My next column about observations I’ve had while reading scripts for contests this year will be short and can be summed up by the cliché: where are the police when you need them. So many times I read screenplays where people are threatened, abducted, attacked, mugged, robbed, see something going on, stumble over a dead body, wake up next to a dead body (fill in the blank here), etc. and they don’t call the police, not because they don’t have a reason not to, but because if they did, the plot wouldn’t work out the way the author needs it to. You really need to have a very strong and convincing reason for people not to contact the authorities for it to get past a reader the vast majority of time (we read a lot of screenplays and the more we run across scripts with this sort of plot turn, the more likely we’re going to recommend one that doesn’t have that plot turn).
Connected to this are scripts where bad guys are killing people, causing mass destruction, having wild chase scenes and shoot outs, and the police never show up, even late, or take the remotest interest. Again, you have to have a very good reason for this.
When questioned why a writer does this, they often will say that “it’s just the genre”. Remember this very carefully: if you say that you are doing something based solely on genre expectations, nine times out of ten, that is code for cliché and lack of imagination. Add to this that more often than naught, it shows one doesn’t have a good grasp of the genre. And if a character is doing something based on genre expectation, that means that the character is doing something because he knows he’s a character in a screenplay.