Book Review: Your Screenplay Sucks

Your Screenplay Sucks

by William M. Akers

In a nutshell: Filled with hard and fast reality checks about the screenwriting process, this book offers a no-nonsense approach to finding (and fixing) the problems in your script.

Recommended for: writers with two or more scripts written who are serious about getting their screenplays sold. Beginners might be overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty guidelines on grammar and style choices. A good skill reinforcer for experts and working writers.

Books like Save the Cat serve to empower first time screenwriters to try their hand at the craft. Books like Your Screenplay Sucks offer a remedy to the beginner’s overconfidence, and provide some critical reality checks.

This book packed with useful tips and reminders. Akers has compiled a master list of reasons why your script is trash, such as:

  • Not picking the right hero

  • Putting too much backstory in the first act

  • Not having enough reversals

  • Common format mistakes

  • Not using the active tense

  • Overwriting action

  • Rewriting when you haven’t finished your rough draft

The book is organized into three “acts” consisting of 100 tips relating to each part of the screenwriting process, from prewriting to sale.

One of the most valuable sections of the book is the “SCREENWRITER’S DEADLY SINS” which comprises of a set of grammar rules you have to follow or else the reader will hate you. Go take a look at one of your own scripts. Go. Are you writing in the present tense, active voice? Do you write “he is grinning” instead of “he GRINS”? Are your sentences stripped of any unnecessary words? Are your descriptions sparse and concise? The answer is almost always no. That’s why this list is so great: it offers up a set of rules you can fix with a quick search and replace in your script. Example: the word “suddenly.” If that word is in any part of your script, the reader will groan aloud. Adverbs should be murdered with a vengeance.

I don’t recommend this book to those newbie writers just starting their first screenplay because it is such a brutal awakening to all the ways you can go wrong with your story. If you have at least one script completed before you read about the intricacies of plot construction, everything will make more sense.

One of the themes the book touches on is this: if you can be discouraged from entering the professional field of screenwriting, than screenwriting is not for you. If you knew that you would never earn a dime from any of your stories, would you still be motivated to write? If the answer is no, consider another career. As Artell so eloquently states, you are your first audience. Write to please yourself. Then rewrite so that your story can appeal to others as well.

I found a few discrepancies within the text: In terms of formatting, the book says that writers should underline important props/key words instead of putting them in caps. Example: On the table sits a GUN vs. on the table sits a gun. I’ve seen the first way used more often than the second. Underlining is most commonly used to provide emphasis in dialog because italics is harder to see (Ex: I will not leave with you!) and important props are often times in caps. There is a case to be made that caps make the script look cluttered, but the same goes for underlining. I prefer caps and I’ve seen caps used more frequently, but whatever you choose, pick a method and stick with it.

The second discrepancy deals with the requirement of writing “FADE IN.” Most scripts on the market skip this line because it’s redundant. I mean, what else is your first scene going to do? FADE OUT? Despite the fact that the book tells you to include fade in, I think you shouldn’t. Every line counts, and the more you can eliminate to slim down your page count, the better!

Takeaway: Don’t neglect the small details. Read your script aloud, use spellcheck, check your tenses, and make sure your characters are consistent. Killer verbs, sharp dialog, and concise action will win over the readers in your favor. No matter how inventive your story is, you must nail your presentation. Hollywood readers won’t stick their necks out for shoddy material that is riddled with spelling errors.

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