The Helpful Reviewer

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Before submitting a screenplay to a production company, a manager/agent, a competition or posting it on a script hosting website, it’s imperative to have the script ready, polished, and at its possible best. You get one chance to make an impression with your script, and you want that chance to help move your career forward. Throughout the years, when doing script consulting/analysis or judging screenplay competitions, I’ve noticed several common and recurrent mistakes that writers make and that don’t help them get noticed or get their scripts passed along to executives. Some of these are easy to fix, while some require some hard work and lots of practice, but once you know what mistakes to avoid, at least you’re one step closer to being able to fix them.

The most common mistakes I’ve found are:

  • A premise that doesn’t work from the start: Usually this means you just have an idea, but no plot. Or you could just have an unoriginal concept or one we’ve read/seen hundreds of times before.
  • Bad formatting, typos, grammatical errors, etc.
  • Not outlining first – then you don’t know where your story is going, and it shows in your draft, as the story looses aim. Part of this could be when the story/the protagonist has no clear goal.
  • Dialogue that doesn’t feel natural or no use of subtext.
  • Starting scenes too early and leaving them too late.
  • Not killing your darlings – some scenes may be greatly written, but if they don’t advance the plot, then you don’t need them in your script.
  • Directing in your script – this tends to take the reader out of the world of your story.
  • Not grabbing your reader/audience in the first 10 pages (or even the first 3!)
  • Overusing transitions.
  • Zero character introduction/description. No memorable introductions, so we forget them. Also too many characters being introduced at the same time, so we forget who is who.
  • The world of your story isn’t clear.
  • Long chunks of descriptions – Readers are known to skip past these long chunks.
  • Focusing on a concept and not a character driving the action.
  • Cliché scenes.
  • Too much exposition.
  • No subplots or interesting supporting characters.
  • Writing a formulaic script just with the intention of selling it, instead of writing a unique story you’re passionate about that’ll definitely get you noticed (even if just as a writing sample).

Cody Smart

Cody Smart


Cody is an independent writer and script doctor from Santiago, Chile. She attended the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where she double majored in English Literature and Linguistics, with a minor in Dramatic Literature. She moved to L.A. and got her MFA in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios location, while at the same time working at Sony Pictures as a reader and story analyst. She also received two Certificates from UCLA, in Development and Producing for Film and TV.

Aside from her years of experience as a studio reader, she’s a judge for multiple script and film competitions, has written some award-winning short films and feature film scripts, she’s been working as a script analyst and doctor for years helping writers take their scripts to the next level, and is currently the head of the coverage department at Story Data.