Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters
Expert screenwriting tips
If you have not already, please read the Nicholl Fellowship introductory article.
The How to Win a Nicholl Fellowship is a series of articles:
You can learn a lot from Nicholl reader comments posted on the Nicholl's Facebook page.
These comments are drawn from high-scoring entries. The screenplay title or author are never revealed. Some comments that may help identify a particular script are removed by Nicholl staffers prior to comment posting (hence the '...' in some comments).
"Such a unique piece of work! The pages just fly by as we follow the adventures of [the protagonist]. The prose is conversational and complete and keeps us totally engaged in the goings-on. All the scenes have a purpose, and in fact, there is so much going on that some details spill out over the edges of the script."
"This was a terrific script. Funny and surprising in all the right places, poignant too. The dialogue in particular was full of rich comedic humor stemming from a particular unhappy point of view, but fresh and surprising throughout."
"Compelling and powerful story. A professionally written script. The writer showed skill in not only delivering a large scale saga of epic proportions but was able to incorporate the complex political situation... in a way that was personal, not merely a factual history lesson."
"A truly wonderful, well written script. It's about family... and the demons that have festered over the years. The writer writes with total honesty and uncovers the hurt families do to each other. The characters are well drawn, and the dialogue is outstanding, both witty and heartbreaking."
"I really loved this script. Loved this script. Loved, loved, loved. What begins as a delightfully quirky tale of emotionally damaged people becomes a marvelously moving tale of love, grief and death. Funny, touching and exquisitely written. The final reveal is breathtaking. I wouldn't change a single word."
"Finely wrought murder mystery unfolds in a completely organic way. The writer builds the tension effectively and uses the bleak setting well... As the investigation proceeds, we are drawn further into the scenario until it explodes in a climactic fashion. The writer is adept at handling the genre requirements while still keeping the material fresh."
"This screenplay is brilliant.... The comedy gets better and better throughout the screenplay. The dialogue is funny, the scene directions have perfect timing and there are clever little moments on every page..."
"... this script isn't at all predictable. It's not a big bad thing that ultimately happens. No. Things happen - sometimes just little things - that you DON'T expect. It all feels very real and authentic. We get glimpses into the characters' personalities and emotions - and learn the unexpected."
"... this is an efficient and bloody horror, setting the tone well with a great opening and keeping it up until the end... Overall there's lots to like here, and you only really need some trimming of excess description... to have a real cracker of a script - all the scares and bloody moments are already in place."
"This is what an action script is supposed to be - fast, fun and well executed."
"This is a pretty riveting piece. Found footage type movie, a device that has been overdone a bit but here it's used to create tension..."
"Charmed. Blown away. From page 1 it's obvious that this writer is extremely talented. The characters jump off the page, even when there's not a lot of dialogue. The fact that they have a pulse and I can picture them as complete people simply through their mannerisms is an impressive job."
"I was in the gritty streets... with these characters! Writer knocks it out of the park with an extremely compelling story line, complex characterizations from the main roles to the supporting, and the descriptive passages read like well-aged prose."
"This is a simple, sweet, innocent story based on a strong premise that has a great surprise twist at the end. We're engaged with the two central personalities. Their stakes and goals are internal, as are their obstacles. We connect with them emotionally, which makes their story compelling and the ending that much more poignant."
"Really, really good - the writer's withholding of what this character is going through is fantastic. Backing into the problem (vs. making it the story's inciting incident) is a choice that works beautifully.... In other, less capable hands, this would be an exercise in a cheap tease - in this writer's hands, her choice serves the slow seeming yet totally compelling story..."
"All of the characters are extremely rich and well developed. The long history between the characters creates a solid through line as well. All of the characters have individual arcs that work well and intertwine together to create many gut wrenching and heartbreaking scenes. There is no cliché villain in this story. Instead, there are real people reacting from their own need for worthiness and power."
"There are not many scripts I read where I say without hesitation 'this could be a movie' but I am saying it about this one. The script encompasses a unique premise and perspective... The scenes are written with such clarity that I could envision every minute of the story on screen as it was unfolding."
The Nicholl Felowship team typically does not publish negative reader comments. It made an exception here.
Note, the script title or author name are never revealed in positive or negative comments.
"This weak writer has little skill at creating a visual impression, lacks a sense of pacing and displays an inability to get inside the characters."
"While this story is right up my alley, this writer lost me all too early, with a ill-conceived premise, a thin plot and shallow characters."
"Tired and by the numbers, this retread of ________ features almost no complexity and little thematic development."
"This writer presents paper-thin characters, giving us nothing and no one to care about."
"When a writer tackles a world with which he seemingly has little familiarity, it becomes apparent within a few pages."
"Nothing unique or original in this failed attempt at a good vs. evil allegory in which all the characters seem to be cardboard cut-outs. Weak writing undercuts the time, the place and the people as nothing seems especially well drawn or, for that matter, accurate. The characters speak in the same voice, making them hard to distinguish. Dull story is made even more boring by long-winded dialogue."
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