contractions that sound the same in our heads. We need to weed-out any of these remaining grammar traps at the end of the writing process.


  • there, their, they’re
  • your, you’re, yore
  • to, too, two
  • its, it’s
  • dam, damn
  • should have/should’ve, should of
  • could have/could’ve, could of

A simple automated spell check isn’t going to catch these errors.

It’s always worthwhile to have someone else (with a solid command of grammar and spelling) read your script for such mistakes before you send it out. Often times when we read our own work, we see what we intended to write, as opposed to what’s actually on the page.