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5 Screenwriting Insights from a Professional Script Reader

May 7, 2024
4 min read time

Screenwriting can raise many questions or doubts about whether something is working. While asking your friends to check out your screenplay can be helpful in some ways, having a professional give you feedback can help you create a great, sellable script.

If you need advice before submitting your screenplay to Final Draft's Big Break Screenwriting Contest (which offers pro script feedback that is definitely worth a look), check out our interview with Bryan Rucker, a professional script reader, in which he gives advice on crafting a great screenplay.

Read More: Weekend Writing Inspiration: 6 Tips On Navigating Script Feedback

A man in a suit reading a script; 5 Screenwriting Insights from a Professional Script Reader

Final Draft: What are the top five most common issues you come across reading scripts?

Bryan Rucker: Nowadays, there’s so much access to screenwriting software, so most writers are able to format scripts well enough to make them look professional. But I read a lot of scripts where the writer tries to reveal emotion and motivation in the action lines rather than letting the dialogue “speak for itself,” so to say. Focusing on visuals, allowing the reader to picture what you imagine up on screen, lets us into the world you want to create. 

Deeply autobiographical stories are a double edged sword. The emotions are true, but sometimes the characters don’t feel fully developed and the structure needs shaping.

Try not to adapt a story that is culturally ubiquitous unless you have a really unique take. It’s hard to make something like Peter Pan or Alice In Wonderland feel fresh. 

All the screenwriting books out there help with structure and plotting, but they can also limit your creativity. Film literacy—watching hundreds of movies in a variety of genres from a variety of time periods and countries—will help awaken your voice much more than any book. 

This sounds so picky, but make sure your character names are all distinct from one another. In real life you might know a Michael, a Mark, a Matthew, and a Max, but it’s hard to keep track of them on the page. 

FD: What things do all great scripts have in common?

BR: All great scripts have a stylistic and tonal point of view.

All great scripts have characters who speak in distinct voices yet occupy the same world. 

All great scripts are grappling with the current moment, regardless of when they take place. 

FD: What makes a script stand out to you?

BR: Point of view and singularity of voice. I’m pretty omnivorous in terms of genre, and I don’t mind formula. Detective stories, Hallmark-style Christmas movies, teen sex comedies, revenge thrillers, etc. all basically follow the same structures. And they’re popular for a reason—they have a super satisfying, comforting rhythm. Imprinting something personal and idiosyncratic onto those familiar rhythms is the sweet spot. 

FD: What are your biggest pet peeves as a script reader, and how can screenwriters avoid them?

BR: Huge paragraphs of action that feels more like a novel than a screenplay. Break them up into short, declarative sentences. Think of them like bullet points rather than descriptive prose.

It’s a bit depressing, especially in 2024, how little effort certain male screenwriters seem to put into creating textured, three dimensional female characters. I guess my only piece of advice to these writers is to listen to the women in your own lives. 

Never write something (especially at this level, when you’re just trying to get your voice out there) specifically in response to industry trends. By the time you’re done writing those trends will have probably changed anyway. Be true to what you love about film and TV. 

FD: What’s your advice for a screenwriter who’s feeling down about receiving some challenging notes?

BR: It’s so tough to feel like someone doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say. Take a few days and come back to the notes when you feel like you have a little emotional distance from your work and the feedback. Stay open to change, but at the end of the day you’re the boss of your own art. 

FD: When should a screenwriter decide to give up screenwriting?

BR: If you see photojournalists Kirsten Dunst and Cailey Spaeny taking pictures of your decimated war-torn metropolis, it might be time to pack it in.

Read More: How Writer Jason Kaleko Got His Foot in the Door With Big Break

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