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50 Reasons Why Your Screenplay Is Boring

by Ken Miyamoto on October 12, 2021

What are some telltale signs that a screenplay is a boring read? 

Screenwriters read a lot about what they should and shouldn't do while developing, writing, and marketing screenplays. They are given endless advice, directives, and guidelines to better their screenplays.

The truth is that a screenplay's success — or lack of success can hinge on several factors.

Some can be controlled by the screenwriter:

  • Strength of concept
  • Delivery of story
  • Depth of characters
  • Correct usage of format to easily convey visualization
  • Right amount and type of dialogue
  • Trending genres

Some can't:

  • What industry insiders will agree to read the script
  • What the companies you market your script to are looking for
  • What budgets studios and companies are willing to spend on a project

But the key factor that goes mostly unnoticed when it comes to a spec script (screenplay written under speculation that it will be purchased and produced) is the answer to one question:

"Is the script a boring read?"

If the industry insider reading the script (script reader, contest judge, producer, development executive, manager, agent, director, actor) is bored during the read, it's over — the script isn't going to go anywhere. It's not going to be passed up the totem pole to final decision-makers.

If the script is a boring read, it won't advance.

The only thing that makes a deal happen — or at least gets a screenwriter into the conversation — is getting people excited by the script. Industry insiders need to have a passion for your story. They need to fall in love with it. The script needs to excite them on many levels.

With that in mind, here we present 50 reasons why screenplays can turn out to be boring reads.

  • Some of these reasons can be deal-breakers on their own.
  • Some are forgivable only if not accompanied by others.
  • Some can derail an otherwise great story or concept.

Screenwriters can use this as a checklist when proofreading that final draft. During your development and writing phase, you can also use this as a red flag list to ensure that you're not making these mistakes. And you can even use this list to capture some marketing red flags as well.

50 Reasons Your Screenplay Is Boring

  1. Your concept is a cool gimmick without an interesting story and compelling characters to back it up.
  2. Your logline was better than the actual script.
  3. You marketed your drama script to a company that makes thrillers.
  4. You marketed your slapstick comedy script to a company that makes character-driven dramas.
  5. You marketed your horror script to a company that makes action flicks.
  6. You promised your industry connection one thing and delivered something totally and tonally different.
  7. The script is a talking head story with all dialogue — stories usually relegated to the indie market and auteurs.
  8. You included a synopsis, casting breakdown, conceptual drawings, or anything else beyond the script itself.
  9. Your script has endless camera direction.
  10. The format of the script is overly busy instead of focusing on the basic format elements — Location Heading, Scene Description, Character Names, and Dialogue
  11. The scene description goes into major detail about each character's wardrobe.
  12. The scene description goes into major detail about each scene's production design.
  13. The scene description goes into major detail about a character's inner thoughts.
  14. The scene description goes into major detail about a character's personality.
  15. The scene description goes into major detail about a character's backstory.
  16. Overall, the scene description goes into major detail about anything.
  17. In the scene description, you use three to four (or more) sentences to describe a visual or action instead of one to two sentences (fragments are your friends as well).
  18. Your script is too short (90 pages or less) — which usually (not always) denotes that you don't have enough story or characterization.
  19. Your script is too long (120 pages or more) — which usually denotes that you have too much story, too many subplots, and too many scenes.
  20. Your script has multiple grammar, spelling, and typo errors, making the read of the script very difficult (i.e., boring).
  21. You have too many characters, making it difficult for the reader to keep track (leading to a boring and frustrating read).
  22. You open the script with too many characters instead of focusing on the majors and using the later pages to introduce them to their friends, allies, and enemies.
  23. You overuse fancy vocabulary instead of simple words of description that are easily translated to the mind's eye.
  24. You overuse technical filmmaking and production terms, which slow the flow of the read.
  25. You wax poetic in your scene description instead of offering simple and concise visual and action descriptions.
  26. Your script has a slow-burn start, which works with established filmmakers but not when trying to sell a script on spec as an unknown.
  27. You spend the first act introducing your characters instead of just briefly showing them in their ordinary world before throwing them into the conflict of the concept.
  28. You tell, not show (through dialogue).
  29. You write overly expositional dialogue to explain story and character points.
  30. You write on-the-nose dialogue.
  31. You don't know what genre you're writing in, causing the script to have an uneven marketing plan.
  32. You rely on guru script formulas and beat sheets, causing you to write an overly formulaic script (use Save the Cat as a compass, not a paints-by-numbers shortcut).
  33. You have no stakes in your stories.
  34. You don't throw enough conflict at your protagonists every few pages.
  35. Your protagonists are too likable, with no personality issues that rub up against their friends, enemies, and allies.
  36. Your protagonists are too perfect, with no skeletons in their closets (even little ones).
  37. Your antagonists are too evil, which often comes off as cookie-cutter or bland (give them some redeeming qualities or some points that they make in their arguments with protagonists).
  38. Your antagonists are too flawed (re-read #37).
  39. You frontloaded your script with a great first act, but little happens in the second act to match it.
  40. You backloaded your script with an outstanding ending, but the first and second acts don't compare.
  41. You have an unengaging beginning with no hook to get the reader engaged.
  42. You have an unsatisfying ending.
  43. You unwisely attempt to leave the script with a cliffhanger ending (all spec script must resolve the story — franchises can be set up, but the story needs to have an ending).
  44. You have scenes that, when taken out, don't matter to the story, concept, and characters.
  45. Each scene doesn't lead the characters forward in their arcs.
  46. Each scene doesn't lead the story forward.
  47. Your script is riddled with cliches and stereotypes (try something new or give us a new spin on an otherwise familiar trope).
  48. You don't subvert audience expectations by taking them down familiar story and character paths, only to veer off towards a whole different and unexpected direction (you need to do that).
  49. You're writing your version of movies that have already come and gone instead of taking what's proven to be successful and turning it on its head and in new directions.
  50.  Your twist ending wasn't properly set up with plants and payoffs throughout your whole script, which leaves the reader a little bored when they go back to see if you did.

Use this list as a compass to lead you away from the red flags that readers quickly detect — and get bored by.

For the perfect follow-up to this list, Read ScreenCraft's The Ultimate List of Story Development Questions!

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, and the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed starring Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O’Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies

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