So what AM I allowed to do in my script? / by Jared Jones


Readers want a surprising, unusual opening image that presents information about the story in a visual way.

HOW DO I DO THAT? Look at opening images from movies you’re enthusiastic about. What invites you in? What makes you curious about the people and the place? What do you notice about the beginning now that you’ve seen the end?

Readers want scripts that move with purpose.

HOW DO I DO THAT? Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Every scene that remains in your script must accomplish something new. A new problem, a new insight, a new piece of the puzzle.

Readers want scripts that accomplish something novel.

HOW DO I DO THAT? Work on your idea until it is not the same as the film you are emulating. Find a different way to tackle your material. 

YEAH, BUT HOW DO I DO THAT? Change an important element. Your story is going to be about a major emotion, usually love or fear or greed or wrath, and you want to look at that emotion with your own eye. What interests you? Race cars? Gourmet cooking? Rock climbing? Pick a “What if?” that incorporates your passion to move your idea out of the pack.

PRO TIP: The more honest you are when you consider what makes you passionate, the more compelling your story will be.

Readers want the protagonist to earn their interest.

HOW DO I DO THAT? Show that the protag’s struggle is real, and that it is relatable.

YEAH, BUT HOW DO I DO THAT? Consider what holds your protag back. It should be a roadblock that keeps a lot of people stuck in place. Denial, self-disgust, pride, stubbornness, fear of looking foolish. It can be a physical or mental disability, an old trauma, an emotional or physical injury they haven’t come to terms with yet. Then pit that against the mountain they have to climb in the second act. 

Readers want a well-defined final challenge.

HOW DO I DO THAT? Be specific in your idea. Make the goal concrete and difficult to attain. Winning a race, blowing up the enemy tank in time to save the troops, rescuing the child from the well, getting back together after the divorce. It should be a final challenge that will help heal the protag’s flaw, and it should be important enough that failing will have terrible consequences.

Readers want an ending. 

HOW DO I DO THAT? Make a decision, and end it. Hanging on for another ten pages to wrap up is an easy edit. The ending can certainly be ambiguous, in a certain kind of script, but it can’t be ambiguous just because you can’t make a decision about it. Birdman ends ambiguously, but it is allowed to because all of the protag’s goals were addressed and settled.