You’ve found the story you want to tell, you’ve researched the subject, come up with brilliant characters, purchased Final Draft, and put in long hours at the keyboard.  You swelled with pride as you wrote “Fade Out.” and then told everyone at the office you were just minutes away from making it big in show biz.  There was, in fact, a friend of your sister-in-law’s brother who worked at a studio and said he’d read it for you, get you inside, slip it to the Execs, right?

But, shoot!  He didn’t like it and said he couldn’t pass it along to anyone.  Your heart sank.  You felt like you did in the sixth grade when you were the last kid to get picked on a team. And then you got mad.

“The guy’s a tool!  What does he know about MY story!” Sadly, many of us have felt this way. But don’t despair.  You can fix it.  Here’s what I know about why scripts are passed on:

Top 8 Reasons a Script Gets Rejected

  1. Your story is probably not as original as you think. If it rings of anything familiar that wasn’t a hit, it will get passed on. Also, if it is too contrived, it will get a big fat “No.” If the story is not a good one and executed perfectly, it will get a pass.  If it is a terrific story (fresh and new) and executed poorly, it might have a chance at getting optioned and new writers assigned. Don’t do a rehash of something you saw.  Make your idea (which has probably already been done somewhere by someone) different enough to be called original. Find a way to make it fresh and compelling. You do that by having something NEW to say about the idea or a different point of view.
  2. Your characters are weak, flat, unimaginative.  Murky characters don’t have a goal.  They aren’t driven to overcome any obstacles. They don’t come to life on the page and we don’t care about them.  I always ask my students if they have written a ten-page bio for each of their characters.  You don’t have to put everything in the script that they did their whole life, but a good bio will inform your writing of the character.  You are the only person that can bring him/her to life for the reader. And the reader is the first step in the process of selling.
  3. Your descriptions are too long, too wordy.  Just pick the best words to economically describe a scene then let the reader’s imagination take over.
  4. Your dialogue is clunky, overwritten, unnatural, too on-the-nose, or you are using dialogue as exposition.  Don’t tell the reader what is going on through dialogue, show the reader what is going on with action. Also, make sure your characters don’t all sound the same. Good dialogue has rhythm and meter. Each character should have their own.
  5. You don’t have a conventional three-act structure and your tone is not obvious upfront. Write like a pro and you’ll have a better chance of selling like a pro. No exec will read past page ten if you don’t have a structure in place and grab them with a dramatic setup.
  6. Your script doesn’t make the reader FEEL. If a reader laughs or cries or gets scared, this is a good thing. Even if a script is well written, it can still be boring. Ask yourself if you are moved by your material, if you didn’t laugh or cry, no one else will.
  7. Your script cannot be marketed. There are a lot of well-executed scripts with material that cannot be sold. Maybe it’s too similar to one the studio or production company already has in development.  Or maybe your rom-com is just too cookie-cutter, or your thriller is not that particular execs cup of tea. These are things you cannot control and please try not to take them personally.
  8. You did not let enough people who know what they are doing read the script before you submitted it.  A script must be in the best possible shape before you send it to a buyer.  Find an editor or writing professional that can help you and ask all the tough questions of your piece before it goes out.

Most importantly. Don’t stop writing!

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Linda Bergman has worked for every major Hollywood film studio and all the top television networks. She has been paid to write 21 film and TV scripts and even produced 5 of them. In both of her books “So You Think Your Life’s a Movie: Ten Steps to a Script that Sells” and “So You Think Your Life’s a Movie: The Sequel,” Linda combines her knowledge of the craft with true stories from her experience to illustrate, inform and entertain. These books are a fun, must-read if you want to write a movie!