Monday, April 19, 2010

Reader question: Guru beat sheets

Robert left this question on the Facebook page:

I've heard it said from credible sources that if a screenplay follows this or that structure guru's structure to a fault, and has beats exactly where a particular beat sheet says to place them, many readers will simply toss the screenplay.


I've tossed out many scripts for having no structure, for following no discernible pattern, but to throw out a script because the inciting incident occurs on p. 12 and the Act Two turning point occurs on p. 25 is utter idiocy. That's no less stupid that a reader who would throw out a script because the inciting incident happens on p. 14 rather than p. 12.

Having said that, if your inciting incident doesn't happen until p. 20, there's a problem. If it takes 40 pages to get to anything resembling a turning point, there's a problem. Those are major pacing issues and if there's nothing in the first 15-30 pages to really hook the reader, yeah, you're screwed.

But I've never heard of a reader saying "The structure in this script is too textbook! Beggone! To the waste bin with thee!"

Having said that, there are a few of these screenwriting gurus who seem to be a bit full of themselves and seem to come up with their own overly-complicated methods purely so they can charge an arm and a leg just to hook in some poor saps to take their courses. I like McKee, and he's earned his cred as a "guru." The late Blake Snyder certainly did too. Syd Field? No question, so don't think I'm lumping them in with the ones I dislike.

Whether or not this is true for you or not, what are some things that will make you immediately disregard a script?

Too long.
Too short.
Too many brads
Not enough brads
Opening is too funny
Opening is not funny enough
Characters with bland names
Characters with weird names
Setting is too unusual
Setting is too conventional
Too much description
Not enough description

In all seriousness, and I hope this doesn't come off too curt, this blog is full of posts about the things that turn me off, either right away or over the course of a script. Check out the archives.

But since it can't be stated enough - this is the sort of shit that really counts against you before I've read one word:

The wrong font.

Too long - which for you should mean anything over 120 pages. Give a guy like me a 135 page script and you might as well have stamped PASS on it yourself.

First several pages filled with excessive wordy description. Screenplays have more white space than text. If your first page looks more like a novel than a screenplay, I'm going to assume you don't know what you're doing.

I'm not allowed to PASS right away based on any of that stuff but you can be sure none of that will endear you to me.


  1. If I recognize one single scene that you've lifted from a popular film, your screenplay sucks - guaranteed. I'll spend the rest of the read wondering what else is lifted from that popular film or others. Just because I saw it once in a Judd Apatow flick doesn't mean I want to see the same damned thing(s) again.

  2. I can't stand cappers, the people who put all caps on every noun they come across. Not every third word in your screenplay is important.

  3. Numerous spelling mistakes will immediately color my enjoyment of a script. If the writer can't be bothered to do a spell check, odds are they're neglecting a lot of other important things as well.

  4. I think I understand what the original poster is saying but it really has nothing to do with the beats themselves being offensive. It's the fact that it's all architecture because that's all the writer can manage. I can thumb a script and tell immediately if a writer is a writer capable of character and dialog or a strategist who decided to buy a book and make a lot of money.