If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, chances are you’ve heard it’s wise to get a spec under your belt. If you want yours to stand out (and I want yours too!) make sure to avoid these common spec script mistakes that stick out like a sore thumb.
1. Writing a Show That’s off the Air
While you may have a great idea for a Breaking Bad or Parks and Recreation spec, make sure you choose something on the air, and better yet, something in its second or third season. Find that sweet spot by picking a show that is established without being overdone—something that’s been proven a success without every possible scenario having already been written (sorry, Grey’s Anatomy).
2. Camera Directions
It’s easy to want total control over your script—it’s your baby! However, a sure sign of an amateur is including specific details of shots, pans, tilts, and all the other fun directing cues. However, the directing should be left to—you guessed it—the directors. Get in the habit of writing with the mindset that your script is immediately being shipped off to the director on set where they can work their magic. Avoiding these spec script mistakes is certainly a good habit to get into so you’re prepared when your writing’s next stop is the big screen.
3. Playing It Safe
You may have a script that would undoubtedly occur on an episode of Jessica Jones, but what is making yours stick out? If you can’t answer that, it’s time to grab a coffee and sit down for a rewrite. Don’t aim to blend in, make sure your script has it readers talking about it for days rather than easily mixed up with the others.
4. Going Out of the Show’s World
While you want to stand out, you don’t want to make so much of an impact that it brings readers out of the script. A Silicon Valley spec where aliens invade the town could be memorable, but is unlikely something to appear in the world already created. Show off your talents and create something new without disputing what the show has already established.
5. Simple Grammar Mistakes
Pay attention to the red squiggles underneath your words, they are your friend! Read your script out loud, then read it again. You’ve spent so long on your script already, an extra read through is definitely worth catching those pesky typos and dreaded their/there/they’re mix ups. Simple mess-ups mark you as a novice, so avoid these spec script mistakes with a clean sweep and put your best foot forward.
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Director of WGA's Showrunner Training Program, creator & Director of the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program, international speaker and a leading expert on entertainment career strategies, Carole Kirschner teaches creative professionals how to navigate the often mystifying landscape of show business. Her book, Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment is a primer on how to break in and move up in the entertainment industry. Through her popular workshops, Carole teaches writers, producers, directors and executives the real world strategies that will help them not just succeed, but thrive.