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4 Things I Learned by Offering Free Script Coverage

Alicia Sekhri
Alicia Sekhri
This is an excerpt. The full post can be found on Medium.

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:
Ross Putman
JANE (30s) -- Beautiful, but pissed.
Where to look for feedback
Months ago, when I finished my very first screenplay, I was excited to get feedback and posted it on Reddit.
What. A. Mistake.
The first comment really hurt, but the ones that followed almost convinced me to quit. Most people weren’t providing constructive feedback, instead, they were criticizing my work pretty harshly.
I don’t think this first screenplay sucked, and I am still proud of it. It was the very first one that I completed, which proved that I could actually write a screenplay.
Don’t look for feedback in random online places, because random people will respond. You want to find the support of a community, peers who know where you’re going and how to get there. People who know the hard work that goes into a screenplay and truly want to help you.
Stage 32 will do that for you. It’s a place where you can safely share your work and questions with hundreds of mentors and peers (this isn’t sponsored btw I genuinely believe that).
The golden rules of constructive feedback
  1. Start with the good part: what you liked and what was done well
  2. Highlight the things that didn’t work and why
  3. Provide suggestions
  4. Remember that all artists are tied to their work, so when you criticize a screenplay you indirectly criticize the screenwriter (at least it will feel like you do)
  5. BE KIND
Some people think that being kind is doing a disservice to writers when their work is particularly bad, but I don’t believe that.
You can be nice and respectful of someone’s work and still clearly say that this piece of writing is not good. Just keep an encouraging tone and suggest improvements.
Treat people as you want to be treated: with honesty and respect!
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Alicia Sekhri
Alicia Sekhri @aliciasekhri

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