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What Makes a Good Scriptwriter?

By Miles Chicoine | 15th April 2021

Films, TV Series, Audiobooks, Video Explainers, Commercials, Animation Sequences, Radio Dramas. 

These are just a small selection of mediums that require a compelling script. As the creation of digital content continues to grow exponentially, attention spans are getting shorter. The success of any production is hugely reliant on believable writing. So, if you've never hired or worked with a scriptwriter before, how do you assess if they will be suitable for your project? 

If you're commissioning a screenplay, the quality of a scriptwriters' work is primarily gauged by their ability to mix and deliver the age-old storytelling formula successfully: A recognizable theme, a strong plot, and compelling character interactions all masterfully woven together. On the other hand, the core ingredients for copywriting in alternative formats can be a little more elusive. 

Exciting advancements in technology have enabled some hugely talented scriptwriters to build and develop storied careers. Unfortunately, it has also allowed a veritable sea of pretenders and self-proclaimed professionals to muddy the waters because the same technology now adjusts historically assessable hallmark traits like spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.

In theory, scriptwriting is a skill that anyone can develop, and there is no objective' golden standard' that exists. So, if you're speaking with a prospective scriptwriter, how do you go about identifying greatness? Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs that you can look for:



The characteristics of a good scriptwriter

Naturally Collaborative. First and foremost, scriptwriters are, in principle, easy people to work with. Great listeners by nature have a natural ability to interpret and expand on trails of thought that draw out even more creativity from everyone in the pre-production team. They love to listen to new ideas and accelerate and broaden their direction.

Highly Resourceful. The scriptwriter knows how to apply a fresh take on an existing or well-established idea to catch the audience's attention. They consistently demonstrate a flair for using unique perspectives, allowing them to breathe new life into an otherwise dry or familiar topic. Equally, good scriptwriters aren't daunted by a void and are inspired and self-motivated enough to build vital concepts from scratch.

Emotionally Intelligent. A strong sense of social awareness and empathy enables a scriptwriter to recognize influencing emotions and how they are managed. They inherently allow their audience to build perceptions and conclusions that they can call their own. Equally, the combined creativity and maturity of a scriptwriter's emotional intelligence will enable them to navigate around the degenerative qualities of apathy and clichés.

Naturally Inquisitive. Ask an established author or scriptwriter about how long they spend researching their average topic. If they reply within "a couple of hours", then run a mile. Good scriptwriters have a profound respect for research. A curious and investigative mind gathers relevant insight and perspective by asking good questions. Good scriptwriters have a propensity to research topics sufficiently enough to build depth in their independent understanding. In turn, this allows them to offer educated insights and formulate opinions from a layer of authority.

Methodical. A good scriptwriter knows how to work with experienced producers and the vital importance of proper formatting. To this extent, they almost religiously follow guild standards or, at the very least, stay consistent with Courier font size 12 for all of their work. Ask the scriptwriter what their favourite software is. If they're any good, you'll hear examples like Celtx, Trelby, and WriterDuet. Consummate professionals always consider themselves as students of their craft, so you might also ask their recommendations for books on scriptwriting. 

They have established editor relationships. If a scriptwriter doesn't have a preferred or go-to editor, that should set your alarm bells ringing. Excellent copy is never produced in a vacuum, and legitimate authors form close partnerships with other writers who follow the golden principle: writing is re-writing. The constructive criticisms and pragmatic feedback of an editor are the only ways they can measure the quality of their material. Poor writers and "great self-editors" often go hand-in-hand. 

RELATED: Why It's Important to Edit Your Audiobook Text Before Recording It

Relevant Experience. Naturally, more significant expertise or background of practice or engagement with a subject allows for more detailed and nuanced messages. It also allows a scriptwriter to maintain consistent house styles and build progressiveness in a theme or brand message. The best scriptwriters are very selective about their work and will often turn down work that doesn't fit with their skills. This isn't because they're not prepared to push their boundaries. They are simply honest with themselves. A scriptwriter dedicated to a high standard of work will always want to draw on a position of strength.

Open Minded. A versatile author knows how to form and share perspectives that transcend strong religious beliefs or political biases except in cases where it might be a deliberate requirement. They draw on a headspace that is free from dispositions that might alter or influence the intended direction of production as doing so will alienate large proportions of an audience.

Technique driven. Film school teaches a class technic called "Show, don't tell," where text allows a reader to experience a story through sensory actions and feelings. Reasonable indications of this are a strong use of verbs, a careful avoidance of adverbs and a strong focus on actions and reactions. Good scriptwriters know how to avoid the classic amateur traps associated with the author's expansion, summarization and description. 

They are personally invested. An author needs to feel an emotional attachment to the intended reaction of the audience. If their heart's not in it, it's going to show. Great scriptwriters don't wait for you to ask them how they feel about this. They make a point of telling you how important it is for them to achieve a positive outcome. When working on something new, they will often want to understand how the audience will react—this is a good symbol of commitment. Don't make the mistake of misjudging a question like this as a sign of insecurity. They're looking to make a difference.


In conclusion

The above is by no means a definitive, perfect or exhaustive list. Still, it should give you a better insight into the essential qualities and characteristics most common to successful scriptwriters.

Also, keep in mind that scriptwriting techniques vary greatly, depending on the medium. The skills required for TV or film scriptwriting are very specialist and won't always translate well into corporate video, radio shows or audio guide tours. And obviously, specialist subjects like medical/healthcare or technical engineering rely more heavily on professional working experience in those domains. 

What remains consistent with all good scriptwriters, authors, and content writers is they understand the fundamental principle of copywriting to the extent that every story has a start, middle, and end. Differing mediums will change the writing style and always make the journey memorable and engaging, staying on point. 

Last but not least, if there's one thing you must hold a prospective scriptwriter to account for, it's their commitment to leading their audiences to a compelling conclusion. The bottom line is this: No one likes or wants to wrap up a journey with vague abstractions or loose ends. 

A strong finish is quite literally what makes everything else fall right into place.


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Miles Chicoine

Miles Chicoine

Managing Director and co-founder of Voquent.

About Author

Miles Chicoine

Miles Chicoine

Managing Director and co-founder of Voquent.