Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Screenwriters Can Score

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.



Two guys sit at the bar, drinks in front of them, comparing "notes."

                  GUY 1
    in Hollywood, 
             writes movies. So I took 
             her to my place. I made
             her a drink, and put on 
             some music.

                  GUY 2

                  GUY 1
             She said, "Let's cut to
             the chase. Wanna score?"

                  GUY 2

                  GUY 1
             I said, "Duhhh-hhh!" And
             she brought out this.

_____ 1. Does the Script fit comfortably in a known Genre?
_____ 2. Does the Story create a world of its own that is unique  and compelling?
_____ 3. Does the introduction of the Lead Character contain a strong moment that defines his or her personality?
_____ 4. Is the "Inciting Incident" strong enough to capture the audience's attention and propel the Lead Character into action?
_____ 5. Is the Dramatic Question strong enough to hold your attention and make you want to stay with the Story until the end?
_____ 6. How strong and well-crafted is the Lead Character?
_____ 7. Is the Goal of importance to the Lead Character?
_____ 8. Is the Heavy the opposite type to the Lead Character?
_____ 9. Is the Dialogue crisp, and does it quickly create the characters and world of the Story?
_____ 10. How much do you care about the Characters?
_____ 11. Is the Story unique and does it have "High Concept" qualities?
_____ 12. Does the Story have a strong, empathetic Lead Character who continually drives the plot forward as he or she strives to achieve a goal?
_____ 13. Do you like or care about the main characters?
_____ 14. How effective is the "Inciting Incident"?
_____ 15. Is the Heavy the Perfect Person to oppose the Lead Character?
_____ 16. Does the end of Act One have a shocking and unpredictable Plot Twist?
_____ 17. Is the Midpoint a big plot twist or a setback for the Lead Character?
_____ 18. Is there a "Perfect Day" scene in Act Two?
_____ 19. Does the Pace match the Story?
_____ 20. Is the Final Confrontation of Act Three effectively set up by Plot Point Two?
_____ 21. During the Climax, is the Lead Character forced to fight the Heavy for the Goal as well as to confront his or her own "Inner Demons"?
_____ 22. Are answers to all the questions raised in the Story provided by the Resolution or Denouement?
_____ 23. How good is the Dialogue?
_____ 24. Do you get a sense of the Theme without having it hit you over the head?
_____ 25. Does the Lead Character learn a major lesson and does it change his or her life?
_____ 26. Is the Lead Character a dynamic force that moves the Story forward?
_____ 27. Does the Lead Character have something vital at stake?
_____ 28. Is the Lead Character a good Role Model?
_____ 29. Do you like the Lead Character?
_____ 30. Does the Story have one strong, likable Lead Character?
_____ 31. Does the Lead Character have a single, clear and compelling Goal?
_____ 32. Does the Lead Character suffer from a "Moral Weakness"?
_____ 33. How much does the Lead Character change during the course of the Story?
_____ 34. Does the Script contain memorable scenes that can showcase the physical and or acting skills of the Lead Character?
_____ 35. Does the Story have a unique, powerful and ultimate "Heavy"?
_____ 36. Does the Heavy have a clearly defined Goal of his own?
_____ 37. Is the Heavy a Sociopathic personality?
_____ 38. Does the Heavy take advantage of the Lead Character's good nature?
_____ 39. Is each Supporting Character, down to the smallest roles, vital to the Story?
_____ 40. Are the Supporting Characters different from each other on an Emotional Level?
_____ 41. Are the Supporting Characters fully realized; do they have Depth and Appeal?
_____ 42. Does the Dialogue establish the "Exterior Aspects" of the Characters?
_____ 43. Does the Dialogue create and enhance the world of the Story?
_____ 44. Does each Character speak in a distinct and personal way?
_____ 45. Is the Dialogue spare, lean and free of unnecessary words?
_____ 46. Does the Dialogue contribute to the "Rising Dramatic Tension" within each scene?
_____ 47. Does the Dialogue contain memorable lines that stay with you after the Story is done?
_____ 48. Does the Dialogue exploit the "Power of Silence?”
_____ 49. Does the Dialogue have the "Music" and "Rhythm" of real speech?
_____ 50. Does Exposition come from Drama, or simply to impart information?
_____ 51. Is the "New Information" present in the Dialogue just when the Story needs it?
_____ 52. Is the Dialogue "Peppered" with small conflicts?
_____ 53. Does the Subtext reveal a Character's thoughts?
_____ 54. Does the Subtext transmit the feeling of the Lead Character and the Heavy too?
_____ 55. Does the Story fit within a known Genre?
_____ 56. Does the Story pull you into its "Own World"?
_____ 57. Do the Lead Character and the Heavy inhabit the same space?
_____ 58. Does the "Inciting Incident" pose a single, clear "Dramatic Question" that leads to a strong, unified Storyline?
_____ 59. Is the Lead Character the "Outstanding Person" in the Story?
_____ 60. Does the Lead Character face a great "Moral Dilemma" in pursuit of the Goal?
_____ 61. Does the Story constantly disclose new information?
_____ 62. Are there enough Reversals in the Story to keep it unpredictable and exciting?
_____ 63. Is the Story structured into three recognizable Acts?
_____ 64. Does the Story contain enough suspense and surprise to keep you off-balance and involved?
_____ 65. Does the Story show a rising level of action and crises heading toward the Climax?
_____ 66. Is each major Plot Point strong and clear?
_____ 67. Does the Subtext come through in the Dialogue?
_____ 68. Does the Story maintain credibility?
_____ 69. Will the Audience feel a powerful catharsis or sense of release at the end of the Story and will they feel they have learned a "Deep Lesson" about life?
_____ 70. Does the Story have a single, clear and powerful Theme?
_____ 71. Is the life of the Lead Character affected by the "Working Out" of the Theme?
_____ 72. Does the Story have a "Counter" Theme?
_____ 73. Is the Theme embodied by the Story rather than simply stated?
_____ 74. Does the Story examine deeper aspects of the Theme and Counter Theme?
_____ 75. Is the Theme tested by the "Opposing Values" of the Lead Character and the Heavy?
_____ 76. Is the Theme reinforced by the way the Lead Character finds a solution to the "Dramatic Question"?
_____ 77. Is there a single, awful moment when the Lead Character realizes that he or she has embraced the values of the Heavy?
_____ 78. Is the Theme always working in the Story?
_____ 79. Are the Lead Character, the Supporting Characters, the whole community affected by the values of the Theme?
_____ 80. Can the Theme be stated as a "Simple Sentence"?
TOTAL _____
The scoring list above is something I found online. I couldn't find the scale to be used. Maybe it uses a scale of 4 or 5 per question, or maybe 10 per question. A low score would be 2 or below in the first two, maybe 4 in the latter. Then the totals would be in the range either 0-320 (using the 0 - 4 scale), 0-400 (using the 0 - 5 scale), or 0-800 (using the 0 -10 scale). I'd recommend the 0 - 10 scale.

I would add two additional questions, and low scores on these (half or less of a perfect score) trump all of the above, perhaps as follows: 

Deduct the combined totals of the balances remaining from the scores (if it scores 2 out of 10 possible, 8 remains) of the two questions as percentages, multiplied by 2, 2.5, or 5 for scales of 4,5, or 10 respectively, from the total score (ex. if 81 is 4 on the 0-10 scale leaving a balance of 6, and 82 is 3, leaving a balance of 7--so 6+7=13, and 13x5=65--then deduct 65% from the total achieved by the first 80 questions). You can be hitting all the marks and still fall flat on your face if you haven't entertained or satisfied 'em. If these score high (above half-way to maximum), then they count as bonus points, multiplied by 10. That way you could score a maximum of 1000 on the 82 questions using the 0 - 10 scale. 

So, I'd add these:

_____ 81. Does the script entertain?
_____ 82. Is the story satisfying?

These kinds of things are controversial. They fall into the same category as those story-generating software programs for writers who are blocked.

Here's what someone said about the list above:

“I think trying to arrive at a quantitative analysis of a subjective art-form just feels wrong. If "GOOD" or "BAD" was as simple as a questionnaire, why wouldn't buyers be using them?”
Truth is, some do. But I see this a little differently. As writers, don't we all ask ourselves questions like these all the time? So what's wrong with making a list? I prefer to look at this as just another internal tool, a reminder list to which writers can refer while developing a project. After you've been writing for a few years, if your script isn't hitting these marks, your internal alarms pick it up most of the time. But stuff can slip past you. The list helps avoid that. I do not see it as a panacea or a method/formula to the exclusion of any and all other tools and techniques writers can bring to the project. In that sense, it is valuable. #


Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

Does the script entertain?
Is the story satisfying?

---The Last Reveal


  1. For screenwriting, I refer you to Kal Bashir's 510+ stage hero's journey:

  2. Thanks, Kaye.

    I remember back many years when I was seeing a photocopied pamphlet moving around Hollywood by some guy named Christopher Vogler about applying the Joseph Campbell's ideas to screenwriting. Disney Studios made it required reading for their executives.

    Later Vogler brought out his book. And Bill Moyers did his extensive programs on Campbell. And now we have Kal Bashir taking it to the next stage.

    My only concern is that the complexity tends to defeat the use. The original reason for this was to see the pattern and use it as a guide. But if the variants number into the hundreds, don't they amount to little more than analogs of the story itself, shadow patterns of each tale, offering insights so specific they end up no longer being patterns and instead become narrative doppelgangers?

    I don't know. Maybe it will get us to better stories, if popular film can transcend its current tendency toward superheroes, over-the-top action, and adolescent hormone-fests. I don't hold out a lot of hope, though, as having gone international, film needs to communicate its story free of any particular language. Subtlety and nuance suffer as a result.

    I'll explore the site you linked to. Thanks again.