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First Draft: Five Criminally Underrated Elements of Successful Screenplays

First Draft: Five Criminally Underrated Elements of Successful Screenplays

First Draft

2. The Unexpected

Whether it is present in the logline—the core concept of your screenplay—or throughout the screenplay itself, the best way to capture a reader’s attention is to give them elements that they don’t expect.

Hollywood has read everything. If you focus on just telling your own version of a story that has already been told—a bank heist, a killer stalking victims in the night, two people falling in love, a spaceship crew encountering some danger, a fish-out-of-water comedy—you’ll find yourself and your script well behind before the reader even gets to THE END.

Your sole objective as an as-yet-to-be-discovered screenwriter is to stand out from the rest. And the easiest way to do that is not by writing great versions of what has already been seen, but by giving the reader something unexpected.

If you can accomplish that within the logline by having a unique and original concept, wonderful. But it’s hard to do that, we know. The next best thing is taking a familiar concept, premise, story, or type of character and flipping it. Go down a different road. Lead us one way, only to twist and turn onto a completely alternative route.

That’s all readers want. Something different. Something that breaks the monotony. Sure, a biopic of Michael Jackson is interesting, but what if it was told through the eyes of his pet chimpanzee Bubbles?

Within the screenplay, do everything you can do to shake things up. Readers are masters at predicting where a story is going to go because they’ve seen and read it all. Change that. If one character arc is leading to a certain predictable point, surprise us. Shock us. Maybe the guy doesn’t get the girl in the end? Maybe the hero isn’t a hero? Maybe the twist that you’re leading to is just the beginning of many further twists? Readers love to be surprised during the read. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…

Go through your screenplays that you’ve written—or those that you plan to write — and look for every opportunity to turn in unexpected directions.

That is what separates more of the same to something new and unexpected in the eyes of the reader.

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