Avoid These 7 Deadly Mistakes Every Screenwriter Should Know – Steve Douglas-Craig

I, Steve Douglas-Craig, have made it my mission to guide aspiring screenwriters in their journey to success. Throughout my years in the industry, I have made countless mistakes and learned valuable lessons along the way. In this blog post, I will share with you seven deadly mistakes that every screenwriter should be aware of. By avoiding these pitfalls, you can greatly enhance your chances of becoming a skilled and accomplished screenwriter. So, join me as we delve into the world of screenwriting and learn from my experiences to take your storytelling to new heights.

Avoid These 7 Deadly Mistakes Every Screenwriter Should Know – Steve Douglas-Craig


Hi there! I’m Steve Douglas-Craig, a seasoned screenwriter with years of industry experience. After graduating from the AFI, I had the opportunity to work with Sony Pictures Entertainment as a Story Editor & Acquisitions Executive. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in the development and release of numerous successful film titles, such as Terminator: Salvation, The Book of Eli, Django Unchained, and more. I’ve also worked as a freelance staff writer for the hit CBS TV series Hawaii Five-O. Currently, I have several exciting projects in the works. If you want to learn more or study with me, visit my website at www.thenewscreenwriter.com.

In this article, I’ll be sharing crucial insights about the 7 deadly mistakes that every aspiring screenwriter should avoid. So grab your popcorn, sit back, and let’s dive in!

1. Lack of Structure: The Achilles’ Heel of Screenwriting

One of the major mistakes I often come across is the lack of structure in screenplays. As a screenwriter, it’s vital to understand the importance of structure in storytelling. Without a well-defined structure, your screenplay may lack coherence and fail to engage the audience effectively.

Sub-heading 1: The Three-Act Structure

The three-act structure is a fundamental framework that most successful screenplays adhere to. It consists of three main acts – the setup, confrontation, and resolution. Each act serves a specific purpose and helps progress the story in a compelling manner.

Sub-heading 2: The Importance of Plot Points

Within the three-act structure, plot points play a crucial role in driving the narrative forward. They are significant events or turning points that propel the story and keep the audience engaged. Identifying and incorporating impactful plot points is essential for a well-structured screenplay.

2. Neglecting the Power of Dialogue

Screenplays are not novels or stage plays; they are a unique medium that relies heavily on visually-driven storytelling. However, dialogue remains a vital component of screenwriting. Effective dialogue can enhance character development, reveal subtext, and deliver essential information.

Sub-heading 1: Show, Don’t Tell

While dialogue can be powerful, it’s important to strike a balance between dialogue and visual storytelling. “Show, don’t tell” is a golden rule of screenwriting. Visual cues, actions, and reactions should be used effectively to convey emotions and advance the story without solely relying on dialogue.

Sub-heading 2: Authenticity and Subtext

Authentic dialogue is crucial for creating believable characters. Pay attention to the way people speak in real life. Use idioms, colloquialisms, and interjections to add depth and realism to your characters’ conversations. Subtext, the unspoken meaning beneath the dialogue, can also add layers to your screenplay.

3. Poor Formatting: A Recipe for Disaster

Formatting is an often overlooked aspect of screenwriting but is of utmost importance. Proper formatting ensures that your screenplay is industry-standard and can be easily understood by producers, directors, and actors.

Sub-heading 1: Utilize Screenwriting Software

Screenwriting software, such as Final Draft or Celtx, can be a valuable tool in maintaining proper formatting. These software options have built-in templates that automatically format your screenplay, allowing you to focus on the creative aspects of storytelling.

Sub-heading 2: Master the Basics

Understanding the basics of screenplay formatting, such as writing scene headings, actions, dialogue, and transitions, is essential. Mistakes in formatting can distract readers and signal a lack of professionalism.

4. Lack of Character Development: The Unforgivable Sin

Engaging characters are the heart of any compelling screenplay. Without well-developed and relatable characters, your story may fall flat. Investing time in understanding your characters’ motivations, flaws, and growth is crucial for creating an emotional connection with your audience.

Sub-heading 1: Multidimensional Characters

Avoid one-dimensional characters that solely serve the plot. Instead, aim for multidimensional characters with strengths, weaknesses, and conflicting desires. Give them a compelling arc that allows them to grow and evolve throughout the story.

Sub-heading 2: Character Backstories and Relationships

Dig deep into your characters’ backstories. What events shaped them into who they are? Additionally, exploring the relationships between characters can add depth and conflict to your screenplay.

5. Lack of Feedback: Embrace Constructive Criticism

Writing can be a solitary journey, but screenwriting is a collaborative art form. Seeking feedback from trusted peers, mentors, or professional script consultants can dramatically enhance the quality of your screenplay.

Sub-heading 1: The Power of Fresh Eyes

After spending hours crafting your screenplay, it’s easy to become blind to its flaws. Fresh eyes can provide valuable insights and identify areas that need improvement. Embrace constructive criticism as an opportunity to grow as a writer.

Sub-heading 2: Join Writing Communities

Joining writing communities or workshops can be an excellent way to connect with fellow screenwriters and exchange valuable feedback. Learning from others’ experiences and perspectives can be invaluable in refining your craft.

6. Ignoring Industry Trends: Stay Relevant

The film industry is constantly evolving, and understanding current trends is essential for a screenwriter. Staying informed about the types of stories and themes that resonate with audiences can increase your chances of securing a sale or representation.

Sub-heading 1: Study Successful Films

Watch and analyze successful films within your genre. Identify the elements that made those films stand out and connect with audiences. However, remember to put your unique spin on these elements and avoid falling into clichéd tropes.

Sub-heading 2: Adaptability and Originality

While staying informed about industry trends is crucial, it’s equally important to bring originality to your work. Find the balance between meeting audience expectations and delivering fresh, unique stories that showcase your voice as a screenwriter.

7. Lack of Persistence: Keep Pushing Forward

Screenwriting is a challenging industry, and rejection is part of the journey. However, giving up is the only surefire way to fail. Persistence is key to success in this field. Keep honing your craft, networking, and pursuing opportunities.

Sub-heading 1: Embrace Failure as a Teacher

Every rejection or setback is an opportunity to learn and grow. Embrace failure as a teacher, rather than a discouragement. Use it as fuel to improve and keep pushing forward.

Sub-heading 2: Networking and Building Relationships

Networking is crucial in the entertainment industry. Attend festivals, industry events, or join online communities to connect with professionals and build relationships. The right connection at the right time can open doors to exciting opportunities.


Aspiring screenwriters, remember to avoid these 7 deadly mistakes that can hinder your path to success. Craft a well-structured screenplay, invest time in developing engaging characters, and embrace feedback and industry trends. Above all, stay persistent and believe in your craft. With determination and dedication, you can make your mark in the world of screenwriting.


1. Are structure and formatting really that important in screenwriting?
Yes, structure and formatting are crucial in screenwriting as they provide a foundation for a coherent, visually-driven story.

2. How can I improve my dialogue writing skills?
To improve your dialogue writing skills, observe real-life conversations, embrace authentic speech patterns, and focus on showing emotion through actions and reactions.

3. Is it necessary to seek feedback on my screenplay?
Seeking feedback from trusted sources can significantly enhance the quality of your screenplay by providing fresh perspectives and constructive criticism.

4. How can I stay updated on industry trends?
Stay informed by studying successful films within your genre and finding the right balance between meeting audience expectations and delivering original, fresh stories.

5. How can I deal with rejection and stay motivated?
Embrace failure as a teacher, use setbacks as opportunities for growth, and build a strong support network through networking and relationship-building.

Remember to support Film Courage by becoming a member or patron to contribute to their valuable resources for aspiring filmmakers.

This article is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this article are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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