Know What Screenwriting Judges Look For

This is the way most screenwriters work. They write a screenplay and send it off to a screenplay contest, hoping they’ll win. That’s like learning to ride a bicycle for the first time and entering the Tour de France, hoping they’ll win.

Sorry, but that’s not going to happen. What’s far more likely to happen is that you’ll waste time and money. The first time you complete a screenplay, the huge accomplishment is knowing that you completed a screenplay.

It doesn’t matter if it’s complete garbage (and it probably is). Just be happy that you finished what you started and wrote a complete screenplay. That gives you a huge boost of confidence that you can do it again.

Plan on writing at least 4-5 full-length screenplays before you’ll finally have one worth submitting to contests. More importantly, focus on writing short scripts and get feedback from others.

It’s easy for someone to read a short 5-10 page script and give you feedback. It’s extremely difficult for someone to read a full-length screenplay and give you decent feedback.

If you can’t write a compelling short script, you’ll never be able to write a compelling full-length screenplay.

So start by focusing on short scripts first. Make them as compelling and intriguing as possible. Only when you feel confident you can tell a story as a short script should you start trying to write full-length screenplays.

If you read the criteria judges use to evaluate screenplays for the Nicholls Fellowship, you can see how to shape your screenplay to match their expectations. Here’s a short list of what the judges look for:

  • Does the story itself have a strong beginning, middle & end?  How about two out of three?  If the story is non-linear, does it make sense?
  • Does this script make you feel that the writer is taking you on a journey?  
  • Does the central character change over the course of the story?  If it’s an ensemble film, does more than one character change?
  • When you finish reading the script, even if it has flaws, do you still feel that there’s something special about it?  Is there an indescribable “something” that elevates this script above the ordinary?
  • Does the idea have a purpose as opposed to being simply about misery? 

When your script can satisfy judges of a screenwriting contest, you’ll know you’re on your way.

If you’re just getting started writing a screenplay, don’t get too anxious and enter a screenwriting contest too soon. Develop your skill until so when you do enter a screenwriting contest, you’ll know you have what it takes to get noticed.

Screenwriting is a skill that takes time to develop so be patient with yourself. You can do it as long as you’re willing to keep learning as much as you can and never stop learning.

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