A Screenwriter’s Concept Checklist

I’ve been slowly going from room to room, computer folder to folder, spring cleaning.  I hate clutter.

HelpfulTipsI came across an old save from a website called Wordplayer.com created by the screenwriter/producer team of Scheherazade Productions, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.  They wrote Aladdin and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, among many others.  Considering the success of those films alone, it’s fair to say their advice is worth listening to.

The checklist was created to help Hollywood readers find scripts worthy of moving beyond the elusive gates.  There are three sections total, and I will share the other two as well.  The following are the 20 items readers should keep in mind in regards to “concept” and “plot”, and for writers it’s a resource to understand what may make or break the success of your script getting seen by those with the power to jump start your career.

  1. Imagine the trailer.  Is the concept marketable?
  2. Is the premise naturally intriguing — or just average, demanding perfect execution?
  3. Who is the target audience?
  4. Does your story deal with the most important events in the lives of your characters?
  5. If you’re writing about a fantasy-come-true, turn it quickly into a nightmare-that-won’t-end.
  6. Does the screenplay create questions: Will he find out the truth? Did she do it? Will they fall in love?  Has a strong “need to know” hook been built into the story?
  7. Is the concept original?
  8. Is there a goal?  Is there pacing?  Does it build?
  9. Begin with a punch, end with a flurry.
  10. Is it funny, scary, or thrilling?  All three?
  11. What does the story have that the audience can’t get from real life?
  12. What’s at stake?  Does the concept create the potential for the characters lives to be changed?
  13. What are the obstacles?  Is there sufficient challenge for our heroes?
  14. What is the screenplay trying to say, and is it worth trying to say it?
  15. Does the story transport the audience?
  16. Is the screenplay predicable?  There should be surprises and reversals within the major plot, and also within individual scenes.
  17. Once the parameters of the film’s reality are established, they must not be violated.  Limitations call for interesting solutions.
  18. Is there a decisive, inevitable, set-up ending that is nonetheless unexpected?
  19. Is it believable?
  20. Is there a strong emotion — heart — at the center of the story?  Avoid mean-spirited storylines.

It’s always said that you need to know the rules to break them, so these are just a few, or 20, things to keep in mind when you’re developing and writing your story.  This checklist was created with the screenwriter in mind, but all writers should have an understanding of who their audience is, stakes, obstacles, etc.

Wishing you all the best!  Happy Writing!


One thought on “A Screenwriter’s Concept Checklist

  1. Pingback: A Screenwriter’s Character Checklist | A Writer's Discrepant Memoirs and Other Tales

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