How to Write a Screenplay Critique

By J.R. Kambak

A screenplay critique evaluates the screenwriter’s skill in cinematic storytelling. The reader analyzes the script's elements, including: plot, principle characters, dialogue, setting, momentum, formatting and genre. Although there are different ways to evaluate a screenplay, this is a basic blueprint for the novice. The objective is to provide the writer with constructive insights that will assist him in honing his cinematic storytelling ability.

The Screenplay Critique

Start with a line-by-line read-through, making notations on typos, grammatical and formatting errors, listing principle and secondary characters and first impressions. Then do a second read-through, focusing on the screenplay's elements.

The plot defines the sequence of events that lead the protagonist to her objective. This is broken down into the following sequential plot points: the opening hook, mini crisis, dilemma, reaction, reversal, tent pole, epiphany at the low point that causes the protagonist to create a new goal that flows into the climax.

The dimension and depth of characters must create contradiction for the audience to bond with them. Determine if the writer is grinding his own axe or the characters live in their own logic and act accordingly. Characters display both internal and external struggles, exposing their vulnerabilities, strengths, flaws and most importantly an arc, meaning they have grown from the beginning or resolved the plot’s conflict by the end.

Dialogue primarily reveals the characters' voices, and how the characters relate to each other while moving the plot forward. Dialogue sets the pacing and must pop off the page devoid of any overwritten monologues.

It's important to note the story's turning points and the magnitude of the plot’s conflict, and how well conflicts are resolved. Identify the subplots and determine how they support the main plot line, or distract from it.

Structure is the A to B linear journey in three acts. Act I establishes time period, location, the inciting incident, introduces the characters and dilemma. Act II depicts the protagonist and antagonist conflicts and a point of no return with the unexpected twist. Act III is the apex of the story. The other consideration is the action scene descriptions. These must be concise and typically no longer than four to five lines long.

Having completed these steps, a summary can be written highlighting the screenplays strengths and weaknesses and if there is an over-arching plot. Typically, a three paragraph summary is sufficient for the writer to review and cull pertinent feedback from the critique's insights. The general screenplay length is from 90 to 120 pages. A screenplay can be a mixture of genres.

Tip

Articulate your critique with valid evidence and suggestions for revision where appropriate. Avoid generalizations and personal bias. Give the screenplay a shout out if it inspires you.