The Number 1 Thing Screenwriters Often Overlook

Tuesday 15 January 2019

With all the resolutions, and promises of making positive changes and habits in 2019 - have you stopped to think about the ONE THING that matters most as a screenwriter? Surprisingly, it's often the most common thing writers overlook!

In today's guest post - written by Hollywoodscript founders, script consultant partnership - Judy and Craig - (who have worked in story and development for companies such as Universal Television & 20th Century Fox Television)- are letting you in  on the number one thing ALL writers need to remember.

With that in mind, let's hand over to Judy and Craig:

In the mercurial world of screenwriting there's a rogues’ gallery of mistakes that writers can make. 


This impatience and impulsiveness presents itself in many forms. 

Writers often rush to their desks, ready to compose the opening scene and beyond of their entire script, before they’ve fully conceptualized what exactly it is that they are planning to create overall. 

Ideas are not concepts! 

Real concepts need to be deeply pondered, for a concept is not a one or two line notion. It's a fleshed out creative invention brimming with potential and ready for the next step on the assembly line, namely DEVELOPMENT! 

Once you've gone through the initial and sometimes arduous, but very necessary task of making sure you've actually got what you think you've got conceptually, the process of DEVELOPMENT can commence.

At this point we recommend a method that we call “sandboxing” wherein you sit down each and every day and GROW a laundry list of ideas for scenes, characterizations, big and small events etc. - moments that are dramatic, funny, compelling and so forth that can potentially be used in your screenplay. 

You are gathering an ARSENAL of content to eventually develop into story, dialogue, texture and characters that will make your material three-dimensional on all fronts and hence give it serious “legs”. 

Following this process, you can now use that arsenal you’ve fully thought out and compiled to create individual story “arcs” for each plotline in your film.

Lay them out separately; break each one down scene by scene from the start of each individual story line to the end of each individual story line, in quick bullet-points representing each “beat” (scene) in that individual story thread. 

You may wish to use color-coded index cards to organize each story arc (e.g.: your hero’s story is arced out on blue cards; his wife’s arc is yellow; and the rise and fall of the bad guy will be delineated in purple). 

In this way, you are able to examine each of your story lines as “nakedly” as possible. 
By doing this – and especially if you use index cards - you can hang your entire movie on a wall. 

The various vertical arcs of each and every story can be proudly draped before you, and like an army general, you can inspect each arc as if you’re inspecting your troops, determining if they are truly ready. 

Once every arc passes muster, YOU are truly ready to start writing your film! And you will undoubtedly be gratified by how much all this prep work pays off. To a certain extent your movie is all but writing itself. 

As a quick example of what a single STORY ARC looks like on paper, consider the following arc for Sonny Corleone in the classic The Godfather: 

*He gives the FBI a hard time at the compound as they take down license plate numbers. 

*He goes inside the house with a hottie to have sex while the entire family is having dinner downstairs. 

*He is shocked when his Ivy League brother is willing to meet with the enemy after the Don gets shot. 

*He goes nuts when he finds out that his sister has been beaten up by her husband—and foolishly goes off the compound to punish the guy. 

*He almost reaches his destination, but has to stop at a tollbooth where he is gunned down in an obvious ambush. 

His specific story is clear, crisp and cohesive. It stands on its own, while also being fully integrated into the script as a whole. 

FYI: Pro writers must first go through this type of scrutiny and direction from producers and studio folks, who want every inch of the project fleshed out before the actual writing of the script is allowed to begin. 

Understanding this method PRIOR to commencing with the writing will be both vital and winning to all concerned.


Craig Kellem:

Script consultant Craig Kellem served as a development executive at Universal Television where he developed and sold many series including 3 executive produced by Steve Martin. He has also served as a SNL staff member and at one time, was an agent for George Carlin, Lily Tomlin and other notables.  Craig has also worked in film, having produced NBC’s classic faux documentary, “The Rutles,” for Lorne Michaels/Eric Idle.

Craig’s articles have also appeared in various publications, including NOW WRITE! SCREENWRITING edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. Several films have been produced from Hollywoodscript's consulting efforts including one studio film, several independent films and a TV movie for the Lifetime Network. Many writers have found agents and have been optioned as well. 

Judy Hammett:

Judy Hammett has done research and story packaging at Universal Studios and provided coverage for APA (Agency for Performing Arts). Her articles have appeared in various publications, including the literary journal, READING ROOM/3 published by Great Marsh Press and NOW WRITE! SCREENWRITING edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson.

She co-owns with Craig Kellem and has been working with both script and book writers for over fifteen years.

You can also find Judy & Craig on their social media below:

1 comment

  1. Excellent article! Fleshing out the characters arc seems to me more like the blueprint of the story. It makes the characters and the story more believable, it flows smoothly and it moves the story forward. I learned that from Craig & Judy. I am one of their clients. I can truly say that is the best in the business!