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What Screenwriting Competitions Want, Presented by Coverfly

What Screenwriting Competitions Want, Presented by Coverfly

What Screenwriting Competitions Want


What Are You Looking For? Proactive, textured characters. Do these characters feel like real, complicated, engaging people, or are they just a new version of a general archetype we’ve seen a million times? Is the plot moving forward because the characters are driving the story with their actions, or are things just happening to them?

Dialogue that reflects organic speech patterns, and is distinct for different characters. Do the characters speak like “real” people, or are they just saying whatever information the writer wants us to have?

A world we haven’t seen a thousand times. Or, if you’re dealing with a world we do know well, something that makes your story stand out. If you’re going to write a pilot about an alcoholic, maverick cop and her bright-eyed rookie sidekick – what does your version of that story have that the eight other scripts about an alcoholic maverick cop and her rookie sidekick that we read this week don’t have?

Common Mistakes: Improper formatting and typos. A few typos here and there are understandable, but if the writer can’t be bothered to learn proper formatting, or to do a thorough proofread before sending off the script, it’s an indication that they’re not serious about writing, and is often enough to get a reader to stop reading.

Scripts that have clearly been cobbled together from various drafts but not shaped as a new version of the story. Scripts where we see the same character introduced more than once, or a character’s name has clearly been changed but the writer didn’t go through and fix it in the description, or a scene happens where the characters learn new information but then we cut to a later scene where the same characters don’t know that information, because the writer has moved the scene but not gone in and made sure it all makes sense in the story arc, etc.

World War II stories are a tough sell. Most readers get several a week, and even though they are often well-written, unless they address a new or intriguing element of that era, it’s hard for them to stand out.

How Many Pages Will You Read? There’s not really a fixed number of pages. Every page of the script is making an impression on the reader, so it is important to start your script on page one with strong characters, world, voice and plot. However, at least in the case of ScreenCraft, we know that some stories are slow burns that build in tension and pace all the way through the climax. Others will have twists, turns, and excitement from the first page.

Because every script is different, we make sure that if a reader is unsure about their scores for a script, we flag it and get a second set of reader’s eyes on the project.

Script Pipeline

What Are You Looking For? Bold, fresh, unique voices will always fare well with Script Pipeline. Writers who pour themselves on the page. Stories that take at least a slight pivot from the norm, offering something thematically relevant or unexpected.

Common Mistakes: On a conceptual level: generic stories that have been done to death, don’t say anything, and bring nothing new to the table. In terms of style: dull writing, by far. The writing has to have an “energy” as much as the story. Always suggest writers read plenty of scripts, produced and unproduced, to figure out what approach might suit them best. Eventually you carve out your own niche, and that’s crucial in gaining attention from execs.

How Many Pages Will You Read? Usually we know early on if a script has a chance for the next round, but it’s not so much about the number of pages. This is why the writing itself is so crucial. If the writing is objectively great (it’s descriptive yet well-paced, it comes across as authentic, etc.), you can have a slow-burn plot, and we’ll still be invested. The big key—in any script, across any genre—is to make your story feel elevated from the start. It sets an immediate precedent that says, “Hey, you’re about to experience something new and different.”


What Are You Looking For? While we of course look for scripts that are well-crafted, immersive stories with compelling characters, we are most excited by bold originality. Slamdance is about more than finding scripts with the most commercial potential or that will prove palatable with maintaining the Hollywood status quo — we are looking for scripts that take risks and refuse compromises. Our awards are a statement as to what we’d like to see in today’s industry. They are an attempt to bring attention to innovative work that reflects Slamdance’s independent punk rock spirit.

Common Mistakes: If a script contains overused tropes, stereotypes, and predictable biases, especially in the characterization of underrepresented communities (e.g. racial minorities, LGBTQ, women, people with disabilities, etc.) that’s not a good sign.
Relying on sexual assault as a plot device without a meaningful purpose beyond that is also quite overdone and not a good sign.

Not proofreading the script carefully, or not attempting to use the industry standard screenplay formatting. While these may sound like superficial objections that shouldn’t reflect on the quality of writing, remember that any moment the reader spends having to decipher a sentence, or slow down their natural reading pace due to formatting, is a moment they are not immersed in the story. These are also easy ways to show professionalism that will be even more important when presenting your work beyond our competition.

Screenplays that are longer than they need to be, which can drag down an otherwise compelling idea. Carefully consider your final edit to distill exactly what length your screenplay should be.

How Many Pages Do You Read? Our judges are required to read each screenplay fully for the competition. However, if a script doesn’t have the reader hooked by the end of the first Act, that’s probably not a good sign for its advancement in the competition.

This post is presented by Coverfly. Coverfly curates the most reputable screenwriting competitions, fellowships, labs and screenplay coverage services, all in one place.

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