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Twenty Most Common Problems & How To Fix Them

Adapted from Writers Workshop Script Doctor

Copyright 1994, 1996, 1998, Dorian Scott Cole 

What is your writing worth to you? | Twenty most common problems | Typical ratings |

The Story Test

What is your writing worth to you?

If you had a ten thousand dollar car sitting in your drive with a flat tire, what would you do with it? Park it behind the garage? Shuffle it around to the car lots trying to sell it as damaged goods? Read a book on how to design a car? Unless you're eccentric or insane (appreciate that I'm on dangerous ground here), you would probably invest a few dollars in fixing the tire - makes sense. But what do you do with a story that doesn't sell? One you have invested a lot of yourself in, with a potential value of forty thousand (screenplays) or more. Keep shuffling it around to agents and contests? Park it on the top shelf of a closet? Read yet another book telling the same old things? Yes! Writers do with their stories what they wouldn't do with their car. 

Do you really need more information on "how to write a story?" I doubt it. If you had the passion to write something the first time, then you need to "fix what ails it." Good writing may take practice, but most professionals say the real secret to good writing is rewriting. That is where most of the time and effort go to make a script commercial. That is also where writers die: "Write it again! I wrote it, I love it, there's nothing wrong with it!" This part will help you find what is wrong with your story and fix it. Use the test to help identify areas that need improvement in your writing.

The Top Twenty Problems were distilled from Writers Workshop screenplay critiques, where scripts are evaluated similarly to reader's coverage at studios. Over 80% fall into the fair to good category, with excellent to superior being the sought after ratings. They are checked for premise, structure, characterization, dialogue, originality, and writing ability. Half the ratings in all these categories are fair. Most writers have categories they are strong in, but are weak in at least one of two areas: character motivation or structure. So character motivation and structure will get the most attention in this part, with special emphasis on originality. 

Each problem is followed by a brief solution sure to transform your script into gold. If this doesn't help, send me a note and I'll exchange it for a wart removing spell. 

TOP TWENTY LIST OF SPECIFIC PROBLEMS

RANK  PROBLEM
1 Characterization: Weak character motivation
2 Structure: Plot weak, unfocused, wanders, no concept
3 Character originality: Non-dimensional, stereotypical, no voice
4 Structure: Confusing, contradictory, explanations lacking
5 Structure Originality: Tired storyline, predictable, overused 
6 Characterization: Action out of character, inconsistent
7 Structure: Mechanical solutions: manipulated or contrived
8 Structure: No payoff to setup
9 Structure: Misleading, doesn't deliver what is promised 
10 Characterization: No main character (or antagonist)
11 Characterization: Character doesn't change
12 Characterization: Dull, uninteresting, out of place
13 Structure: Premise, storyline, scenes not credible
14 Scenes & Drama: Action doesn't follow from previous drama
15 Dialogue: Tells information, motivation, or is preachy
16 Dialogue: Wasted, doesn't move story forward
17 Format: Scene descriptions tell thoughts
18 Scenes & Drama: Action doesn't move story forward
19 Scenes & Drama: Lacks emotion, stakes too low
20 Dialogue: Length, less is more

Ratings by percentage of scripts evaluated
Category Typical rating
Structure fair to poor: 77% 
Characterization fair to poor: 80%
Originality fair to poor: 77%
Premise fair to poor: 77%
Dialogue fair to good: 85%
Scripts with some excellent elements: 15%  
Typical overall ratings by percentage of scripts evaluated
Superior 0%
Excellent 8%
Good 40%
Fair 42%
Poor 10%

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