Screenwriting Contests: 3 Secrets to the Perfect Submission

by ScreenCraft on February 3, 2017

Getting ready to submit your script to a screenwriting contest? You’re in the right spot. By paying attention to contest rules, industry standards, and exceptional storytelling, you’ll stand out not only as a writer but as a professional. After all, you’re up against other competitors. Will a typo make or break you? No. Can multiple script errors affect a reader’s perception of your script? Yes. Nail the little stuff, and let your story shine. Here’s a look at exactly how to do that.

Follow the Technical Rules

  1. Proper script formatting is a big must. Lucky for you, it’s easy. Make sure your format is industry standard. Free screenwriting software is abundant. A reader can tell when you cheat on margins, text sizing, and spacing. Give the right impression by sticking to the industry standard script format.
  2. Streamline scene headings. After you’ve finished your script, double check to make sure action taking place in the same location has the same heading. It can be easy to miss, but create a lot of confusion if not properly written.
  3. Have you changed a character name? Do a ‘search and replace’ for old character names. Similarly, if you’ve changed character genders, replace old pronouns.
  4. Give every character an age and description. A reader needs to be able to visualize both what the character looks like and the type of person they are.
  5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. If you have a hard time catching your own errors, that’s okay! Ask a trusted friend or hire a professional to help you out.
  6. Check title page guidelines. Some contests want your information on the title page. Most contests want you to keep all your information off the title page.
  7. Review contest entry rules and requirements. This is huge. Have you made over a certain amount of money selling a script? Are you writing with a partner? Are you under the age of 18? Are you an international applicant? Writing an adaptation? Check out each contest’s website for the most up-to-date rules and requirements. Your application fee may be non-refundable if you submit a script that violates the contest terms.
  8. Save your script as a PDF. This is the standard. Read the fine print for whichever contest you want to enter to double check.
  9. Budget for the contests you want to enter. Entry fees cover the costs of hiring readers to evaluate your script, organizing & delegating submissions, and so much more. That’s why fees differ per competition. They are all operated differently, have different profit margins, and so on. As long as you choose reputable competitions, the service you’re provided with will be worth it. Bring your best material to the table!

Related: Free Screenwriting Software Review and Comparison: WriterDuet vs. CELTX

Focus on Solid Storytelling

  1. Get feedback beforehand. Avoid submitting your first draft to a contest. Find friends, a writing group, or a professional to give you notes. Make at least one round of revisions (if not more). Contests shouldn’t be used solely as a means to get feedback, BUT it can be insightful to pay extra to understand the mechanics behind your score.
  2. Weak structure is more common in contest submissions than you’d think. Do two things: create a solid logline before you write, and do an outline. The outline doesn’t have to be lengthy, just have one. With a weak structure, the plot feels unmotivated.
  3. Create concrete character goals. Make them tangible things. If your character-driven script is light on plot, that’s okay. It just needs an arc.
  4. Cut down lengthy scene description. Keep your writing to a minute per page. Big blocks of text in the action make the script drag. Be clear and concise, but don’t be afraid to use your voice!
  5. Beware of conversations that start too early. Does your scene start with “hello?” Show us the meaty part of the scene.
  6. When characters talk about other characters or events but do not partake in the action, the script feels like a play. Put your characters into the action of the story.
  7. Know what your story is about and let every scene work towards that point. Tie the theme into the world building and action.
  8. Is your script an ensemble piece or does it follow one main character? Show the story through the proper eyes. Shifting the point of view of the story from one character to the next when you don’t mean to can be jarring to the reader.

Related: Anatomy of a Scene: How to Introduce Ensemble Characters in Dramas

Find Consistency with Time Management

  1. Give yourself time to write your script. Create a steady writing schedule. Don’t feel like you have to write every day or write for lengthy amounts of time. Write the way you find most productive. Every writer is different. Just make sure you actually do the work.
  2. Leave yourself time for revisions before the contest deadlines. Tack on an extra month to your timetable. When you ask for notes from friends, it may take them a week or two to get back to you. Then you have the incorporate the feedback over another couple of weeks. Again, you may need more or less time depending on what kind of writer you are.
  3. Set aside additional time to prep extra submission material. Some contests want a short synopsis, logline, biography, essay, etc… Give yourself the time you need to work on this part of your application.
  4. Use dates as deadlines. Screenwriting contest deadlines are a great motivator. It creates a clear goal for you to work towards.

Related: 10 Time Management Tips for Busy Screenwriters

Samantha Wilson is a script reader and writer blogging about screenwriting, career building, and the industry. For more tools and tips, check out the free Resource Library at Any Possibility. And if you’d like an insider look on screenwriting contest submissions and how to prep, check out Crushing Competition Season. Get $5 off until February 15th 2017 with the code: FIVE OFF

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