Roald Dahl once famously said, “I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.” When it comes to your screenplay, it’s a bit much not to care if a reader hates your story, but you definitely want them to finish your script. That’s where feedback comes in. After all, Dahl’s books, once in the hands of a reader, have been published. 

The reader’s role in the process of getting your screenplay sold is an important one. Think of them as the gatekeeper. Often, a producer may ask to read your script, but you can be sure that with all that a producer has to deal with on a daily basis, they don’t have the time to read every script, even ones they have requested. So, it’s up to the reader to whittle down the piles of scripts (okay, today it’s not literal piles but, more likely, pdf files) to find the few gems to pass feedback on to the producer.

Some screenwriters look at the reader as the enemy—”Oh, they’re just an intern. What do they know about good scripts?”. But that’s far from the truth. Readers are skilled in recognizing well-written, engaging scripts and giving valuable feedback and critique. Their reputation is on the line as much as the screenwriter. Push forward bad scripts and they are no longer considered reliable.

So, with the mindset of the reader as an ally, there are certain keys to making sure your script is started and, to paraphrase Dahl, finishes the script. It’s important to remember the first ten are important. Lose the reader by page 10 and the script goes into the “pass” bin. But really, the reader needs to be engaged by page 5. So:

  • Establish the world of the story, the tone, mood and, of course, your main character.
  • Clearly define the goals of your main character. What is missing from their life that will make them whole by the end of the script.
  • Make sure it’s clear what the story is about. If the reader gets to page 10 and doesn’t know what the story is about, you’ve lost them.
  • Have the reader want to turn to page 11. It’s not only important that the reader knows the story, but that it’s well-crafted, well-written and exciting to read. This means not giving away too much, but rather, just enough to make the reader want to keep reading.
  • Write in the correct format. This may seem simple, and surely a reader will forgive certain things if the story is great, but using the correct format—standard screenplay format, spell-checked and proofread is important. It separates the amateur from the professional.

Remember to always ask yourself how will the reader react and what the feedback will be. Think like Roald Dahl—you want them to finish it, but love it!.

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