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7 Mistakes Great Screenwriters Do Not Make

I love Nollywood. I’ve loved Nollywood since the days of Igbo movies subtitled in English, all the way to the days of Glamour Girls and True Confession.

The repeated pairing of Liz Benson & Sola Fosudo and Emeka Ike & Genevieve Nnaji could not quench this love, nor could soundtracks that told the entire story drown it.

I loved Nollywood when Stella Damasus was the most beautiful flower in the field, and nobody could cry like her, lip trembling and nose quivering. I can’t forget When the Sun Sets (I still have a crush on Bob-Manuel Udokwu!) because it introduced Kate Henshaw to us. I recall with fondness Ramsey Noah’s début role as “ajebutter” in Silent Night, the days when Segun Arinze was “Black Arrow” in our home. I watched with delight as Jim Iyke evolved from playing the useless drug addict who was always a thorn in his wealthy father’s side, to playing an utterly believable lover boy over and over again; my favourite is still his role as Lucky in Unforgettable with Rita Dominic.

I love Nollywood even more now that we’ve seen The Meeting, False, Kokomma, Falling, Mr & Mrs, Torn, Apaye, The Visit, The Wedding Party and many other movies we’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and are proud of. I love that there’s so much to look forward to.

However, every so often a movie comes along that leaves much to be desired, and you find yourself rolling your eyes, cringing, sighing and wishing every screenwriter would get with the programme already!

After observing screenplays written by the greats, and listening to them speak, it is clear that the major mistakes in such movie scripts are usually variants of one of these:

Mistake #1: A slow start.

Once upon a time screenwriters got away with making their viewers wait and wait for the action to start. Those days are gone. You need to seduce your audience into sticking with the movie. If you have an inciting incident, let it happen as early as possible. From your very first scene, your audience should be pulled in and hooked on whatever you’re offering.

Mistake #2: Unnecessary scenes.

When you’ve got the attention of your audience, you want to sustain it and the easiest way to lose it is subjecting them to scenes that are not necessary. There simply should never be a scene that’s not relevant – and I mean relevant – to the plot. There should be a surprise, or some new information, in every scene; no matter how small. Each scene should contribute something. If you can delete a particular scene and still have a complete movie, then that scene is unnecessary. Take it out.

Mistake #3: Predictable plots.

Do we really have to know where the movie is going? I mean, there are people who are gifted at figuring out what’s going to happen, but a good screenplay shouldn’t make it easy. Surprise your audience!

Mistake #4: Dead dialogue.

If you get the best actors in the world and your script doesn’t give them worthy lines, it doesn’t profit you much. Even if you’re saying something that has been said before, there is always a new way to say it. Give us lines we can’t forget.

Mistake #5: Lost plots.

Have you ever seen a movie that was so full of exciting twists and turns only to end in such an empty, disappointing way that it’s obvious the writer did not know how to end it? That downward spiral can be painful and very annoying. As much as possible, know the end of your story before you start writing it, and for goodness’ sake end it well!

Mistake #6: Emotional disengagement.

Your viewers should feel a connection to your characters, whether they’re rooting for them or wishing them death. Haven’t you ever seen viewers tweeting or posting about characters in a TV series as though they were real? You have less time for that kind of bonding with movies, but even so, your audience should never be indifferent to your characters. Even if the emotion a character evokes is hatred, let the viewers hate him. Make your characters believable and relatable, and half your work is done.

Mistake #7: No special moments.

Gosh, I can tell you that movie lovers live for those unforgettable moments that real life seldom offers. I didn’t leave my house to sit at the cinema and just watch everyday life, you know? You’re free to educate me, amuse me, enlighten me or even let me know that what happens to me happens to others as well; only don’t let it be all about that. Give me memorable moments. Warm my heart. Take my breath away.

Give me make-believe, and make me believe it, even if only till the end credits roll.

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Joy Ehonwa

Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at] yahoo.com

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Eketi

    29th April 2017 at 1:01 am

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    As someone learning how to write scripts, this is to be very useful. Thank you.

  2. Eketi

    29th April 2017 at 1:02 am

    [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “trash”. Reason: Failed GASP Bot Filter Test (comment token failure) *]
    As someone who is learning to write scripts, this is very useful. Thank you.

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