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5 Biggest Mistakes Beginning TV Writers Make

For those who read a lot of scripts, there are immediate tell-tale signs that someone is a new writer.

And, unfortunately, if this reader is somebody who you're trying to impress with your writing, you won't if your script doesn't look like it should.

In addition, looking to produced scripts for inspiration can be hit or miss.

Depending on the writer, they may be writing purely for themselves.

For example, Wes Anderson writes faaaar more scene description than would be appropriate for any normal writer. But he's writing a script for himself to direct, so that's fine.

Likewise, there are some script formatting elements that are only appropriate for shows that are in production.

So, I wanted to get into the nitty gritty here and discuss the biggest mistakes I see new TV writers make so you can avoid them!

1. Using Scene Numbers

Most TV pilot scripts you've come across will have scene numbers on the side of the scene headers. That's because most pilot scripts you'll find are the production drafts.

That means they've been written, notes have been given, the've been rewritten, and then the script coordinator has popped numbers on the side and gotten it ready to shoot.

That's the only time there should be scene numbers in your script - when you're about to shoot it.

If you're sending a writing sample, scene numbers should be nowhere to be found.

2. Excessive Scene Description

As I mentioned before, certain established writers, like Wes Anderson, can get away with a ton of detail. You, however, cannot.

Screenwriting is an art of efficiency. Your goal is to get your point across with the least amount of words possible.

If you open a script from an unproven writer and are faced with a wall of text, that's not a good sign.

Keep in mind, nobody likes to read. How easy it is to read something matters greatly when somebody considers recommending your material.

3. Novelistic Writing

There's a huge difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay. But many new screenwriters aren't familiar with those differences.

That's why I see a lot of scene description that contains details we, the audience, couldn't possibly know if we were just seeing the scene play out in front of us. For example...

MARIA, whose husband left her ten years ago and she still hasn't gotten over it, walks to the door to let in FRANK.

That is excessive detail. If we can't see it on the screen, we shouldn't be reading it on the page.

4. Long Conversations with No Scene Description

Sometimes, instead of excessive scene description, there's excessive dialogue. I often come across scripts with multiple pages of dialogue without any scene description to be found.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this.

But we can probably assume that this isn't a play and the two or more characters aren't just standing still and talking to one another.

Instead of getting absorbed by the dialogue, the reader is instead lost as to what they're supposed to be seeing.

How a page looks matters, and readers expect to see dialogue punctuated with scene description here and there even in a talk-heavy scene.

5. Not Describing Main Characters

Often, I see a protagonist described in detail and then nothing, not even an age, for the second most important character in a script.

It reads like the writer got so absorbed in their own story, they literally left it out.

This is not a good move. If a character means anything to the story, they need to have some description. Don't leave it up to the reader's imagination.


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I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.


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