Rejected: Top 10 Screenwriting Pet Peeves

Why Your Script is Getting Rejected

There are many reasons why a script is rejected by industry folks — often the script is just not a match for the company in terms of budget or genre, or it’s not a fit for what the producer or director is seeking at that very moment.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck.  But sometimes, well very often, if not most of the time, it’s because screenwriters are not taking the needed time to fine-tune their scripts and submitting screenplays before they are truly ready to be considered for production. 

Here are ten universal pet peeves from film industry executives and story analysts, with whom I have interviewed for various screenwriting and film publications, and for my book The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out!  This list is in no particular order — however I do admit that I share all these pet peeves with my colleagues.

Screenwriting Pet Peeves

1.     Incorrect industry screenplay formatting loudly demonstrates to the reader that the screenwriter is an amateur, and doesn’t have respect for his or her work — or for the reader’s time.

2.     Inclusion of camera angles.  Directors do not want to be told how to shoot their movie. Period.

3.     Overuse and/or unnecessary usage of voiceovers, dream sequences, and flashbacks.  This is a red flag for story analysts because these devices are often included when the writer does not know how to craft a screenplay.

4.     Typos, grammatical errors, photocopying lines, smudges, coffee stains, and blank and/or missing pages.  This type of carelessness and sloppiness is a clear strike against the writer.

5.     Inconsistent or too many genres in one script indicates that the screenwriter doesn’t know what the genre really is or doesn’t understand the conventions of the genre.

6.     An overabundance of subplots that overshadow the main plot, making it impossible to understand what the narrative is really about.

7.     Dense action paragraphs that read like a novel and/or telegraph what is about to be revealed in dialogue or through visual storytelling, underscores a poorly crafted screenplay.

8.     Dialogue that contains heavy-handed exposition and/or over-explains information about the back-story shows the reader a lack of understanding in solid film storytelling.

9.     Characters must be empathetic in order for the reader to want to turn the pages. The reader must care about your characters — whether it’s love or hate, they must feel something for them. And, characters who don’t have distinct personalities and are (unintentionally) interchangeable or don’t serve a purpose in the plot are equally frustrating for readers.

10.  Rambling and unnecessary scenes that are not advancing the plot, indicate a lack of understanding in crafting a solid structure.


Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, is the author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out!.   She is a regular contributor to many publications, including Indiewire/SydneysBuzz, a monthly Ask the Screenplay Doctor column in, Screenwriter’s Utopia, and NOW WRITE! Screenwriting: Exercises by Today's Best Screenwriters, Teachers and Consultants.  Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide.  Her six short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.  Kouguell worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies.;