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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Top Ten Things Readers HATE

Good morning, Wavers. I trust many of you, as usual, are busily thinking of a clever one page scene for the latest competition. There's nothing to lose and a $25 gift certificate to gain. Plus we like to have fun at the Rouge Wave, so, you know, you really gotta give it a whirl. Click HERE for the guidelines and click HERE to submit.

Also: just FYI, I have recently had requests from two production companies and a lit manager for some GREAT scripts. I have already submitted a few this week, from my client base but am definitely looking for great material to get out there. Obviously, I have to read the script first and yeah, that obviously means do some notes on the material, but the reputation of the Script Department has grown to the point where I am getting hit up for good scripts. So. Just put that in your pipe and smoke it. I am looking for anything well written, but also family, tentpole, action, horror and thriller.

So the happy, happy class who took Ten Things Readers HATE over the weekend requested that I repost that list here on the Rouge Wave. Now - you really had to to be there and I can't reprint everything that we discussed in a 90 minute class. But I will reprint the list itself just for fun. This list could have been much longer but this is what we discussed at the Great American Pitch Fest. And remember - because it's the Wave-inatrix - my list actually goes to 11.

Bear in mind that readers are often overworked and underpaid and your script may be the third script they read that day. So they're a little cranky, a little jaded and they really want to go to bed. But no. Your script is staring at them and they gotta get through it quickly so they can turn in the coverage that night so tomorrow they can go pick up six more scripts from another production company a long, smoggy drive away. So I've set the scene, right?

Top Ten Things Readers HATE:

#11 A script over 120 pages.

Reader thinks: Please kill me now. The writer doesn't have a good grasp of structure and tight story telling. Great. Just great.

#10 The writer sent weird shit in the mail with the script.

Reader thinks: Oh god. A rank amateur. Some kind of nut. What is this map/sketch/doll/polaroid/music and how fast can I toss it to the floor so I can just read the script already?

#9 Boring, derivative scripts in which nothing happens.

Reader thinks: Wtf? Where's the conflict? What is the bloody point here? I hate this writer! Why can't he or she just tell me a story already! I'm hungry. Maybe there's something in the fridge. Maybe I should throw some laundry in. But I have to get this script done and - I hate this writer!

#8 Wonky Tone or Genre

Reader thinks: Wait - I cannot draw a bead on this. It's funny, it's graphic, it's scary, it's got characters with more personalities than Sybil. I can't sum this up, I can't follow where it's going. There's no cohesion. I'm gonna PASS this writer so fast his head's gonna spin. Gd it.

#7 Bad, Confusing Sluglines

Reader thinks: My eyes! The humanity! These pages are cluttered and overslugged. Too many details in the slugs! Or - completely generic slugs - ext. house - day - oh come ON!

#6 Gratuitous, Shocking Sex or Violence

Reader thinks: Really? Am I supposed to be impressed or shaken by this? You're dealing with the wrong reader, pal. If it's not in keeping with the tone and narrative, if it's just there to pop wheelies and tell me way more than I ever wanted to know about your sexual fantasies or urge to scoop out eyeballs with a melon baller, then color me NOT impressed.

#5 On the Nose Dialogue

Reader thinks: Talk about an urge for violence - what do you think I am, stupid? This dialogue is patronizing, dull and amateur. But hey - this is going to be a fast read and an easy PASS. Bring it.

#4 Dense Action Lines

Reader thinks: Like I'm going to wade through this crap. I'm just trying to synopsize this quickly and efficiently. And this is killing my eyes, slowing down the read and adding exponentially to my already cranky mood.

#3 No Structure: the BOSH script

Reader thinks: Nothing is moving this story forward, it just goes and goes and goes. It's a BOSH script! (bunch of shit happens).

#2 Lame Characters

Reader thinks: These characters sound, act and look like robots. If there was one thing that might have gotten me into this story, it would have been characters I give a damn about. But no. Is this writer serious? Does he or she read this dialogue outloud? People don't act this way. These are types! Oh! I'm so cranky!!

#1 Typos and malaprops

Reader thinks: Oh come ON. Seriously? One or three is one thing but now I'm beginning to feel personally insulted. Proofread! Is it that hard? Do you want to be taken seriously??

Now, Wavers know that there is a remedy to every single one of these items. And if you are new to the Rouge Wave, look at the Browse by Topic and click on corresponding subject labels to read up on how to do a better job and improve your craft. Mostly, just do the opposite of each point made here. But of course, there's a lot more to it than that.

The larger point of the class is that you have to imagine yourself in the reader's shoes. And during the class, cruelly, that's just what I did, by passing out the first ten pages of a script that somehow managed to accomplish everything on this list save number 10 and that's just because I didn't bother to bring the map of the castle to the class. I gave everyone four minutes to read the pages (about how long a reader would spend, give or take) and asked that they circle those things that are slowing down the read for them. It was painful to watch, and I'm sorry, but it was effective, no?

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Tyler said...

In the original script of Stranger Than Fiction, the screenwriter included a CD of punk-rock tunes that they instructed readers to listen to at specfic points in the script (there was even a blurb at the beginning of the script that said "If you DO NOT have this CD, call Blank at ###-#### and we will send you one right away!") Do you think this helped or hurt the script, considering the baker the main character fell in love with was supposed to be some sort of a "punk rock baker" and tied directly in with her character? Obviously it didn't do too much damage in the long run, but have things changed since that script was circulating, probably 2 or 3 years ago?

Julie Gray said...

Yes, I have heard this story. A completely unproven, unconnected writer trying to break in who follows this type of plan has a 95% chance of it backfiring and looking like a rank amateur at best. Let your script speak for itself.

PJ McIlvaine said...

I've heard of alarm clocks sent out with a script about a ticking time bomb (get it?). I'm with Julie. No gimmick in the world is going to help a script if it's a dog. And if it's a good script, gimmicks like this will turn people off.