Screenwriters: How to top the Black List

Alexis Kirke
3 min readJan 1, 2023

The 2022 Black List came out a few weeks ago. I did a statistical analysis of the combined screenplays from the Black List 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2019.

In particular I looked at the top 20 scripts each year and examined what textual features led to them ranking higher in the Black List. Here’s a summary.


Less adjectives influences a higher ranking.

It’s the old cliche we all heard in film school — avoid adjectives. Well it turns out that the higher the proportion of adjectives in a script, on average the lower it came in the Black List top 20 in the last four years. This seems to be the dominant textual effect.

More verbs means a higher ranking.

If you wanted a higher ranking in the last four years’ Black Lists then the larger proportion of your words that are verbs, the better (on average). This is the second most influential textual effect of the lot.

Shorter action paragraphs means a higher ranking.

Following closely on the heels of the verb effect is the action paragraph length effect. Anyone who’s regularly read the Black List scripts the last four years has picked this up consciously or subconsciously. Short snappy action paras are the name of the game if you want to move up that top 20.

Longer Dialogue means a higher ranking.

Strange but true. Short snappy dialogue paragraphs are apparently not a boon in the top 20. The Black List respondents apparently like ’em longer.

This is exactly what happened to me, with my first ever screenplay. Honest.


These effects have a lower statistical significance, but are included as they have some intutitive suggestability.

Too many action paragraphs is a turn off. Strange but true — this less significant effect suggests that while short action paras are nice, too many short paras in total can have a negative effect.

Positive emotion is a positive. Given the #1 scripts of the last few years have been quite twisted, it may seem odd to see this. But it is a much milder effect than the ealier effects. And bear in mind it’s an average across the top 20. We still like a story with some happiness don’t we?

Add some Adverbs. Another mild effect — Black List voters may not like adjectives, but they do apparently like adverbs. Personally, I feel similarly about both.

We don’t like -ings. As a writer I have a love-hate relationship with runs vs running, goes vs going, and so forth. But the Black List top 20 have no love for the -ing. At least at this lower level of significance.

Nouns are a no no. And finally, this bizarre but minor effect that shows how anti-intuitive textual averaging effects can be. Large numbers of nouns relative to the overall word length can have a slightly negative effect. Who’d have thought it?


Yes, I know that there are plenty of example scripts that contradict each effect above, but that’s because statistics works with averages. Also, these effects say nothing about arc, character and the deep story elements that create the cumulative emotional effect of a great screenplay. Sorry.

I found that when I analysed outside of the top 20, the various effects became far less noticeable. Possibly because these scripts have far fewer votes to exhibit an effect. Check out the little diagram below.

As an aside — I have access to a Neural Network that uses textual elements to predict your probability of making the Black List. Feel free to email your pdf and I’ll let you know the result! (

I really hope I’ve done none of these things



Alexis Kirke

Alexis Kirke is a screenwriter and quantum/AI programmer. He has PhDs from an arts faculty and from a science faculty.