9 Common Elements Of Award-Winning Screenplays

February 8th, 2022  |  by maria

9 Common Elements Of Award-Winning Screenplays

There is nothing more satisfying and prestigious for a screenwriter than being appreciated for a screenplay they have written.

Getting awarded by a jury that is experienced and experts in their field is something that makes you feel special and gives you the validation you need. Some of the award-winning screenplays we have seen over the years have all had some common elements that help them stand out from the rest.

There are countless elements and factors that come together in a cohesive manner to make a movie that is loved by people all across the globe. Screenwriters and script coordinators work endlessly to make the story come to life. Over the years, we have seen academy award winning screenplays from various genres, even different languages. 

When writing a screenplay, there are a lot of things you have to consider and keep in mind, especially if you want to write something that will be considered one of the best screenplays of all time.

So, what are some of the common elements of award-winning screenplays? Let’s find out!

9 Common Elements Of The Best Screenplays

9 Common Elements Of Award-Winning Screenplays

1.    Importance Of Disbelief

Some of the best screenplays of all time do one thing extremely well: making us believe in things that are far from real. The situations in the movie are so over-the-top crazy or extreme that they become hard to believe. However, we still do believe them. The element of creating circumstances that are far from reality makes us interested in the story, and makes our own life seem dull in comparison. 

Any fantastic movie we watch does the same thing. Award-winning screenplays walk us through scenes and scenarios that get more outrageous with time. The most amazing part is, these movies make the scenarios seem believable and we end up thinking they are real, when they are clearly not. 

2.    Heroes Have To Solve A Second Problem

You cannot create a memorable and award-winning screenplay by giving the hero one problem to solve in the entire movie. If there is nothing going on on the side, the story is just predictable and something we have all seen a million times.

The main problem or conflict in your screenplay can be obvious and visible. However, you need to add a second conflict that is more of an inner problem your protagonist is going through. It could even be that even the protagonist isn’t aware of the problem, but it is still there.

3.    Strong Screenplays Have Strong Openings

If you can’t get the attention of the viewers with your opening scene, you won’t be able to get their attention for the rest of the movie either. You need to use the opening scene to set the theme and pace of the movie and give the audience a clear idea of what is to come in the future.

The opening scene of your screenplay depends on the genre of your movie as well. For example, if you are writing a romantic screenplay, the opening scene might be two or three pages long. Whereas, the opening scene of an action movie can be one-page long.

4.    Show Ambition

When working on any project, you need to show that you are ambitious about it. Take risks and do things out of your comfort zone. All great screenplays are ambitious when it comes to the ideas and scope of the story. When you write an ambitious story, it is evident in the movie.

An award-winning movie tries its best to present the screenwriter’s idea in a way that connects with the audience and makes them think even after the movie is finished. Your screenplay should aim to teach something to the people who will watch the movie and give a strong message.

5.    Create Your Own Structure

“Structure”. How many times have screenwriters heard this term and been misled? It is an unhelpful term when it comes to writing screenplays. There should be no fixed structure to your screenplay. The structure depends on the way your character goes through the events of the screenplay. 

A good screenplay can have one theme that plays out throughout the movie, but intelligent screenwriting can throw a curveball and make the main character focus on another goal temporarily. Having a fixed structure can make your story predictable and boring instead of exciting for the audience.

6.    Blend Genres

As we have mentioned above, you have to learn to take risks if you want to write award-winning screenplays. Sticking to one genre can make your story dry and it might feel stretched out. You have to learn to blend genres together to create exciting stories that people will enjoy.

Some of the best screenplays of all time tend to bring two genres together seamlessly to create a cohesive movie. Some of the most popular genres that have been blended together are action and adventure and romance and comedy. To write the perfect screenplay that brings two genres together, you should study similar projects that have been made in the past.

7.    Choose The World

When writing a screenplay, you have to make a lot of choices. One of the most prominent one being choosing the world you want to base the story in. It could be one of two: the world we live in and know as the audience or creating a new world altogether.

All great movies show us the world in a way we haven’t seen before. If your screenplay is based in our world, you can show us aspects we don’t notice or know closely. You can also create a new world and take us through an exciting journey that teaches us something we can use in our life to make it better. 

8.    Decide Your Motive

If you want to write an award-winning screenplay, you need to have a motive for your story. The motive of your movie, or the theme of your movie should be clear from the start. One of the most common mistakes made by screenwriters is fracturing the storyline or breaking it.

For example, if you tell people you are becoming a criminal lawyer one day and the next day you say you’re going to be a fisherman, you are going to lose them and they can’t keep up with your train of thought. However, if you told them you are thinking of becoming a human rights lawyer, they will be more understanding. This is why you should never break away from the motive or theme of your movie completely.

9.    Give A Message

A movie that has a strong message for the audience is a movie that they will remember for a long time. Some of the best screenplays of all time have had a significant impact on the way people look at life and how they think about certain things.

Giving a strong message to the audience through your screenplay can make it more memorable for the people watching. Try to work with themes that are more universal and topics that people can relate to and understand more personally. 

9 Common Elements Of Award-Winning Screenplays

Best Screenplays Of All Time

Some of the most talented screenwriters have written some academy award winning screenplays. Let’s take a look at some of the best screenplays of all time.

Get Out (2017)

Jordan Peele was the mastermind screenwriter behind the acclaimed horror movie of 2017, Get Out. The movie made everyone see the genre in a new light. Even though people were skeptical about whether it would win the academy award or not, since it is a horror movie, it was still impressive enough to be awarded with the academy award for best original screenplay.

Get Out was a movie that had multiple layers and provided us with social commentary in a way we had not experienced before. 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction is widely known as Quentin Tarantino’s best work, and one of the best screenplays of all time. Tarantino wrote the screenplay for the movie based on stories by himself and Roger Avary, which is an excellent feat in itself.

The one element that makes Pulp Fiction stand out the most is the fact that it has a non-linear structure. All the scenes are taking place out of the typical sequential order, making the audience curious to find out how everything comes together in the final act of the movie.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Another academy award winning screenplay, The Usual Suspects is a movie that stays with you for a long time. If you have ever thought of becoming a screenwriter, you must read the screenplay for The Usual Suspects to understand what makes this movie so special.

The Usual Suspects is one of the most well-told stories of all time and has a solid structure and foundation. The fundamentals of the movie are so well-written that people are bound to appreciate it for what it is. There is nothing over-the-top about The Usual Suspects, and perhaps that is what makes it stand out.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Words can never be enough when it comes to describing Citizen Kane. To say that this movie and the screenplay is a masterpiece is somewhat of an understatement. In a time where there were no special effects or high production value, Citizen Kane made Orson Welles an overnight sensation for how he wrote, directed, and starred in the movie.

Widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, the screenplay for Citizen Kane was also subject to some controversy. However, all of the reports were proven false and Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz share credit for the screenplay for the movie and they also share the academy award given to the movie. 

Chinatown (1974)

If you have been interested in screenplays, or movies in general, you have to admit that the screenplay for Chinatown is one of the best of all time. It is an excellent example of constructing a story in the most masterful way, leaving no loose threads in the end.

The ending of the movie is extremely well-written and executed. Students in film schools all across the globe still study the movie to this day. For any aspiring screenwriter, studying the screenplay for Chinatown is incredibly beneficial as there is a lot to learn. 

Final Takeaway

A screenplay is one of the most crucial threads that ties a movie together. There are various elements of an award-winning screenplay that make it stand out and become memorable for years to come. There is a lot to learn from academy award winning screenplays for all screenwriters. 


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