Your movie idea isn’t interesting - They want to write about a man coming to terms with the death of his mother or a woman’s road trip to discover the meaning of life. There’s no CONCEPT there. There’s no ironic component to make you sit up and notice. You need a SPECIFIC INTERESTING IDEA to explore or else we won’t care.
You’re writing scenes that say the exact same thing - New writers take four or five scenes to make a point. Pro writers take one scene to make a point. Because of that, their scripts move faster and because of *that*, their stories are more entertaining.
Lack of a compelling/interesting/intriguing main character - Too many writers make their characters Average Joes doing average things. And yes, some movies require that type of protagonist, but you HAVE to find something interesting about them if we’re going to follow them around enthusiastically.
There’s no point to your scene - I usually run into pointless scenes as early as the second scene of the screenplay. In fact, that’s a pretty common place to find them because most writers know what their big fun exciting opening scene is going to be before they write their script. But once that scene is over and they get to characters actually talking, it’s like the writer doesn’t know what to do any more. It’s like they think as long as two characters are having a dialogue – regardless of what they’re talking about – that they’re doing their job. Wrong. If there’s no point to your scene – if characters aren’t trying to get something out of the scene or out of the other character, you’re just talking to yourself. One of the easiest ways to make a scene interesting is to make sure the characters in it want something.
Endless action - Endless action is one of those false security blankets. Young writers believe that as long as there’s a lot of action happening, the reader will be entertained. But actually, if you’re giving us endless action, it’s just as boring as giving us endless dialogue. The reason action scenes work is because of what’s at stake. They work because you’ve used the previous 20 pages to set up how important this heist is or this battle is or this race is.
Scenes without conflict - One person in the scene wants one thing – the other person in the scene wants another thing. You write the scene to figure out who’s going to win that tug-of-war. Maybe Person A wins. Maybe Person B wins. Maybe nobody wins. But the fact that something is trying to be gained is what’s going to keep the scene entertaining.
Your characters are thin - Some will use the excuse that they’re writing an action movie. Some will just say they’re not interested. But if you’re not digging into your characters and learning about them and understanding how they grew up and understanding the complications they went through and what regrets they have and what their dreams are and who they still hold a candle for - if you don’t know all those things about your characters, then guess what? Your characters will be thin.
Not understanding the phrase “stuff needs to happen” - The problem is that young writers don’t know what the word “happen” means. They think it means your character going to bars and talking with their friends or going to work for yet another boring workday. Yeah, technically something is “happening” in those scenes, but nothing INTERESTING is happening.
An unfocused story - A lack of focus almost always stems from an unclear character goal. If we’ve forgotten (or never been told) what the protagonist is after and why, then the script drifts into a sea of murkiness. So the lesson here is, MAKE SURE THE READER KNOWS WHAT THE CHARACTER IS AFTER.
You’re not putting enough effort into your choices - It’s your job as a writer to always ask the question: “Can I come up with something better, more interesting, more original, or cooler than this?” Chances are you can. But most writers don’t take the time because it’s too much work. Well I got news for you. Screenwriting ain’t all fun. It’s work. I would go so far as to say if writing a script is pure fun for you, you’re not working hard enough. Challenge your choices.
And now for some navel-gazing. This particularly struck a chord with me: One of the easiest ways to make a scene interesting is to make sure the characters in it want something. And this: One person in the scene wants one thing – the other person in the scene wants another thing. You write the scene to figure out who’s going to win that tug-of-war. Maybe Person A wins. Maybe Person B wins. Maybe nobody wins. But the fact that something is trying to be gained is what’s going to keep the scene entertaining.
That's always been my problem, especially when I'm writing angst. I tell myself, "Okay, I need a scene here where Steve and Danny go to a bar and have a conversation." For whatever reason - to establish the nature of their relationship in the story, to set the scene for upcoming conflict, or for them to have unspoken angsty UST. Whatever. I just convince myself while I'm plotting that I'll need a scene there. But then I get there and I have no idea what the conversation is about, or how to make it compelling.
I've finally learned that if I don't want to write a scene, or if it feels boring, then I need to listen to my gut because it means something isn't working and I need to fix it. Maybe that means I skip forward in the action, or cut that scene entirely and recount the important bits in some other way. Because if I'm bored writing it and it feels obligatory, then that's probably how it's going to feel to the reader too. But this really helps, the idea that in every scene, the character wants something. What they want, and what stands in their way of getting it, needs to be clear in every single scene, even if it's not stated directly.
I've seen this applied to porn too, that every good sex scene needs to make the reader yearn for something. That the sex doesn't come after the conflict is resolved (i.e. they talk, resolve everything, and then fuck), but that there is still something to yearn for, something the character wants and doesn't have yet, and the sex itself is necessary to resolving the conflict.
I just had to share this, because I've been struggling with a few scenes in my genderswap fic, trying to figure out why I was blocked, and this really helped me. What does the character want in the story? Specifically, what do they want in this scene and how does it feed into the central conflict of the story? It sounds so obvious, and I do think most writers know this instinctively, but I think it's helpful to think of it in concrete terms rather than just as an abstract concept of what you're trying to accomplish in a scene.
Anyway, that is all. :)