How do I know when my screenplay is finished?

Ah, your screenplay is finished. That “Save as PDF” command is just dying for you to click it.

Getting your script out there is you’ve been working years toward. It’s that final moment when you can say “I’m finished with this screenplay.  Time to move on to the next one.” 

But how do you know when that moment arrives?  After countless rewrites, thousands of bad notes, dozens of good notes, and millions of finger miles logged with your favorite keyboard?

To answer those questions, you have to ask yourself a few other questions about your screenplay:

Is your script as entertaining as it could be?

Is there drama in your script?  Make it more dramatic. The problems rich white twin sisters have aren’t always automatically dramatic, but they can be.

Is there comedy in your script?  Make us laugh harder. If you’re not a comedy writer, stick to drama films.  If you are a comedy writer, get better at it.

Is there action in your script?  Give us action that makes our jaws drop.  The litmus test for writing really great action:  Scenes that a Stunt Coordinator would drool over, not a CGI artist.

Every line of your script can always be stronger, briefer, funnier, more heartbreaking. If it hasn’t reached that level, your screenplay probably isn’t finished.

Are your characters interchangeable or redundant?

Or are they unique? Characters that sound alike, or characters who serve virtually the same purpose, really should probably be deleted or merged. We tell stories about characters because of their uniqueness, or how special they are. Each character in your script serves a purpose, whether that purpose is to provide conflict or color or humor or information, or whatever. Don’t overlap them. Make them strong and singular. If your characters are interchangeable or forgettable, your script probably isn’t finished yet.

Are there memorable moments in your screenplay?

What we love about movies most of all is the joy they bring us when we think about the experience we had watching them. We quote dialogue with our friends and family, re-enact scenes to get a laugh, and in our writing, we often emulate or outright replicate the way those movies got us to feel something.

The reason we can do all that is because the movies made us feel something. They formed a memory within us by showing us something memorable. Only if your script has memorable moments — truly memorable moments — is your script finished.

Does your script have any boring pages?

It’s easy to blow past pages in your screenplay where nothing really interesting happens. But what if every single page in your script had something fun, or dramatic, or emotional, or exciting about it? If we go by the old maxim that one page of screenplay equates to approximately one minute of screen time, then why would we want our audience to experience one single minute of boredom? Fill those pages with fun, joy, drama, anger, emotion, whatever you need, but don’t waste that screen time. Until then, I argue you probably haven’t finished your script.

Are you thinking about how people will be watching it?

How we watch movies now is on the small screen, mostly. Sure, we go to the theaters sometimes, but the biggest chunk of moviewatching takes place in the home. More and more, we scroll past thumbnails to select movies to watch on our devices or screens. Ask yourself if the thumbnail for the movie they’re going to make out of your script is something that people will scroll past, or will stop and take a closer look at. Your script might not be finished until you feel confident that your future thumbnail isn’t just one of many the home viewer is going to blow by.

Take our ridiculous quiz below and answer the questions for your screenplay. Yes, it’s extremely, extremely scientific and we have focus-grouped it endlessly and spent millions of dollars on it. And if you believe that, your script probably isn’t finished. Back off man. We’re scientists.

The “Is My Script Finished?” Quiz

Is your main character ever in any sort of interesting conflict, dramatic, physical, or otherwise? 

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Are your characters interesting? Like, really really interesting?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

If there are comedic moments in your script, do you laugh when you read them?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Is your action fun or creative, and described in a way that’s both vivid and succinct?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Are your dramatic scenes crisp and believable within the context of your universe, and does each one move the plot forward?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Is each character in your script unique and necessary, rather than interchangeable with other characters?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No [ ] Meh

Do you have at least one character in your script who you can see becoming memorable along the lines of  Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard?  Or even Bruce Willis in Diehard?   Or at least C3PO in Star Wars?  

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Does every line and every single page entertain the audience?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Does every single plot turn or twist in your script feel both surprising and utterly inevitable?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Is this movie something people would want to pay money to see, or stop on as they’re scrolling through Netflix titles?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No  [ ] Meh

Scoring System

If you scored 10 Yes, congratulations!

If you scored less than 10 in the Yes column, your screenplay is not finished.

And by the way, “Meh” is no way to go through life, son.

Super-Scientific Conclusion

As you can see, our quiz has been, as promised, a truly scientific, highly-analytical and very very serious tool. That it may appears like a fluff piece out of a perfume-smothered issue of Cosmopolitan is merely our way of disguising its true nature.

Is your script finished? Ask yourself all these questions and more, and don’t be afraid to answer them. Remember that it’s not a matter of printing out a document and calling it a day. You’re writing a blueprint for a motion picture or a tv series, which dozens if not hundreds of people are going to work on and (hopefully) millions will spend money to view. Your script is finished when you’ve kept all of that in mind and have done your best to maximize everybody’s time — from the crew to the viewers.

2 thoughts on “How do I know when my screenplay is finished?”

  1. Hi there,

    And thanks for yet another interesting article about the art of screenwriting :P. Just one point that got me scratching my head a little: is it bad if the antagonist is as interesting as the protagonist? What about the idea that the real value of a hero can only be measured by the power of his enemy ?

    Thanks !

    • Every character needs to be interesting. If everybody’s interesting except the protagonist, that could a problem. Or it could be Michael Bay interview.


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