In the next few weeks I will share with you the thoughts of several of the readers from the 2024 Channel 4 screenwriting course – their insightful responses to the experience of reading 250+ scripts each in October & November last year.
But first here are some of my thoughts and responses to the (intense but hugely enjoyable) experience of reading so many scripts in such a short space of time. These are nearly all taken from notes I scribbled to myself in the middle of the process.
The notes in italics are my responses now to what I wrote then –
It’s so hard to compare the quality of different scripts – one where the script is clear, precise, a very well told story compared to another that feels far less well ordered – but more original, distinctive, fresh. Completely different strengths and weaknesses – so how do you compare this? Ultimately this is a completely subjective process!
It comes down to the specifics of what we’re looking for, for this course in particular – Channel 4 values. (Although these too are very hard to define and change to some extent annually, depending on which Channel 4 Drama shows have done well recently).
Recurring themes – anxiety / mental ill-health. Social media. Transgender characters. Cults. 20-something fuck-ups.
Often the thing that really grips you in a script is the confidence of the storytelling. A really strong end of episode hook is so powerful. Conversely if the script is good but there’s no real hook at the end of the episode, it’s disappointing. The beginning of a script needs to be really strong – hit the ground running, grab the reader’s attention straightaway; but the ending too is vitally important. If you can go out of the script on a really strong hook that instantly makes the reader want to read the next episode, this is so powerful (or resolution if this is a single film)
Get the basics right – eg use the conventional Final Draft font so that your script looks professional. Write accurately, clearly and articulately. When you’re reading a lot of scripts, the ones where the writing feels hit-and-miss, riddled with typos and formatting errors make the reading process so much harder and can alienate the reader.
The scripts that come across as being about things that are pressing and contemporary, addressing vital aspects of contemporary society are immediately engaging and stand out from the scripts that don’t do this.
Look at what the highlighted scripts have in common. What I think the entry scripts by the 12 writers on 4screenwriting 2024 have in common is a real particularity of voice. The 12 scripts feel utterly distinctive to those writers. They are either writing about story worlds, characters and ideas that are distinctive to them or communicating their stories and ideas with a real sense of urgency, passion and individuality.
The scripts that stand out are those that are different to anything I’ve read or seen on TV before. That take you into a world with which you’re unfamiliar and persuade you that this insight is authentic.
You can’t help learning from reading so many scripts – about presentation, layout but importantly how to make a story work on the page, how to compel the reader. The 8 of us who go through this intense reading process are very privileged – it is a brilliant learning experience to read so many different scripts – we see what a good script looks like on the page, we read so many examples of outstanding storytelling – and can’t help but learn from this.
Some good scripts don’t reveal how good they are for too long, they build gradually until by the end they are compelling. This won’t work for screenwriting competitions.
The first ten pages are vitally important but the 1st page particularly important. Page 1 needs to have real impact and clarity, it needs to hook the reader right from the start.
It’s so refreshing and engaging when a script launches you straight into significant dramatic action.
Keep the st0ry clear and focused. Be wary of introducing too many characters in the opening pages.
The quality that seems to be most rare is the ability to tell a story with pace, tension and consequences – a page-turner. Many more scripts have really well-written story worlds, characters, dialogue. But the ability to combine all of this with a really compelling dramatic story is less evident. There are lots of scripts that I really admire and in which can see the excellence – without finding them compelling, emotionally engaging or really fun to read.
There aren’t enough really big, distinctive story ideas – ideas that really stand out in their loglines.
How your script looks on the page is important – make sure the formatting / presentation doesn’t distract from the writing. Present the story clearly and economically.
We respond to emotionally committed scripts – stories that confront difficult emotional issues – eg death & grief (particularly if they also do it with humour). Two of the most enjoyable (and funniest) scripts I read were set at and around funerals.
Some of the best story ideas are very simple.
Is it a caption or are you just telling the reader? I seem to ask this question of too many directions like (for instance) ‘PARIS 1988.’
So few flashbacks enhance the story. This at least is my takeaway from too many scripts I read this time.
Teasers. Another over-used device – that can work brilliantly – but be very careful to make sure that your teaser really enhances the story. For someone reading a lot of scripts, often a teaser just means that the script in effect has two different beginnings that you have to get your head round – and sometimes this makes for a more difficult read.
Literary quotes at the start of scripts. Quite a few scripts had these – and IMO they don’t often add anything to the overall read.
The example of one writer who with a friend each decided that they would write a new series pilot episode and share them with each other, each month of 2023. (They both wrote 12 series pilot scripts in 2023!) One of these scripts was his (outstanding) entry for 4sw 2024 and got him an interview – so impressed by this determination, finding the time to do this outside of a full-time day job each and every month – and having a fellow writer to report to, get feedback from each month. Two writers really supporting each other – a great example.
GREENLIGHT SCREENWRITING LAB 2024
I’m delighted to tell you that I will be running this initiative for Irish screenwriters once again this year – and the opening date for entries is this coming Monday Feb 12th – closing on March 1st.
I had a brilliant time with this scheme last year, we read and worked with some outstanding Irish writing and script-editing talent.
The scheme is run out of Irish production company Danumedia with the support of the Screen Ireland National Talent Academy TV and Film and Greasán na Meán Skillnet.
All the information – and the entry form – can be found on my website –
SCRIPT READING & DEVELOPMENT Q&A March 5th
This session / course is now fully booked (I keep these to a max of 8 people) but I will be running another one in April (date TBC). Please get in touch if you’d like to register your interest or reserve a place.
Friday February 9th 2024