Overused film tropes that will get your screenplay trashed!

Header image depicting Cher and Dionne from Clueless. An example of the Black Best Friend tropes. Text reads; "are you guilty of these overused film tropes?"

There are some things in storytelling that we repeat, rehash, and make anew. That’s part of the human condition; we love telling stories and boy howdy, do we love hearing, reading, and seeing them on the screens. Chalk it up to the hero’s journey, but humans are just super into that rising-action/climax/conclusion cycle. And within that cycle we come up with literary tropes as well; the wise old mentor, the sidekick, the monster. These have been around since humans first sat around a fire together telling stories.

As storytelling evolved, so to have these tropes. In fact, with regards to film and TV, there’s a whole website dedicated to cataloging them. Sure we have wise old mentors, but we also have The Hacker, who can smash a keyboard and get into any computer system. We have The Jock and The Cheerleader and myriad other roles we slot our characters into. There are themes that get repeated, lines of dialogue that pop up again and again — i.e. techno-jargon followed by a, “Speak English!” — and even plot holes that writers fall into again and again.

Writing and storytelling are hard; it’s easy to walk on the well-trod path that others have set before. In fact, in many ways it’s a good thing; the hero’s journey speaks to us on a nearly primal level. Humans like it, and your story probably already follows obliquely; let it. Have fun with it.

But there are some tropes, particularly in film and screenwriting, that we do not need anymore.

The following list is a collection of some of my least favorite writing tropes. They’re just malarkey. Frankly, they are dated and offensive. You can do better.

5 Unexpected Books That’ll Make Your Screenwriting Better (and one popular one you can trash!)

There’s a slew of books and lists of books about how to write screenplays, and they’re all fine, but let me tell you, it’s the weird and unexpected books that really added to my writing chops. Read on for a list of books you need on your shelves to up your writing game, and your life!

(This article contains affiliate links from bookshop.org! Buying through these links gives me a small commission and supports independent bookstores! I’ve also included my regular amazon affiliate links for you as well if that’s easier.)


1. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook – Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (amazon link)

If you’re my age or older you may remember when this book, (along with a handful of offshoots and sequel books), came out. I bought my copy from the now-defunct Border’s to give you an idea of the time period (ah the early to mid-aughts. What a time to be alive).

This may not seem like the kind of book that would help with writing at all, but it is in fact a gold mine of plots, solutions, and tips for living in a dangerous world. If you’re writing an action movie, this is your bible! Not only does it outline what to do in weird, worst-case, situations (which actually eases my anxiety a lot) but it’s a trove of inspiration. Put your characters in these predicaments and see how they react. The best part, your characters probably don’t know the ‘right’ way to react in the situations in the book; these worst-case scenarios can get even wilder! 

How to write accents in your screenplay!

Part of the Dialogue Doctor series!

(Disclosure; some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you choose to purchase through them)

The Dialogue Doctor is back after a long hiatus, mainly due to quarantine depression (because seriously, this situation is depressing…). Got a question about writing dialogue? I’m here to help! It’s the one thing I know how to do!

So you have a great story idea, something really whacky and fun! Congrats. And the best part? there’s a zany character who speaks differently than ‘normal people!’ You’re excited to write out each word they mispronounce in detail in your screenplay! Sounds like it’s going to be a great source of both comedy and plot! 

Maybe not. Actually, one million percent not.

How to write effective accents in your screenplay!

Charlie Brown going to Lucy in her Psychiatric Help Booth; The Doctor is In! The Dialogue Doctor!
The Dialogue Doctor is In!

Let’s learn all about writing accents in this latest installment of the Dialogue Doctor. The Dialogue Doctor is back after a long hiatus, mainly due to quarantine depression (because seriously, this situation is depressing…). Got a question about writing dialogue? I’m here to help! It’s the one thing I know how to do!

So you have a great story idea, something really whacky and fun! Congrats. And the best part? there’s a zany character who speaks differently than ‘normal people!’ You’re excited to write out each word they mispronounce in detail in your screenplay! Sounds like it’s going to be a great source of both comedy and plot!

Maybe not. Actually, one million percent not.

Leave the actors alone! Writing scripts that actors love!

Lucy and Charlie Brown at Lucy's psychiatric help booth. The unofficial mascot of the dialogue doctor series.

Something I am guilty of doing in my screenplays and have to actively fix in later drafts of work is over-directing the actors. Adding too many ‘umm’s and notes. Not the worst no-no in screenwriting etiquette, but not a great look for anyone. It’s a habit that makes sense; you know how the scene is supposed to play out in your head, and writing it with every pause and tone clearly marked is comfortable and safe. Arguably it’s great for a first draft! There is no misinterpreting your words and meaning. Except that’s the problem, isn’t it?

(Betsy the Gremlin is a self-appointed Dialogue Doctor. Everyone says she’s good at writing dialogue and by gum she wants you to be good at it too! This post may contain affiliate links; I earn a small commission that helps support this blog when you purchase through these links at no cost to you.)

The Dialogue Doctor; Leave the Actors Alone

(Betsy the Gremlin is a self-appointed Dialogue Doctor. Everyone says she’s good at writing dialogue and by gum she wants you to be good at it too!)

Part One of Many; Leave the Actors Alone

Something I am guilty of doing in my screenplays and have to actively fix in later drafts of work is over-directing the actors. Adding too many ‘umm’s and notes. Not the worst no-no in screenwriting etiquette, but not a great look for anyone. It’s a habit that makes sense; you know how the scene is supposed to play out in your head, and writing it with every pause and tone clearly marked is comfortable and safe. Arguably it’s great for a first draft! There is no misinterpreting your words and meaning. Except that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Chapter One; The Boy Who Found Harry after a Tragedy – Medium.com

This is the first installment of my very not-finished Potter Project, where I go through each chapter of the first Harry Potter book and try to find a way to translate it into a decent screenplay scene. This article focuses on chapter one and starting the proposed film at a different point than with the Dursleys.

If we break this down, one third of this project is light academia — looking at a text and interpreting it — while another third is practical; practicing for the sake of practicing — taking that interpretation and making it a viable screenplay scene as a thought exercise.

The final third is that I’m a nerd with some free time.

Betsy the Gremlin

Part two will be posted eventually, but for now, check it out here. ↙️

Chapter One; The Boy Who Found Harry After a Tragedy

Wants and Needs and What That Means – Medium.com

© Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille

The first medium.com article I ever wrote, exploring the way that screenwriting instruction focuses on what characters want and need, but without explaining what those things actually mean in terms of writing. It’s a strange little language/code-switching barrier that warrants a deeper look, with Remy’s journey as a focal point.

One of the core elements in any text on screenwriting is to understand your protagonist’s want versus their need. On the surface, this seems reasonable. Knowing your character’s motivations — used here as a term for wants and needs as a driving force — is fundamental and relatable. How many times have you known that something you wanted was bad for you in some way and still wanted it? The internal conflict of a protagonist is when wants and needs don’t match up.

Betsy the Gremlin

Read the rest of the article here; ↘️

Wants and Needs and What That Means