1. The magic happens in the first pages
If you’re not into the story after the first 5 to 10 pages, chances are that you will never be. Among the screenplays that I read, some caught my attention right away and some didn’t. This had nothing to do with the genre or my interest in the topic.
What did some of them catch my attention? They made me care. Not about the story, but about the characters.
Some of the stories didn’t resonate with me, but I still loved the screenplay and found it good because the screenwriter managed to create a character interesting and relatable enough for me to care.
Don’t write a story — write your character’s journey.
And this is why…
2. …Character backstories are essential
Readers will care about your characters if they are deep enough. They should have interesting backstories that will be discovered as the main story unfolds.
Backstories shouldn’t come out of the blue — they must be related to your character’s personality. You have to show somehow that this event or series of events had an impact on them and their development.
3. The villain should also be good
No villain should be 100% evil, unless maybe in horror stories — sometimes.
Your antagonist will be much more interesting if they have a clear backstory, motives, challenges, etc. Spend as much time developing them as you would your hero because they are equally important if not more.
Give them bad traits AND qualities — everyone has some.
4. Your screenplay might be sexist and/or racist (involuntarily)
Asking for feedback is good because sometimes things you write can be taken wrongfully or do involuntary harm.
It’s easy to let clichés take over when developing a character that has different sex, ethnicity, or religious beliefs than you do.
For example, the gay guy that only exists to be the gay best friend and has no story of his own (hi Kevin Keller from Riverdale) or the woman who only exists to be the hero’s pet (hi Toni Topaz from Riverdale).
A few years ago, Wired published a very interesting article explaining how sexism in movies actually originates from screenplays.
“People often point to sexism in movies for what happens onscreen, but really, it’s in play before our heroine has a chance to say a line. It happens when she’s cast. It happens when she’s costumed. It happens when she gets her paycheck. But before all of that even has a chance to go down, it happens in the script — the very first keystroke that could make her a well-rounded individual, or a reductive pile of cliché. Far too often, she’s the latter.” — Wired: “The ‘Jane Test,’ a New Way to Tell if Your Scripts Are Sexist”
Ross Putman pulls out description lines from scripts and publishes them on Twitter to denounce sexism in screenplays. The result is interesting: