(Ray Morton is an author and script consultant, but previously he was forced to slog through hundreds of scripts. These are tips he says can help us stand out from the pack.)
1. A Reasonable Page Count
The first thing Ray does when he gets a script is flip to the back and check the page count. Screenplays are to between 90 and 120 pages long. Any shorter and there probably isn’t enough story. Any longer and the screenplay either has unnecessary plot, too much description or camera moves. Either way, Ray practices his jump shot and chucks it toward the trash.
2. Something Interesting In The First Few Pages
Ray likes when scripts start with a bang. Something exciting, interesting, funny, scary, etc. needs to happen right away to hold his interest.
Scream has an amazing opening that hooks the viewer from page three
Very often Ray had to endure endless amounts of expository blather, giant blocks of description or first pages that look more like a novel than a screenplay (no white space).
3. A Clear Premise
A general’s family is murdered and he is sold into slavery as a gladiator. The stuttering second son of the king suddenly becomes king himself and has to give the most important speech in modern British history. A Hollywood hack whose career has dried up comes to Broadway to reinvent himself as an artist.
The premise, Ray says, is the central part of a dramatic film, and the audience needs to know it as soon as possible – no later than the end of Act 1. Ray states he has – more than once – been forced to endure 100 pages of backstory to set up a premise that pays off on page 110. Jump shot, trash can.
The premise also needs to be clear and there should be only one. Many new writers, Ray says, put two or three premises into their script with unfortunate results.
4. An Interesting Protagonist
They’re only the main character and likely to be in, at minimum, 98% of the scenes. It might be helpful if they weren’t boring. How to not be boring: give the character a clear goal whose actions in pursuit of said goal will drive the plot, Ray states. Meeting the main character as soon as possible is important as well – to avoid confusing the main and secondary characters – and getting their goal revealed as soon as possible so he knows where the story is headed.
5. A Worthy Antagonist
How do we know Clarice Starling is up to snuff? Because she tangled with the most dangerous, psychotic and intelligent bad guy of them all:
Voted the #1 movie villain of all time…You tell him the news.
If the character goal is to get ice cream and only a four year old can prevent it, that is not going to make for a compelling test. Ray says the antagonist must be a formidable obstacle and if a person then a colorful and interesting character – but not more colorful and interesting than the main character.
6. A Clear Conflict Between the Two
The conflict between the protagonist and antagonist must be clear so that it is evident why the two are at odds. The conflict must also escalate continuously becoming bigger and more intense, Ray says.
7. A Story That Develops the Premise
A good script is one in which the story springs from the premise and spins that concept out through three acts to a logical and exciting conclusion, Ray says. If your script is about a gigantic house that flies, then let’s explore that entire concept.
Technically, it is a castle: The script for Howls Moving Castle is a gem.
8. A Story That Brings a Fresh Twist to Its Genre
If the script is a genre piece, the story should incorporate all of the narrative elements that constitute that genre so that it will be satisfying, but to do so in fresh and interesting ways, so the piece won’t be predictable, Roy says.
9. A Plot I Can Follow
If I can’t understand your story, then it’s a good bet I’m not going to recommend it. Nuff said, Roy. Nuff said.
10. A Plot With Momentum
A narrative builds continuously from the inciting incident to the inevitable yet surprising climax. That intensity is hard to achieve…if you keep stopping it for flashbacks, fantasy or dream sequences or asides, or if you allow it to get sidetracked by superfluous subplots, according to Roy.
Roy has more recommendations from his years of experience which you can find at the below link.