Does Your Script Have a Ghost?

THIS USEFUL GUIDE should be referred to whenever you get stuck. Ask yourself the following questions, and see if you can unlock your story, and discover the fractures in your story.


image by: Colin K


  • the premise is fractured
  • the premise is not spoken to in enough scenes
  • the premise doesn’t speak to a larger theme
  • the premise is not commercial

Hint: Is your film high concept or low concept?


  • the action is not integrated to the story
  • the action is contrived
  • there is no action

Hint: A well-written script should be composed of visual stimulation.


  • the story has no ghost
  • the ghost is not painful to the hero
  • the hero overcomes the ghost too quickly

Hint: Examine your ghost for the unique characteristics of each genre.


  • the hero is too passive
  • the hero is too reactive
  • the hero is cold (audience cannot sympathize or empathize with hero)

Hint : Review your character essays until you know each one intimately.

Hero’s goal

  • there is more than one goal (the story is fragmented)
  • the goal arc begins too late
  • the goal arc is not specific
  • the goal arc does not build in intensity or importance
  • the goal is unimportant
  • the goal arc is reactive/too negative

Hint: Most stories fail because the hero does not have clearly defined goals and needs.

Hero’s Needs

  • there is no psychological weakness
  • the psychological weakness is not painful to the hero
  • the moral need is vague
  • the moral need doesn’t affect/hurt other characters
  • the hero has no moral need

Hint: A good hero has two problems to solve – an outer problem (goal) and an inner problem (need). There are two types of inner problems– psychological (personal weaknesses) and moral weakness (how your hero reacts with other characters).


  • the backstory is redundant or starts too soon
  • the backstory relies on hackneyed devices like flashback
  • more of the action should be included in backstory

Hint Most scripts start the story too early.


  • there is no main opponent in the story
  • the choice of main opponent is wrong
  • the story lacks conflict
  • the main opponent is internal
  • the main opponent is an organization
  • the opponent is flat or one-dimensional

Hint: The development of the opponent character is the most important in your screenplay.

Scene writing

  • the scene has no climax
  • the scene has no conflict
  • there is no point to the scene
  • the scene does not move the story

Hint: Scenes contain their own structure – a beginning, a middle and an end.

Descriptive passages

  • the descriptive passages are overwritten
  • the descriptive passages are too static
  • the descriptive passages are not visual
  • the descriptive passages do not contain movement

Hint: Great descriptive passages describe people and objects moving with emotion.


  • does not sound like different people talking
  • is on the nose
  • is overwritten

Hint A picture is worth a thousand words. Show your characters doing things as much as possible.


  • the social stage is not appropriate to the story
  • the choice of social stage is unclear
  • there is no social stage

Hint: The choice of setting (social stage) will predetermine the qualities of the hero.


  1. The more time spent planning your script at the first draft stage, the fewer flaws your script will have.
  2. Remember that you are an intuitive storyteller, and this troubleshooting guide may not apply to your story.
  3. To be a successful writer, you must follow the three golden rules of screen writing.

Excerpted from Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay Second Edition by Elliot Grove, © 2009, Elliot Grove. Published by Elsevier, Ltd. All rights reserved.

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