Script Room: What the readers thought

Some of the Script Room Spring 2012 scripts.

In the last Script Room, we had numerous conversations with the readers sifting scripts all the way through the process – about the standard of work, about what excited them, about what was similar or different from the previous system. And, crucially, about what they felt was letting scripts down at each hurdle. So we asked them, once they’d made their decision about a script not progressing through to the next stage, to make a tally of the reasons why – including such things as character, dialogue, use of the medium/form/format, originality, story and structure, and the overall coherence and world of the piece.

When crunching these numbers later, we noticed some interesting trends and patterns. At the first sift stage, the larger proportion of recurring problems across all kinds of scripts (childrens, radio comedy, TV comedy, stage, TV drama, radio drama, film) were character, dialogue and story. The areas where scripts were less problematic were in the use of the medium and the overall coherence of the world. So, the readers generally felt writers were letting themselves down in creating engaging characters, voicing those characters convincingly, and giving them enough of an engaging story.

This didn’t surprise us hugely – you can look at the scripts on our website and get a really good idea of what any kind of script should look like for any given medium. But creating engaging characters with engaging story remains a perennial challenge. What was interesting was then how the numbers shifted when it came to the second sift – beyond the first 10 pages, and further into the story. For these scripts, an increasing/increased problem was the story. Character and dialogue continued to be major reasons for not progressing through this second sift stage – but story was a bigger reason (and was particularly noticeable in radio dramas and film scripts). Also, at this stage, the originality of the story as it progressed became an increasing problem – and something the readers were thinking more about, the more they read. The one set of figures that bucked this trend was in children’s TV, where the problem was less to do with story as to do with the use of medium/format – or rather, the readers felt the scripts were somehow less understanding of and comfortable with a TV drama that works for children.

There was one further stage after this in the sifting process. The scripts that progressed past the second sift were given a ‘yes’ and a ‘maybe’ verdict. When the ‘maybe’ scripts were revisited, the overwhelming reason for them not becoming a ‘yes’ - and therefore not progressing to the full read and feedback stage – was to do with story and originality. So at this stage, the readers were enjoying the characters, dialogue, the world, the form/medium, but felt the scripts were weakest in terms of having an engaging and original enough story.

Conclusions? Well, it was a schematic way of assessing where the problem areas lay. However the data does tune in with what the readers were telling us and what we were talking about all the way through. Good characters and dialogue can get scripts a fair way along the process. But before long, the story needs to carry them and be just as strong, and they need to feel original and stay original. And maybe these are the things that are at the heart of it – whether they’re scripts from new writers or work being made for TV, radio, film and stage. Character, story and originality.

So if you’re sending a script into us, then pause. Stand back. Take another look. Are character, story and originality the most important things in your script? And if not, why not?

The Script Room is the BBC writersroom's new system for receiving unsolicited scripts from the public.

 The Autumn 2012 Script Room is now open for submissions from writers - read full details on how to submit your script to us.  The deadline for submissions is 31st October 2012.

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