7 DEADLY SINS OF WRITING

Seven Deadly Sins of Writing… from Your Screenplay Sucks!

Using Find (Ctrl F or Apple F) in your computer, chase down these words in any form you find them. Losing them or changing them will strengthen your work.

“Find” spaceisspace should find only the word you’re looking for, not every “is” in your screenplay.

is
He is grinning… becomes… He grins.

are
The convicts are singing opera… The convicts sing opera.

the
Nacho hightails it out of the town… Nacho hightails it out of town.

that
Ralph can’t tell that she’s French… Ralph can’t tell she’s French.

then
She laughs. She then looks at Alice… She laughs. She looks at Alice.

walk
Tika walks down the hall… Tika prisses down the hall.

sit
Sitting at the poker table, Doc deals the cards… At the poker table, Doc deals…

stand
The surgeon stands at the operating table and works… At the operating table, the surgeon works…

look
Cheryl is looking at Stephanie… Cheryl studies Stephanie.

just
I am just totally exhausted… I am totally exhausted.

of the
Tom sits by the entrance of the mall… Tom sits by the mall entrance…

begin
The tape begins playing… The tape plays.

start
She starts moving toward the den… She moves toward the den.

really
Betty is really pretty… Betty, hot as a two dollar pistol, struts in.

very
The kids sing a very old song… The kids sing a traditional song. (“very” means the following word is weak…)

turn
She turns and looks at him… She looks at him.

the phone
Bonnie hangs up the phone… Bonnie hangs up.

some
He pours some coffee… He pours coffee.

still
Kevin, still in paint covered overalls… Kevin, in paint covered overalls.

the room
He puts on a tie before leaving the room… He puts on a tie before leaving.

his face
Nora has an amused expression on her face… Nora is amused.

seems, appears
Tony seems upset… Tony is upset… So, is Tony upset, or just appear to be?

her way
Carol pushes her way inside… Carol pushes inside. (“his, its way” too!)

both
They both stare slackjawed at the comet… They stare slackjawed at the comet.

ly
(as on the end of an adverb!) search for lyspace Also search for ly. and ly, as lyspace will not find an adverb at the end of a sentence, etc. Grade school writers go wild over adverbs. You’re past that now. Use them, um, sparingly. If at all.

Search for and change these words (about 90% of the time) in whatever you write and the results will be tighter and more clear. Okay, so it’s twenty five deadly sins. So sue me.

If you think these are useful, for free… you should buy my book (Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways To Make It Great) and learn even more!!!

97 responses to “7 DEADLY SINS OF WRITING

  1. One reads the script for say, Pride & Prejudice and it reads with a little more poetry rather than having that dot.dot.dash.dash style as outlined above. A script for, say, a Transformers style film will, I would say, opt for the style outlined above, another genre, not so.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Good thought, and yeah, I agree. You need to match your writing style to the kind of work you are writing. But, you still need tight prose. Jane Austen is not loose or sloppy in her writing. It’s just as tight, in many ways, as what I’m suggesting… she just writes more of it than you’d want to in a script. More lavish description, etc.

      The police blotter, bang bang bang rapid style is not for every script, as you point out. But everyone can take a step in its direction. Generally, less is more, and when people aren’t really all that jazzed to read it, you need to make it as painless as possible.

    • I think one also has to consider the times. If one is an unknown, in 2014, one is better off to be concise as advised. If you wrote Pride & Prejudice you may have more leeway. Oh, and credibility. I think the above is great advice and I am going to actually take the time to go back and review every screenplay I have.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I talked to a producer friend in L.A. last night. He said that all scripts are now reading like flaming rocket sleds on rails. If it doesn’t move fast fast fast fast, no one is interested. Part of that is “no words on a page.” Well, next to no words on a page…

  2. thank you for this list Mr. Akers

  3. H. H. Nigontyne

    Good stuff. Keep ’em coming . . .

  4. the “then” example.
    I would have written “She laughs, looks at Alice.”

  5. Andy Anders

    Another thing to leave out: the -ing words. Gerunds can always be replaced with something more powerful. (But not all -ings are bad!)

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Good call. “Ing words” is so much easier to deal with than “gerunds.” Thank you!

    • I disagree about the -ing words. I think this is a case of imposing Latin grammatical rules on English (i.e. Latin can’t split an infinitive, English does).

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I was taught that splitting infinitives is bad, but I’ve never been the best grammarian.

      • Scott Wallace

        It’s bad to carelessly split an infinitive. You have to really be careful when you do. You don’t want to unnecessarily annoy the grammarians.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Excellent point and well made.However, I kinda like upsetting the grammarians.

    • GR

      I love Tony Gilroy’s use of gerunds. Puts you immediately THERE right up top, as if you’re entering (1) in the middle of something. He can do this for pages and it gives the whole flow an urgency. I suggest studying his approach.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Have you got any examples of his use of gerunds? Thank you, by the way, for your thoughtful comments.

      • Tony Moore

        Gerunds are not just words ending in -ing. They are what are normally verbs posing temporarily as nouns. “I like running” is using a gerund (“running” is a noun: the activity of running); “The dog went running past me” is a regular old verb. I’m guessing Gilroy is using the latter in what you’re thinking (were thinking, three years ago…).

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Tony,

        I bet you’re right!

        Will

  6. Flora

    My, I’ve been sinning quite a bit then. Thanks for your help!

  7. Pingback: 7 Deadly Screenplay Sins « Jet City Films

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Have you read my incredibly useful book? Mention it on your site and win… nothing… I’m glad you like the 7 Deadly Sins of Writing handout. My clients have found it very useful. Do check out PODCASTS on yourscreenplaysucks.wordpress.com as they are based on the 7 Deadly Sins of Filmmaking. More useful information. Thanks for finding my site and passing the word along.

  8. GlenLi

    Mr. Akers
    I write a screenplay about treasure hunt, and I read your book, it is very helpful to me, but I am in a far place-China, I have no idea how about my script, would you please to give me some suggestion?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I am thrilled you found my book. It comes out in Chinese in a year or so…
      It takes a long time to go through the book, to do the checklist, and then to do it again. And maybe a third time. That is what I have been told by people who have used the book to help their script.

      Do you know anyone who grew up speaking English? If you do, ask them to correct the English in your script.

      Once you have done the checklist and have a script that reads well in English, please contact me and I will be happy to critique your screenplay. I do not do it for free, though. It takes me several days to do a critique. What other books have you read on screenwriting? Which were the most useful?

      Again, I’m very pleased you found my book.

      • GlenLi

        Mr. Akers
        Thanks for your reply.
        I can speak and write English, maybe not good enough, but I can study, so please don’t worry, it will be read well before I send my words to you.

        I read the following books:
        1. SAVE THE CAT!-Blake Snyder ( Very sorry he passed away)
        2. UNDERSTANDING CALSSICAL NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE-Kristin Thompson
        3. PERUSAL OF SELECTION: SCREENWRITING DISCOURSE -Chinese Author
        4. SCREENPLAY-Syd Field
        5. SCREENWRITING: STEP BY STEP-Wendy Jane Henson
        And more, of couse, all are Chinese version.

        SAVE CAT and SCREENPLAY is so useful, but your book is very important to me, it is true, use that sentence, I can’t write my script without your book.

        Would you please to send me a email with shuhang2011@126.com, I think it is a best way to do some communications, thanks so much.

  9. Jade

    Wow! I feel like such an amatuer now. I’m seeing just how craptastic my script really is. At least these tips will help make my script much better! Thank you!

    P.S. I think I will be buying your book!

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Jade,
      Please tell your writing buddies about the blog! I’m glad you found the 7 Deadly Sins helpful. You certainly don’t need to excise those words 100% of the time, because it’s often a judgement call, but it does make a big difference. Somewhere buried in the archives is a post on Rubber Stamps, you should check that out too. Or buy the most recent Script Magazine and read the article I did. That will help too.

      And, my book.

      I sound like a complete ass when I say it, but the book is incredibly helpful. That’s why I wrote it. I teach, I write, I crit scripts for money and I know the mistakes writers make.

      That said, to use the book correctly is an exercise in rigor, as you need to read it, do the checklist, read it again and then do the checklist again. It takes months to actually work your way all the way through the stuff in the book.

      But it will help.

      Plus, the book is funny.

  10. Dear Lord, by the looks of this list…I’m going straight to hell. Happy to have landed here and hopeful that I will be able to redeem myself now.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Glad you’re here! Tell all your friends. If you really want a slot in heaven, work your way through the archives (by going backwards) and, of course, buy my book!

      Happy new year and enjoy your writing!

  11. Dan K

    Wowsa. Just spent about five hours going over my script and making “judgement calls” with all of these examples…really cleaned it up and made me grateful I googled “my screenplay sucks” in hopes that someone could give me direction. My screenplay doesn’t suck, but it does need work. At 160 pages it also needs some major paring down, this made me see many examples of fat I could trim too.

    Thanks for writing this, I may pick up the book as well!

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Dan,

      Since I only make about forty cents per book, you will know I’m not getting rich urging you buy my book. Do. It is a checklist for stuff you don’t even know you’re doing wrong. If you helped your script from the 7 Deadly Sins, you’ll help it more with the whole book. I got the idea from clients and students…

      I found myself telling writers the same things over and over: “Don’t have character names that rhyme.” “Every character’s voice sounds just like every other character.” “Your hero doesn’t have a clear goal.” Repeat ad nauseam. I decided to create a simple checklist so, before sending me their screenplay, writers could do a rewrite, cleaning up this nuts and bolts stuff, and then we could discuss plot and character and structure, instead of wasting time on generic stuff like, “run your damn spellcheck.” That short checklist turned into the book.

      Good luck with your script. Enjoy your writing. Get my book. To do the checklist correctly takes months. Your script will get better. I also consult on client scripts… if you want notes, after you’ve done the checklist, let me know.

      On that, I do make money.

  12. Nadia

    Dear Mr. Akers,

    I was a 2011 Nicholl Quarterfinalist. This year… I want to win!

    Clearly, I am now rewriting (and the -ing is appropriate because it is a madly continuous process which never stops. Not even when I am sleep-ing).

    I will definitely get your book to add to my how-to shelf where Mr. McKee, Aristotle, Mr. Field, and others all room together…

    On to my query: I checked your website but I couldn’t find any coverage related link. What’s the procedure?

    Thanks a bunch!

    Nadia.

  13. i have read three script writing books: first was: writing scripts that sell. 2: save the cat. and 3: your script sucks. in my estimation, they are valuable, in practical application, directly inverse to that order, with sucks being not really all that sucky at all. quite good, even. quite good. thanks for the good words, Mr A.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Christopher,
      Thank you! There are other good books…
      These are the ones I suggest.

      The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
      Screenwriting The Sequence Approach by Paul Gulino
      Riding The Alligator by Pen Densham
      Anatomy of Story by John Truby
      From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler

      If you get them, let me know which you find useful.

  14. i wrote ‘good’ too much, didn’t i?

  15. This is actually pretty good stuff for all writing, not just screenwriting. I’ve used many of these, and removing them usually improves the piece.

    Seconding BROWN’s reply and your response.

  16. Thank you so much for this! Getting rid of is and are has helped leaps and bounds! I will be buying your book when I can find it.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Michelle,
      You can buy my book on Amazon… right this minute!
      I’m glad you found the 7 Deadlies useful. Let me know what you think of the book.
      best,
      Will

  17. Georgia Florance

    I bought the book …
    And my nose instantly took up residence in it!
    Thanks for writing it.
    Especially for telling me not to research too much. I now have a completely inaccurate story I like, instead of a completely accurate non-story I would hate. And thanks for the bit about leapfrog dialogue. And thanks … well, thanks for the book!
    I’m broke so can’t get you to critique Treasure Baby. (I’m still dicing it up, anyway.) But take a squiz at my lead characters’ names.
    Zack and Jazmin.
    Howzabout a ‘z’ for some spice.
    Took me ages to get their names. Once I had them, the characters followed. I couldn’t get to know nameless characters. But if you are attacked be a moment of madness while reading this comment and feel like typing for free, I’d love to hear what you think of them.
    I’ll change ’em if I really truly have to.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Typing for free… isn’t that what writers do?
      I like the character names. I’m guessing the Z in both names matters, and, if it’s helpful to you, it’s worth it. Plus it’s not exactly a real rhyme, only sort of one, and therefore probably not confusing. Plus, they’re great names.
      Isn’t it interesting how a name matters. I am so into the name of the main character in this children’s book I’m working on… it is my window into her, and every time I type it, I feel like I know her. And can write her better.

      Very pleased you like the book. Tell people!

      • Georgia Florance

        I will! Or rather, am.
        Have just spent like two hours re-reading your book instead of writing like I’m supposed to be doing.
        Yeah, the ‘z’ matters, mainly to make them unique. Plus, Jazmin is supposedly a ‘black’ sounding name, and Zack … well, I spent hours at a time pacing, trying to find the right name, and Isaac, aka Zack, aka the Zackattack was perfect for my racist, upperclass scallywag.
        That was when I discovered that, like you said, ‘names matter’! I’ve paused work on another script because calling the characters ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘M’ just didn’t work … I need to read a few more baby-name books!

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        You can also look up sports team names. And if it’s period, look up names of players from that era. Amazing what names people used to use. Like Chester.

        re: my book… since you can’t afford to shell out for my notes… and even if you could, I’d tell you the same thing… Read the book several times. Write your script. Read the book again and make sure you do every single thing in it (slow and tedious) that you agree with. If you don’t want agree, don’t do it, but do give it some thought before you move on. I have clients who have really used the checklist to their advantage… taking up to a year to work on their script before they sent it to me for notes.

        I have one client who did the checklist three times (which takes a while!) and was amazed each time what they had failed to see. Sometimes one chapter will take days to work through the whole screenplay. But, the checklist works (if the emails I get are true) and the more times you go through your script, the better it will get.

        Good luck with your writing. Very very pleased you learned about research the easy way. You know your story is inaccurate. Will a producer? And, you can always fix the inaccurate bits later… once you have a story you adore.

      • Georgia Florance

        At this stage my 8 year old sister could tell it’s inaccurate … some place names are signified by ‘zzz’ for example. Lots of research coming up, and interviews with people from South Africa, where it’s set …
        Thanks for the advice! I’m currently lopping off scenes like it’s going out of fashion … scene lopping has got to be one of the saddest parts of writing. But I’ve still got around 40 pages to get rid of.
        Oh man. I took Treasure Baby from stub to full-length second draft in four days. Months of editing don’t look attractive …
        We gots ta do what we gots ta do.
        And I might just email you with draft #683 in a few months’ time!

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I mark stuff I have to go back to with an asterisk. I type in a guess, so the length is correct. zzz is a great way to do it, as you can always search for zzz and get to what needs help.

        INDIANA
        Well, Marion, that icon must weigh
        *twenty pounds. Or we all die!

        That sort of thing..

      • Georgia Florance

        Yeah, that’s the idea with the zzz. So long as when I’ve edited it nobody feels like snoring through it!
        I’ve just finished a review article on Your Screenplay Sucks! for my Writing and Editing course, so considering that it’s midnight here, over and out for me!

        MARION
        Weeell I reckon it sure don’t weigh zzz twenty pounds, but if I jump out on that … balancey thing, ‘long with the icon thing, will be zzz twenty pounds an’ plen’y over.

  18. Anthony

    Hey Mr. Akers,

    I bought your book and found many useful tips related to just about everything, especially the Seven Deadly Sins of Screenwriting. However, I have a question for you about use of the word “is.” I went through my entire script and searched out every “is” and I am finding it difficult to completely eliminate it in all situations. For example, let’s say that I write:

    “Bill is startled.”

    How am I supposed to write that without using “is”?

    Basically, what I am asking is, do I have to eliminate it every single time it comes up or can it be used a few times in the script?

    I am finding the same problem with use of some other words like “the.” It seems almost impossible to eliminate “the” in all instances. What if I write:

    “The ground shakes.”

    If I write “Ground shakes” it just sounds off to me.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Anthony,
      Glad you found the blog and the 7 Deadlies… my suggestion is to eliminate about 75% of those words. You can’t get rid of all of them. They’re good words, not the enemy, but they can be over used. If you take them all out, the writing makes no sense. But what is cool, is how often you can take them out and never notice they were there. “We set up the camp.” “We set up camp.” Just the same, but shorter. If taking the word out or changing the language makes the writing stiff or seem wrong, it means it is wrong… and don’t make the change. You’ll get a sense very quickly of what works and what doesn’t. It’s not an ironclad rule, just a suggestion. The only ironclad rule is: “Don’t be boring.” What sounds off to you, is off. Thank you for the thought. It will help others.

      • Anthony

        Hey Mr. Akers,

        Thank you so much for the quick response, I appreciate the advice on use of those words.

        And I really found your book awesome too. I have read a couple books on screenwriting like Save The Cat and one that is just called Screenwriting by Syd Field. Personally, I thought Your Screenplay Sucks was the best one and most easily applicable. If you don’t mind, I just have one more question that you did address in the book but not so much, and I really just want your opinion related to its importance.

        For example, in Save The Cat, Blake Snyder has what he refers to as a “Beat Sheet” which I’m sure you know about. I personally do not go by that although I bet if my script were to be analyzed that way, I could point out many those points in the script and fill a beat sheet. Mostly I follow just the standard three act structure and focus on when Act 1 ends, 2 begins, 2 ends, and 3 begins. And then, each plot point that comes in each of the Acts.

        My question is, how wooden is the rule related to Act Structure with regard to page correlation. For example, Syd Field pretty much talks about every script as though it is going to be 120 pages, but that’s just not the way it is. Also, one of the rules in your book was “You think longer is better” as in, that’s not necessarily true. I believe you used English Patient as the example and said that the 100 page script was 3 hours or something like that.

        The script that a friend and I just completed is 101 pages. He is not much of a stickler as I am on structure, I am almost OCD about it. Right now, the script is 101 pages. Act 1, I would say in the script, ends on page 30. It is explosive and definitely the point in the story where the main character now knows, “This is real. This guy (the antagonist) is not messing around)” However, because the script is 101 pages, technically, if you were to correlate, Act 1 should end on page 25.25 (101/2 = 50.5/2 = 25.25; I told you…OCD, haha).

        Is it okay to have a 101 page script with Act 1 that ends on page 30 or is that way too late in your opinion? Thanks a lot again!

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I’d say that is too late. You’ve got a short script. 101 may be perfect and tight and heavenly, but act break at 30 strikes me as late — in such a short script. If you had a 114 page script, page 30 might be all right for end of Act I.

        Having no idea what your script is… here’s a guess… too much backstory in the first act? too much set up in the first act? too much “explaino” in the first act? Just START as late as possible… Try this… Start at the end of Act I, on page 30 and look at each preceding page and literally draw a line above the slug lines on that page and look at it and think, “Hey, if I wrote FADE IN: here, would this be a place to start? Would I have a movie? Then look at the preceding page… and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have a EUREKA moment and say, “Wow, the story feels just right if I put FADE IN: here… all the stuff that happens before it, I can do in five lines of dialogue scattered in the first act…”

        Maybe.

        General rule of thumb (in a 120 page script, which is too long, btw) is “Rip out the first 20 pages.”

        Amazing how many experienced writers (me) continue to make this mistake.

      • 120 was too long. 100 is too short. yet you suggest to yank out twenty pages…?

        On Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 2:19 PM, Your Screenplay Sucks! wrote:

        > ** > yourscreenplaysucks commented: “I’d say that is too late. You’ve got a > short script. 101 may be perfect and tight and heavenly, but act break at > 30 strikes me as late — in such a short script. If you had a 114 page > script, page 30 might be all right for end of Act I. Having no id” >

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        We live in an imperfect world. Rule of thumb: Yank the first 20 pages out of the 120 page script. I did it on something I wrote, three scripts back. Made a giant difference, but I didn’t notice it until ten drafts in… And I’ve written, I don’t know how many scripts.

        If it’s 100 page script, and the first act ends at 30, there’s a chance there are some pages that could go… not 20, most likely. But you never know…

  19. Anthony

    Hey Mr. Akers,

    I really think it’s awesome that you’re willing to discuss these things with writers and take the time to write intricate responses. Seriously, thanks for the advice! I found a scene in the script that was actually more appropriately placed in Act 2. The scene was 2 pages, so it brought the end of Act 1 to page 28. I compare the scene that I moved slightly to the movie Collateral with Tom Cruise. Act 1 in that movie ends when the dead body falls on top of Jaime Foxx’s cab and he learns that Tom Cruise is a killer and not a real estate agent. Then, Act 2 begins when Mark Ruffalo as the Detective starts to investigate what is going on. I started that B Story a little too early in the script through an interrogation of sorts so I think the move of that interrogation (like the investigation of what is happening) was appropriate. I am also going to continue to try to find anything else that is superfluous or unnecessary in order to get Act 1 down to page 26 or 27 at the latest. The thing is, this is an action/drama script and one thing I cannot stand are action movies that go too long, hence the short page count. Everyone loves the new Batman. I thought it was way too long. I do not want to bore the reader with excess. For example, one of the reasons I like the movie Drive is because it is about an hour and forty minutes, it’s basically guy likes girl, they talk, and then Act 2. With regard to backstory, there is a little bit of explaino in our script but it seems to come out pretty natural, is particularly interesting with regard to content, and ultimately, it helps to humanize our protagonist a bit (who is not exactly a good person, at least at the beginning of the script). He is more of an anti-hero. The explaino, at least in my opinion, is not a tool of justification and is not too much expository, but definitely tells us where the main character is coming from.

    Which brings me to another part of Your Screenplay Sucks that I loved, I particularly liked the section you wrote on character arc. Our protagonist has a lot of that, with much thanks to your book. I never focused on that much before ever since reading your book and I am seeing how it makes the script more interesting to read and fun to write. In fact, all the major characters (about 5 of them) seem to have arc. Our main character starts out criminally versatile, ruthless, arrogant, and a little overly confident, and by the final scene, he is anything but and actually seems to be able to empathize with others and understand how his actions can affect others.

    We are submitting this script to the BlueCat Competition so it is due in about a month. It is not being rushed, but for the most part, there is nothing else to do to the script. We wrote the script in Final Draft so a lot of the formatting stuff is taken care of (with some manual changes that you suggested in your book). If we win, place, or show, there is no doubt in my mind that it will be due to having bought your book. Thanks again!

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Sorry to have taken so long to reply. I was in China and they won’t let you get to WordPress.
      Thank you for the kind comments.
      I think you’re right on the money.
      Good luck with Blue Cat.
      Fingers crossed!!!

  20. Kara

    I am working on a screen play for the first time with a writer friend. We have sent an outline to a producer friend that loves the idea and wants to read the screenplay. Since this is the first time we have written a screenplay I feel like any info I can get my hands on is golden, so thank you. I have a question though. Do you write the first draft without making big changes and then go through it or are you continually rewriting as you go? We have been throwing away and rewriting as we go. Is this a bad method?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      sorry kara,
      i’ve been in China… didn’t have access to WordPress, so could not reply
      whatever method works for you, works
      do not worry about method if you’re happy while you’re writing
      my book suggests that it’s a terrible idea to rewrite while you’re writing, but it’s obviously not a problem for you. what happens at times is that writers see that their work is not perfect, and give up. the rewriting process is all about doing it again and again.
      I tell people to get the first draft DONE and then make changes, but everyone’s method is different! Find what works, and use it.

  21. I so dearly appreciate your helpful comment! Thank you! We have are nearly done with our rough draft and we have already changed most of it. China eh? Interesting place to visit. Thanks again!

  22. Thank you and I don’t mind seeing imperfection. It’s how I write my characters. You always see perfection in someone you love first, then the imperfections are revealed, then hopefully the reason for the imperfection, THEN hopefully in any great relationship you see the perfection again but this time it’s in a truthful light that makes it beautiful.

  23. Anthony

    Hey Mr. Akers,

    I have one question about formatting that you did not particularly address in your book. If you could help with how to do this, it would be greatly appreciated.

    The scene(s) essentially goes like this: It’s not a flashback; it’s more of a character fantasy. In other words, the audience/reader is not going to know that the fantasy is not real until a couple scenes later. So, we have these things happening, but really, they are not really happening, and then the scene will cut to reality again.

    Is there a special way to do that? Or should we just use a CUT TO:?

    It is pretty clear in the script to the reader that the occurrences that happened in previous scenes were fantasy.

    I don’t think this is something that would be addressed in action lines or anything. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  24. Kim

    Dear sir,
    In the beginning of reading this blog, I started to feel really very desperately and apprehensively all my long short comings. Then I read some more and started to find that what seems to be disheartening in the beginning at first, appears to be some really very good advice. The room that I apparently make for some, if not most, of the words on the list is just much too much. So I walked through my script once more while sitting down and made my way through it once again to the end. It is beginning to start to look like what seems to be a trimmed down version of what me and my alter ego both feel like it will put a smile on someone’s face one day.

    In all seriousness, I will buy your book as soon as I made some money writing, for now; thanks for pointing out my sins.
    Kim

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Kim,

      I am very pleased you found the 7 Deadly Sins helpful. It’s not easy to trim work down and make it shorter.
      I strongly urge you to 1.) buy my book or 2.) get it at a library (for free) because it will help you on your journey to becoming a writer who will make money writing.
      Emails come in from all over the world saying the book was really worth the money.
      Good luck!

      Will

      • Kim

        Dear Will,
        I feel the urge. Since there is no library here on this mountain in rural France, buying will be my best option to satisfy this urge, or so my Muze says, I tend to belief her.
        Kind regards
        Kim

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        Mon livre est en francais. Votre Scenario Est Bon Pour La Poubelle. Vas y!

  25. Kim

    Merci, but my French sucks,
    I’m Dutch, moved to France but I write in English. I’d rather have the English version…. that is till my French stops sucking.
    Met vriendelijke groet
    Kim

  26. Pingback: Subject: Film

  27. It’s obviously useful to approach a screenplay in this fashion. However, it might be helpful to note that one can fall into a circular editing conundrum with “is,” “seems” and “appears.” Example: Tony is upset. Tony seems upset. Tony appears upset. All can be flawed and all can be the best route. Naturally, context is important and this comes down to a judgement call by the writer. Hopefully, the judgement is correct. That’s where editing skill plays a part in the process.

  28. To further elaborate, one might use one (is, seems, appears) to avoid the other. But, in doing so, might accidentally choose a worse route. Just something to pay attention to.

  29. Pingback: Editing “Is” (Tip #72) | Screenwriting from Iowa

  30. Pingback: Editing “Is” (Tip #72) | Screenwriting from Iowa

  31. Scott Wallace

    Page 138 of the book says, “In Final Draft, use Warner Bros. style.” I’m sure that’s good advice. But beware: if you start with a Page Size of, say, A4 instead of US Letter, it’ll set your right indent wrong for every element (as well as giving you 59 lines per page instead of 55).

    The consequence of that is that your script looks strange and has the wrong page count. And the consequence of THAT–you don’t want to think about it.

    You can fix it by changing the Page Size to US Letter, or go to Format > Elements > Apply a Template > Warner Brothers.

    Or wait until Final Draft corrects this bug, hopefully in their next version.

  32. Do these “sins” apply to actions only or to the dialogue as well?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Mostly to action description, as dialogue is people talking… but the “sins” can be looked at with respect to dialogue too.
      None of them have to be acted on every time. It’s just a guide, not inflexible.

      • Thank you for your response. I figured it was only for actions but wanted to clarify. I know they don’t have to be used but when I looked at the list I found I had used several of the words to the point I had a combined 2000 of them in the first act. Granted some of that was dialogue. I used the over 500 times. So long story short the site helped me step back and look at the script.

  33. Will Stockton

    What about using “the” before a characters name? For example, if a main character is called Great Leader, do I say “The Great Leader scoffs at him?” or should I say, “Great Leader scoffs at him?”

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I’d do whatever feels best in the context of that sentence. Sometimes the “The” will feel right. Others, it won’t.

  34. J.C. Young

    Starting and Going were two of my biggest sins for a long time.

    But, I’m glad to see this list has so many minute things most folks wouldn’t think about – especially when you’re on a roll or doing a quick review later.

    They often ‘sound’ okay when just skimming through.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      A problem is that stuff sounds okay even when you’re not skimming. It takes a lot of reading (out loud!) to find problems. Sometimes problems are not revealed until you solve one… then the one below it is uncovered. Take your time, that’s all I can suggest.

      • J.C. Young

        Have you ever used readthrough.com? it assigns voices to your character and narrator so you can hear your script. I’ve used it twice and it was great for finding issues re-reading missed.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I have not used it, but I will sure give it a try. Thank you!

  35. jeff

    Hello William!
    I know how you like to quote people as your writings attest.. Here’s one:

    “The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a war.”
    E. B. White
    Go to this site below and read some real gems of his.

    http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/e_b_white.html

    The best,

    Jeff

  36. Leigh Joslin

    All of this is absolutely true! I “Ctrl+f’d” some of these but now I have more. Thanks.

  37. Came upon this from someone sharing your article on facebook. 🙂 Enjoyed the panel at Nashville!

  38. Alex Templeton

    I didn’t see it above, but I’d say that possessive-pronoun modifiers (his, her, their) are impossible to express visually unless a character actually e.g. wears *her* coat. In many instances “a” or even the dreaded “the” (if it’s been introduced) may be the better choice. Got your book, BTW! Changed my (screenwriter’s) life, thanks. /AT

    PS any tips on getting round ” see/sees/hear/hears” or “is seen/heard”? One sees (ha ha) it aplenty in old production scripts, but is said to be taboo in modern specs. Is it okay if action is implied to be perceived from a character’s POV (shotless shot)?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      “We see” has kinda gone out of style. It’s easy to leave that out. Just tell what happens.

      Instead of “An explosion is heard,” try “Mrs. McGillicuddy EXPLODES.”

      Basically tell what’s happening on screen as it’s happening. Seen, heard, hears, is all fine from time to time. If it works, it works. A tiny little rule is not going to stop your script from getting read. Especially if it’s really good, as when they open to page 1, the reader wants it to be great.

  39. Actually, I already knew all of this, I study (not look, which can also be “read”) screenplays – argh! If people really wanna learn how to write a screenplay all they gotta do is study a Steven Zaillian screenplay, or some other really famous writer, or heck, even read Edgar Allan Poe, or James Dickey.
    I was more of less looking for long terms to be shortened in one word, such as: “he’s in a relaxed state”, a.k.a.: “he’s in repose.” I’m not having any luck.

  40. Really useful stuff around here! Too bad I’m down in Southern Africa pal how may i grab your book?! I really could use your creativity pal. Jeff Ballow – “Ideas spark ideas.” Enough said 🙂

  41. Lauren

    Is it okay to use Fade To Black in screenplays? Or should we stick to Fade Out. Also, if we Fade To Black during the script (not the end) do we have to use a Fade In: to return back to the scene. Or is that not necessary? I’ve seen a bunch of different things used: Up From Black, Fade In, Cut To, Dissolve To, etc.

    Your site is amazing by the way. Tons of useful information. Thank you so much! 🙂

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      FADE TO BLACK. is hunky dory.

      When you FADE OUT. or FADE TO BLACK., the screen is black. No one can see anything. So you have to turn the lights back on for the reader. FADE IN: works fine. I’ve never seen UP FROM BLACK:, but I may start using it!

      Be careful fading out in the middle of your story because a fade out really stops the story motion. It may be the perfect thing to do, just make sure you really want the story to stop dead before you start it again.

      Glad you like the site! Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Tell anybody!

  42. Kathryn Carter

    I have read some of the Nicholls winning scripts and noticed that many constantly use the ly adverbs quite frequently and end up with agency representation. So why is that?? I had rid my screenplay of the pesky ly adverbs, but now I am wondering if it was necessary when Nicholls fellowship don’t care!

    Kathryn

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Kathryn,

      I’m sure you’re right. The thing about an award winning screenplay that wins awards is that it’s a whale of a great story. With great characters and everything else. If the writing isn’t perfect, no one is going to notice as picky writing details tend to get bulldozed by a juggernaut of story.

      If your script reads better without so many adverbs, and it pleases you, then you’re better off. Adverbs are despised by most writers, from Twain to Stephen King to Elmore Leonard to name three. You’re in good company.

      Will

  43. Pauline Hetrick

    I saw several of these mistakes I’ve made in my script. Thanks for the heads up Barri.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I have a friend who won a WGA award, and he uses the 7 Deadly Sin list. Feels it’s a magic trick to tighten your writing. My students who use it, have more smoothly flowing prose. The ones who don’t, don’t. But be careful not to be overzealous. You can take one of those words out and destroy your sentence.

  44. Pingback: TEN “MORE” SCREENWRITING SITES EVERY SCREENWRITER SHOULD BOOKMARK, by Screenwriting Staffing – The Backstory

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