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Screenwriting Contest Advice

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GREAT Exposure for Contest Winners & Finalists!

Advice from Screenwriting Contest Readers:
How to Make Your Script Stand Out

By Jerry Traynor, Associate Editor,

Entering a screenwriting contest can be a nerve-wracking experience. With thousands of scripts vying for attention, it's crucial to ensure your screenplay stands out. Contest readers, who sift through these countless entries, offer invaluable insights into what makes a script shine - or sink. Here's a compilation of advice from seasoned contest readers that can help you refine your screenplay and increase your chances of success.

  1. Nail the First Ten Pages

    The beginning of your screenplay is critical. Readers often decide within the first ten pages if a script is worth continuing. Start with a strong hook, introduce your main characters, and set the tone effectively.

    Tip: Avoid starting with cliched scenarios or overly long setups. Get to the core of your story quickly.

  2. Create Compelling Characters

    Characters are the heart of your screenplay. They should be well-developed, relatable, and have clear motivations. Readers look for characters that evoke emotion and drive the story forward.

    Tip: Give your characters distinct voices and avoid stereotypes. Ensure they have arcs that show growth or change.

  3. Show, Don't Tell

    Screenwriting is a visual medium. Instead of heavy dialogue and exposition, use actions and visual storytelling to convey information. Readers appreciate when they can infer details from what they see on the page.

    Tip: Write scenes that allow the audience to see character traits and story developments rather than being told through dialogue.

  4. Pacing and Structure

    A well-paced script keeps readers engaged. Follow the traditional three-act structure but don't be afraid to innovate within it. Ensure that each act has a clear purpose and contributes to the overall narrative arc.

    Tip: Regularly check that each scene advances the plot or deepens character development. Trim any superfluous scenes.

  5. Polished Writing and Formatting

    Nothing turns off a reader quicker than a poorly formatted or error-ridden script. Proper formatting shows professionalism and respect for the reader's time.

    Tip: Use screenwriting software to maintain industry-standard formatting. Proofread rigorously for grammar and spelling errors.

  6. Unique Voice and Style

    Readers are drawn to scripts with a distinct voice. Your unique perspective and style can set your screenplay apart from the rest.

    Tip: Don't be afraid to take risks with your writing style, but ensure it serves the story and is not just for show.

  7. Strong Dialogue

    Dialogue should be natural, concise, and character-specific. Each line of dialogue should serve a purpose, whether advancing the plot, revealing character, or adding to the tone.

    Tip: Read your dialogue out loud to see if it sounds authentic. Avoid on-the-nose dialogue where characters state exactly what they are thinking or feeling.

  8. Clear and Engaging Logline

    A compelling logline is essential as it's often the first thing a reader sees. It should succinctly convey the essence of your story, including the main character, their goal, and the stakes.

    Tip: Craft several versions of your logline and test them on peers to see which one grabs attention the best.

  9. Marketability and Originality

    While originality is crucial, readers also consider the marketability of a script. A unique twist on a familiar genre can be more appealing than a completely avant-garde concept.

    Tip: Research current market trends and see where your script fits. Balance innovation with elements that have proven audience appeal.

  10. Receive and Implement Feedback

    Before submitting to contests, get feedback from trusted sources. Be open to constructive criticism and willing to make revisions.

    Tip: Join screenwriting groups or workshops to get diverse perspectives on your script. Use the feedback to refine and improve your screenplay.


Following this advice from screenwriting contest readers can significantly improve your chances of making a lasting impression. Remember, the goal is to create a script that not only stands out but also resonates with readers and, eventually, audiences. Happy writing!

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