The revision process can be pretty daunting but it’s a critical component of writing. By taking the time to carefully analyze your script, you’ll not only improve your final draft immensely, but you’ll also deepen your understanding of the world and characters you’ve created.
After you’ve written your first draft, I strongly recommend you set your script aside for a period of time so you can return to it with fresh eyes. Then, do an analysis pass for EACH of the following topics.
Make Sure the Story Works
Do a pass where you make sure the story itself works. Does it open in the strongest possible way and end with satisfying closure? Does it follow a story structure? There’s a reason why most stories follow the three-act structure — it makes for a compelling journey. Do a pass that identifies each of the following beats:
- ACT ONE: Opening + Inciting Incident
- ACT TWO: Crisis + Low-Point
- ACT THREE: Climax + Resolution
You may need to identify the beats for each storyline in your script. Don’t let the structure of your b-plot fizzle out. Write the structure down so you can physically see the foundation of your script.
Solve Existing Problems
Now that you’ve identified the structure of your story, it’s time to identify and solve problems. Maybe you realized that you didn’t include a low-point: during this pass, create one. Maybe while writing your first draft, you left notes for yourself like “insert clever joke here” — now it’s time to insert that joke.
This is also the time to ask yourself if you’ve fulfilled your vision. Identify the thematic moments of your script and ask yourself if they’re hitting the emotional and symbolic beats you sought to hit. If your final act feels weak thematically, this is your opportunity to brainstorm a stronger climax and make a stronger choice.
Examine Your Locations
Have you selected the most fascinating locations for your scenes to take place? How many scenes are just two talking heads…in their home? Can you instead give your characters something interesting to do or find a unique place for them to do it? Be deliberate about your location choices and allow yourself to have some fun with it when appropriate.
Do a Pass for Each Character
Once you have a strong foundation, it’s time to do a pass for each character individually. Do your best to read their lines and only their lines. Read them out loud. This will accomplish two things:
- It will help you identify what exactly happens to each character. What journey do they go on in your script? How are they challenged? How do they grow? Are they repeating themselves? Do they say anything of sustenance or are they just supplying fillers?
- It will help you make them distinct from each other. What makes each character special or interesting? Cast them in your mind and ask yourself if that actor would feel passionate or excited about playing that character. If not, get creative.
If you’ve got bland characters, start to play with their responses. Brainstorm ten different ways for them to respond to something and then select the most interesting one. Your characters should be engaging, surprising, and relatable, and distinct from one another.
Check for Subtext
Beware of expositional dialogue and scenes. Modern audiences are smart — they will quickly catch on to relationships or backstory. You don’t need a character to walk in and say, “Hello, baby brother,” because that’s not how siblings talk. Instead, one of them will mention “Grandma” and boom — your audience understands the relationship.
Characters don’t need to describe everything happening in a scene. Often, the action will do the work. Quentin Tarantino is great at allowing his characters to have conversations that have nothing to do with their actions. In Pulp Fiction, he writes a scene where two guys debate about foot massages before opening fire on a hit run. An underdeveloped script may have had the guys talking through the game plan…but the foot massage conversation was much more entertaining and memorable.
Re-read one of your favorite screenplays and take note of what makes the writer’s voice distinct. Greta Gerwig or Donald Glover each have completely different voices on the page. As you write, you’ll develop your own voice, but you should also get creative and select your vocabulary with intention.
Grab a thesaurus or pop on over to Urban Dictionary to find new ways to say things. Instead of repeating something cliche or overused, create a new catchphrase. Don’t say a character “walks” when that character could “saunter” or “drag herself.” Your words should be concise, intentional, and memorable.
Script analysis is a skill that will help you identify what makes a story compelling and satisfying. It will help you create characters who are fascinating and original. It takes time and concentration.
I recommend doing a pass focusing on just one component at a time while in the rewrite process. It will always be worth it. Once you’ve analyzed and revised your script, you can feel confident sending it to a colleague for its first peer-review. Their notes may start this process over again. A table read with actors may mean going back in for another character pass. Each of those steps deserves time and attention.
In the end, you’ll be left with the best possible version of your vision.
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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!