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No More I Beg You! Top 10 Plot Peeves

Forum Member 8thSamurai shares her most hated plot peeves:

About a week, and a few hundred screenplay reviews later, I have ever increasing respect for the work it takes to finish one, as well as my own writing skills. Then again, as a contest, I wasn’t necessarily skimming through the cream of the writing world.

So this blog is about things that will have you tossed in a heartbeat(or have a reader who is paid to read and critique the whole script banging their head against a wall).

Watch out for genre. If you’re a stellar, original writer, you’ll be able to take any premise and turn it on it’s ear. This is actually harder than it sounds. There were a couple of scripts that were written pretty well, but everything in them was such old hat, that it felt like I was reading a couple of other movies mashed together, down to ‘this scene was from x, and that one was from y’.

And everyone’s favorite plotlines:

1. The absolute most common one involved a writer with a problem, talking to a character in their mind or God. Whether this other character was a disembodied voice, object, therapist, whatever, this other character’s sole purpose seemed to be either to taunt the protagonist with ‘clever’(read, the writer found it clever, just like the other 6,000 writers) dime store existentialism, or to feed the protagonist lines in order for the main character to spout the same dogma.

If your character or your ‘voice’ really has something interesting or unique to say, it could work – don’t bank on it. The one thing that each of these scripts had in common(the actual storylines varied greatly) was that it looked like a mental masturbation session. Each writer plodded through the tired themes and eye rolling ‘revelations’, wallowing in their own perceived cleverness until I wanted to bash my head through the monitor. I’m sure every one of them genuinely thought they had something fresh and innovative to say – at least 40% of the scripts I read featured the same themes, addressed in exactly the same narssisistic fashion.

Oh, and each of the writers(characters) in these screenplays were either struggling drunks, or wildly successful. Please, please, keep your personal fantasies or angst out of the characters, unless you’re sure you really can hit new ground.

2. The Chosen One.

I’m not sure whether to blame Bruce Almighty or The Matrix for this. The reluctant hero is chosen by some higher force to either deliver a message or save the world. So what did the two movies mentioned above have in common? They took this storyline and presented it in a new and innovative way. That does not mean that you can rip from either of these and be new, now its been done before. So your small town hero/messenger/Messiah damn well better be different, or have something new to say. And please, please, let the ‘evil’ character be something exciting. After wading through all of these evil, hot women trying to seduce the protagonist, I was dying to see an old fashioned demon. Or something with horns. Which leads us to -

3. Demonic Temptation.

Old hat, but a sure one. Everyone loves that whole cosmic good vs. evil deal. There’s nothing even wrong with your character wanting fame/fortune/sex – classic desires. But again, the presentation HAS to be fresh! What makes your protagonist different than the hundreds before, who have had the same desires, only to reach a point of enlightenment about 60 pages in, to realize they were better off before?

4. Da Mob

I like a good Mafia movie, I really do. What I don’t want to see is, however well written, a rehash of every Scorsese movie ever made, to the point that I can pick out each scene, and the movie it came from. Accents are tricky to write well. If you don’t have the chops for it, readin’ sometin’ dat look like dis or worse is tough to get through, stilts the script itself, and does nothing for the sense of character. Say the person has a Brooklyn or Bronx accent, then let it go.

5. ‘Action’ scripts with no action!

This is more of a writing thing than a story thing, but a heavy dialogue ‘action’ script where fight scenes equal ‘they fight’??? C’mon, you weren’t even trying with that one.

On to the writing/character things that drove me nuts:

1. Stupid characters.

I’m not talking about writing a character with Down’s here, I’m talking about just plain stupid. Heads of state that don’t know their pronouns. ‘Brilliant’ scientists that don’t know the formal name for their own specialty. ‘Genius’ villains that are no smarter than the average teenager, with an attempt to make them look smarter by making every other character sound like a grade school dropout.

This can be used as a technique for parody, such as in Idiocracy – where US culture looked down on being smart for so many generations, the brains were just bred out of people. Almost every character was a complete idiot, but for a reason.

Otherwise, if you can’t write ‘smart’ characters, don’t. If you want a criminal mastermind, please don’t make every other character stupid. Being average in a script full of idiots is like winning the grand prize at Poetry.com. It’s just weak writing. Think of some great criminals – Hannibal Lecter, for instance. He didn’t escape because the guards were stupid; he escaped because he was just that much smarter. Die Hard – how boring would that have been if the criminals had been dumb? It was gripping because John McClane was just a touch smarter, more resourceful, than the believable international criminals.

I cannot emphasize enough how dull, bland, flat out LAME it is to see a script with an incredibly simple ‘puzzle’ or ‘twist’ and have the characters puzzling over it, when the average eight year old would be yelling ‘It’s x dumbass!!’

Thrillers, action scripts, and horror movies seem to be most guilty of this.

2. The not so secret ‘secret’ symbol or clue

How hard is it to come up with an original or obscure symbol for the characters to puzzle over? Helpful hints: neither the Eye of Horus nor an Ankh is mysterious enough for a group of teens to be flummoxed by, let alone a group of scientists.
If you’re not clear on the symbol, trust that a concept artist will be able to come up with something suitably cool.

3. Poorly explained away ‘science’

Often, in something with sci – fi overtones, there will be a technology that does something impossible. A lot of the time, if that machine is not the central object in the story, the audience won’t really care how it works, such as Eternal Sunshine or The Prestige. Those bits of tech were never really explained, but within each respective world, they were buyable, accepted, and the story went on. Give enough hints as to how your tech works to make it believable, and move on. Or don’t address it at all. Please, don’t mangle current scientific concepts, or have a character say something to the effect ‘you wouldn’t understand’ when another character asks. Either one is obnoxious.

4. Opening with a dream, or worse – the whole thing was just a dream

The first is not always a deal breaker, the second, almost completely. I’m not sure what more to say about this. The reason being, that the viewer/reader becomes invested in the characters as they are presented, only to have to start over again after the dream ‘ends’. How annoying is that?

The exception comes when that opening scene is over the top in some way, either visuals(shimmering landscapes, morphing cars) or premise(a song and dance number on the moon, a 12 year old leading a guerilla militia) that’s no more than two pages long. Long enough to understand why this dream is happening, short enough that the viewer isn’t annoyed about being drawn into a storyline, only to have to start over.

The whole thing was a dream just never works, here’s why. The payoff will never be enough to have sat through over an hour of people, places, and events that didn’t actually happen.

Proviso: if the events are occurring within the mind of the character, and there are allusions to that throughout the work, then the reveal can be satisfying – because there’s a puzzle of sorts involved. See Identity, for example. No spoilers here, but this is an example of a movie that uses the dual reality to great advantage.

5. Characters doing something ‘out of character’ for no reason, and characters without flaws, or only flaws

These are vague enough to find your own example, but let’s hit the second two for a moment.

Have you ever met anyone without flaws? Or someone who implies that they have none? How dull would that person be?

Likewise, a villain who’s just evil. What motivates someone to do things just because it’s wrong? How much more interesting a character who either has chosen greed over virtue, or one who, like Magneto, for example, genuinely believes that they are doing the right thing?

Discuss this article and your own plot peeves in our IQ forum

How Do I get an Agent When I’m just Starting Out?

Posted by IQ Member FSUWriter in the forums

Short answer: I have no idea. There is no set way to do it. I called agents on a list. Others knew people who recommended their work to Agents. The key here, and remember this, is that you have to show the Agent that you have the potential to make money.

And that means showing them you have credibility in the business.

Yes, of course, you might find that Agent who responds to the material only and wants to take you on because they believe in your creative potential. In fact, I like to think that there are more of those than we want to admit.

But Agents (like most people in this business) are looking for someone else to validate someone first. If you have a script that has won some contests, that helps. A recommendation from someone in the business helps as well. Something that says to the Agent “See, I’m not the only one who thinks I’m hot stuff!” And, as always, get involved in projects and seminars.

Another very very important thing is to network. Many new Writers go the route of finding a good Manager first. A good Manager will have relationships with credible agents and can get you a meeting, if not outright representation. However… the problem is finding a good Manager.

They are out there, but there are also many scams. Managers are unregulated by the Guilds. Anyone can claim to be one and tie you down with a contract that gives you little option if problems arise.

But let’s stay with Agents for the moment. What if you do get a meeting? What should I do or know to get a good one? Okay, this is not really a list of what makes an agent good or bad. It’s just a short guide for helping you find the right agent for you.

First of all, for all the newbies out there, lose the awe!!! People who are new to the business tend to have an “awe” factor when they meet certain people. Mostly with people who can hire them, like Producers. But it extends to Agents because, even though we all know the truth of the matter, we think of ourselves as being hired by the agent, not the other way around. An agent “takes us on,” implying that they have the power of decision here. And, for a newbie, they do. But you have to lose that feeling of inferiority around them. Because if you don’t, you will forgive anything they say and never ask them the questions that you should. I don’t care if you are meeting the newest Agent in the company or the established 60 year pro, you have every right to ask any and all questions you desire. And you have every right to demand answers. And, most importantly, you have the right to turn them down if you aren’t comfortable.

What??? Turn down an Agent? But. . . . But. . . Do you know how long it took me to get this one? I’ll never find another!

Bull.

Your work and perseverance got you there. It can do it again. And, if it didn’t get you there, then they want you for the wrong reasons.

Okay, what questions do you ask? Ask who they represent. They may want to be close mouthed about this, but you have every right to know.

How many clients of your style/type do they have? Do they represent any Producers or Showrunners who could hire you or read your work?

Do they have good relationships with the studios and networks?

Do they return your phone calls within 24 hours? (very important, but you have to make sure you don’t abuse the privilege)?

Do they pay for copying or is that expected of you? (most agencies I’ve been with will do that for spec TV scripts, but expect you to provide screenplays)?

Are there any fees associated with this relationship? If so, walk. By WGA rules, Agents cannot ask for any upfront fees. They make their money on commission after you have been paid. No matter how it’s couched (office fees; postal fees; handling fees; etc.) it’s unethical.

Are they WGA franchised? (Duh! If they aren’t, move on. They don’t have the connections, no matter what they say.)

Are you to be handled by one agent, or by all? It used to be you had one main agent and the others helped out. The new way, apparently, is for you to have a contact Agent who works one particular area. The other Agents divide up the town. The good thing (so they tell me) is that the agents all can establish more intimate contacts with the studios and no one is stepping on the other’s territory. However, the problem, as I see it, is that I know that MY agent has an intimate relationship with me. I feel confident that he can answer any question about ME that might come up. One of the other agents and the studio wouldn’t be able to do that. They could only push my resume’ across the desk and tell what they were told. And, besides, they’ll be pushing the people they handle individually. I don’t like this, but it is the current wave.

Why are they interested in YOU? They had better mention your work. Quiz them on it. Find out if they really read it.

What do they expect YOU to bring to the table besides your work? You have to work as hard as they do, maybe more, but they have to know you are willing to do what it takes. You are partners in this, you don’t expect them to carry the entire load while you wait at home for a phone call.

What is their strategy? If you are a new Writer, acknowledge that getting you started will be difficult. They should have a plan. Again let them know that you are willing to do what you can to contribute.

How quickly do they read scripts? The best answer is overnight. But most will say they take a stack home on weekends. That’s good enough. Don’t be afraid to ask those questions. If they get offended, then LEAVE.

You’ll be asking them tougher questions as a client. And don’t accept half answers. People starting out are so anxious to get an Agent that they accept half and non-answers. No, no, no. Anyone who gives half answers is hiding something.

Here is an important word to repeat when you don’t get a straight answer to a direct question: Nixon.

Also, when you find out who their clients are, call one or two and ask them what they think of their agents. Then, if you can, find out who has LEFT them and call them. Believe it or not, you won’t always get people who are unhappy. Many times clients leave for other reasons. Some may even say the agency was great for getting them started, but they went to another level and wanted that level of representation. Others will say that it just wasn’t a good match. That happens.

Now, there are also some things that you have GOT to keep in mind with this search. Keep in mind that Agents have a different perspective than you do. Art versus Business. They are more concerned with the latter and only concerned with the former as it facilitates the latter. You are not the hottest Writer in Hollywood. Not yet. And even when you think you have become it. . . you aren’t. (important hint: you never will be). You don’t suddenly become someone new with your Agent.

If he signed you on because he has faith in your one-hour dramatic writing, don’t suddenly tell him you want to be a sit-com Writer. Agents feel safer when they can pigeon-hole your writing into a specific genre. It makes it easier to market you when you are starting out.

You are not the ONLY Writer in Hollywood. You are the only Writer who has your particular talent, but most people don’t make that distinction.

Your agent doesn’t have to be your friend, but you do have to be friendly with each other. Be professional at ALL times.

Be professional at ALL times.

Be professional at ALL times.

If they return your phone calls promptly, give them the same respect. There are MANY agents in Hollywood and saying “no” to any of them is not going to ruin your career. If you decide not to go with an Agency, try to call them and tell them before they call you. Or, at the least, write them a thank you letter and explain that you have decided to move on. Why? Because it’s PROFESSIONAL.

There are many people who go at it without an Agent. I would say most in that position probably started out with an Agent and got to a level where they didn’t want or need one. Some, a select few, never had one. In Television, however, it is almost mandatory. I hope this helps a bit.

© 2009 – Steven L. Sears

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Foundry: Possible Fix for CMOS Rolling Shutter

The Foundry is working on a prototype plug-in to correct some of the distortions created by the rolling shutter on CMOS video cameras. Currently in beta, if all goes well, it should be available relatively soon for a variety of hosts. This video shows FX Guide’s Jeff Heusser (www.fxguide.com) talking to The Foundry’s Chief Scientis, Simon Robinson.

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