- What is the genre of the screenplay? Is it science fiction? Romantic comedy? Action movie? Erotic thriller? Spoof? Psychological? Or fantasy? The genre of your film is also your intended audience. Keep the film genre in mind when writing your screenplay.
- What time or place is the script set? Is it set during WW2, is it contemporary or a futuristic scene? Is the story set in England? What is significant about the time or place regarding the plot? How does it impact upon the characters and the plot?
- Establish the main characters. What sex are they? What do we need to know about them? How do they contribute to the opening scenes? Are we supposed to like them?
- What is the main premise of the story, what is it about? This part might help conceive the logline of the film script, such as, ‘a gigolo meets a client only to be framed for murder.’
- What is the general message or theme of the screenplay? Is it money and greed? Love conquers all? Is it about the spirit of the small person at odds with a large force, such as a corporation or nature?
- What location and time does the scene takes place? Is this influence the plot? Could an alternative time and place add tension to the scene? For instance, a couple arguing in a car could be more constrained if the scene occurs in a library.
- Can a series of short scenes be made into a montage or series of shots? This can often add dynamism to the screenplay and advance the story more quickly.
- Does the scene move the story forward?
- Does the scene say something about the character(s) within? Can fewer characters improve the scene (it often does.)
- Can the scene be changed to make it more original? (Watch out for subconscious sourcing of scenes previously seen in movies.) Can a clichéd element be replaced to make the scene more memorable for the viewer?
- Do the characters’ motives contrast with one another? Can a little tweaking heighten this contrast?
- What are the characters doing and where are they at the opening of the scene? Remember, action description should always follow a slugline.
- Is the dialogue necessary? Can any of it be substituted for body language? This is known as subtext and can often improve the screenplay.
- Is it clear who’s speaking? Is the dialogue too similar? Can the words each character uses be made more different to one another? Can their backgrounds, attitudes or upbringing colour the words each character uses? Does the dialogue sound natural?
- Is any of the dialogue simply there to inform on the story? Does it sound forced?
- Are the characters’ motives reflected in what they say?
- Is any of the dialogue wordy? Can some of the speech be cut? Can fewer words do? (it often does).
- Is there any irony used? Can what is actually being said and character action be made different, as different as possible?
- Are all the characters crucial to the story? Can any be cut out? Can two minor characters be combined into one?
- What are the motives of your characters? Are each character’s motives suitably different from one another? Is this sufficiently reflected in the action scenes, dialogue and subtext?
- Do any of the action scenes not ring true of the character(s)?
- Can altering the sex, age or culture of a character improve the story, create tension or an interesting spin?
- Are there any stereotypes lurking within? Is each character plausible and interesting?
- What stands in the way of the character(s) goal and how does this affect their actions and dialogue?
- Are the characters’ strengths and weaknesses reflected in their actions and dialogue? Is this relevant to the story? Are we meant to sympathise with each character?
- Does conflict in the screenplay have peaks and troughs? Does this trend generally increase between acts 1, 2 and 3?
- Do obstacles that stand between the character(s) and goal increase throughout the screenplay? Are the stakes high enough? What does each character have to do to win their objective? Can this be made more difficult?
- Is there a logical passing of time with each scene? Is it day or night? How is this relevant to the story?
- What is the ratio between character action and dialogue? Is there a lot of talking going on? Could the characters be doing something as they speak? Where are they in relation to one another in a scene?
Great Tips for Screenwriting
How to write a screenplay synopsis
Writing dialogue for film
The midpoint of your screenplay
Platforms for screenwriters
Add tension to your screenplay
Character names for your script