Receiving constructive script coverage is one of the most useful tools in a writer’s arsenal — but finding trustworthy readers can be tricky for emerging writers who haven’t yet built a network of colleagues who understand the industry, the art, and the craft of providing script coverage. A professional reader is a great resource.
It is, however, a costly one, so it’s critical to make the investment count. In our Ask a Reader series, WeScreenplay goes straight to the source to better understand professional coverage so you can use it to your advantage and revise your script into the best version it can be.
Need script coverage! Our professional readers can help!
What is One Note You Give Writers the Most During Script Coverage?
“Get into the story quicker,” shared our reader without hesitation. “Aspiring screenwriters need to hook their readers within the first few pages because industry professionals don’t have the time to give scripts the benefit of the doubt.” Right now television is oversaturated with streaming platforms, traditional network shows, high-concept series, and an overabundance of talented writers with staffing and industry experience. You’ve got to be incredible to stand out.
It’s also a time when social media has shortened our collective attention spans. Therefore, writers must establish the concept, conflict, and the main characters’ goals early on. “Remember that there are always exceptions to every rule, but generally, when writers spend the first half of the script setting up the characters and world and don’t introduce the story engine until much later, the story will lack focus and won’t excite potential producers and buyers,” asserted our reader.
What Areas of a Script Tend to Need the Most Work?
There’s a saying I held to when I was in the military: Mission first. People always. The same can be said for a script. While the story must be engaging and strong, there’s one thing that must be compelling no matter what: character development.
“I’ve found that scripts almost always need to fix character issues in order to tackle issues with other elements,” observed our reader. “If a character is flat and underdeveloped, then the dialogue almost always follows suit. The stakes in the plot won’t feel high because we won’t care about the characters solving the conflict.”
From creating personal motivations to giving characters a sense of agency that guides their journey to distinguishing their voice from other characters in the script, it’s critical to make strong choices as a writer.
“Characterization is the area that usually needs the most work and acts as the foundation for the rest of the script notes,” affirmed our reader.
How to Analyze Your Script Before (or After) Script Coverage
I’ve written an article about how to revise your script, but one of the most important pieces of advice I can give is to do different revision passes for different areas. Read the first three pages and see if they are captivating. Read the first ten pages and note whether you’ve gotten into your story yet.
Do a pass for your main character and pay attention to how they speak, what choices they make, and what motivates them. Then do a pass for each additional character. Do they all sound the same? Do they all sound like you? Are they simply reacting to circumstances or are they determining their own destiny — for better or for worse?
Ultimately, screenplays are the building blocks for stories about the human experience — it’s critical to make sure your characters will invite the reader in to relate to, to love, to hate, to be mesmerized by, to learn from, and to be entertained by.
Scriptnotes Three Page Challenge
Industry pros John August (Go, Aladdin) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl, The Last of Us) host something they’ve dubbed the Three Page Challenge on their popular (and wildly educational) Scriptnotes podcast. Listeners are invited to send in the first three pages of their screenplays to the podcast and the hosts break down the entries and offer suggestions. “It’s not a contest. It’s strictly for the learns,” reads the cheeky description.
Three Page Challenge episodes on the podcast are great opportunities for writers to learn about how the first three pages can entice a reader…or bore them and/or turn them off. The episodes also link up the first three pages so you can read them for yourself and get a good sense of what makes a page-turner and what simply doesn’t.
(Here are more screenwriting podcasts to check out if you’re interested!)
The Conclusion From Our Reader
“Although concept is very important, there are scripts with lackluster premises that have absolutely surprised me and sucked me into the story, and this is because they make me care about the characters. Almost any story is interesting and compelling if the characters are, and all of the scripts that I have loved the most have had characters that are complicated, unique, and have a clear voice. Most scripts I’ve loved have also had stand-out concepts, but there are also tons of scripts with great concepts that I’ve found forgettable because the characters only exist to support the concept rather than the other way around.”
Mission first. People always.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!