You’ve got your script written – phew! You’re pretty happy with the story and structure and characters and so forth – yeah!
But what about the script’s CRAFT? Is your written STYLE coming across well? Is your script a SMOOTH and ENTERTAINING read? Is there anything that will ANNOY or CONFUSE a reader? Could it be even SLICKER or have a better TONE?
Usually in a feedback report, these sorts of issues will not get much coverage or guidance. This is why I began offering PROOFREADING and STYLE MENTORING/EDITING SERVICES, so that things like this could be dealt with separately from analysis on content.
So what are some of the most common style editing notes that I give when offering this sort of analysis? Here’s 10 of them!
NEEDS A PROOFREAD
Spellings and grammar trip us all up. Not a huge biggie because your story is what counts, but better to present a polished piece that’s as smooth to read as possible! Fix it by getting a friend or professional proofreader to go over it (I can help with this) and by always checking over your possessions and apostrophes…
Possessions and apostrophes can seem really tricky, but there are some quick fixes. My favourite trick is to separate out the words in order to check if the apostrophe is needed.
It’s = it is. So if you have “its a red one”, check if it works with the apostrophe by adding “is” – “it is a red one”. That makes sense! So YES, we need the apostrophe: “it’s a red one”.
Likewise the other way around. If you have “it’s engine chugged” you’d check that you actually need the apostrophe by adding the “is” – “it is engine chugged”. Doesn’t sound right! So NO, we don’t need the apostrophe: “its engine chugged”.
Similar things can be done for the other examples. It’s = it has. You’re = you are. There’ll – there will. They’ll = they will.
The words without apostrophes are often possessions. Its engine = the bike’s engine. Your bike = the bike belongs to you.
There/their can be thought of as position or description versus possession. The bike is over there (position). Their ball = the ball belongs to them (possession).
More examples HERE.
SLUGLINES NEED SIMPLIFYING
Sluglines may be too detailed or focussed on specifics. Keep them simple. For example INT. LAURA’S BEDROOM AT THE END OF CORRIDOR – DAY can be simplified to INT. LAURA’S BEDROOM – DAY. Also, it’s wise to keep time descriptions limited to DAY/NIGHT unless any others such as DAWN are absolutely necessary to the plot.
SCENES NEED MORE INDICATIVE FORMATTING
It can be easy to forget to indicate things when you’re lost in the writing of a great story, but when you go back through the script it’s a good idea to make sure that every time there’s movement new sluglines are used. So for example, instead of describing a character walking out of a bedroom door and down the stairs into the kitchen, you’ll want to indicate the changes of location. It may seem tedious, but there are ways around it to help keep up the pace. For example one-word sluglines. If your characters are moving about in a location this can be really handy. For example:
INT. LAURA’S HOUSE – LATER
Laura stumbles through the front door, dumps her bags and half-runs into the —
–where she does an impressive flip onto the couch.
You can also indicate time differences easily by using LATER in the slugline. Don’t forget to also indicate things like the beginning and end of montages, flashbacks, dreams and intercuts (where we alternate between characters who are in different locations – usually on the phone to one another – without having to repeat all the sluglines). These usually take the form of parentheticals (EXAMPLE) at the end of the slugline to start, and (END EXAMPLE) in parantheticals at the end of the scene/sequence before the next slugline.
NEEDS TO BE IN THE “NOW”
This can indicate grammar, such as using past tense instead of present tense (she reached VS she reaches), -ing descriptions (she’s cycling VS she cycles), “is” descriptions (he is seen negotiating VS he negotiates) and using too many words like “as” to connect actions. Keeping descriptions concise and in the “now” really helps the flow of reading and the pace.
NEED TO FORMAT ALL DIALOGUE
This one can be about several issues. The fact that, sometimes, writers continue dialogue after an action break without labelling the character name again is one I see a lot. This might be OK in a play script, but in a screenplay we need to have everything labelled. I also see dialogues split up by parentheticals or even with gaps. Don’t do this! It can also refer to instances when descriptions have dialogues amidst them, such as “she mumbles about being bored” or “there’s a conversation in the background about pop songs”. If these things are relevant to the plot, then they need to be included. Granted, things can be improvised by actors, but for a script reader it has the potential to come across as lazy writing.
TOO MUCH REPETITION
This one’s easy to miss when you’re reading your own work, but when you read scripts all day repetitions can start to get annoying. It mostly concerns small things such as using SHE or HE all the time, or repeating something several times throughout a description.
For example, “Laura sees a ball in the distance. The ball is orange and has writing on it. She squints but can’t make it out. She goes to the ball and picks it up but the ball drops and bounces away. The ball rolls up to a pair of feet.” This description has overuse of both “she” and “ball”.
Always rewrite descriptions with both simplicity and creativity in mind. Whilst it’d be easy to simplify to “Laura sees a ball with writing on it, picks it up, drops it at the feet of–” it would then be a little dull. So we have to think about creativity too. For example “A flash of orange catches Laura’s eye and she quints: a ball… with writing on it. She grabs it, struggling to grip its worn sides but it’s no use – it drops at the feet of–”
TOO MANY KISSING NEIGHBOURS AND SEPARATED LOVERS
This one’s a bit of a silly one really but if your reader is a stickler for the English language then it will grate on them after a while. Kissing neighbours is where a writer will turn two separate words into one, such as ABIT and ALOT and PENCILCASE. Separated lovers is the opposite, where a word that should be one is split in two, such as TOE NAIL and WIND SCREEN (WIPER) and BOOK CASE. Yes, it’s a tedious one and isn’t really a problem, so don’t sweat it, but all the more reason to get a good proofread!
Again, it can be easy to miss important facts when you’re engrossed in what your characters are getting up to. However, it’s important to be clear who is doing what (or who is having what done to them). For example, you may have several characters in a scene and the description isn’t clear on who is being referred to, or the order of a sentence may be misleading. For example in “Matt pushes Steve. He sneezes” we would question who sneezes, Matt or Steve?
INNER STUFF NEEDS OUTING
We all know that writing what a character thinks and feels is a bit of a no no, as is including back story in the description. Granted, sometimes it can be helpful. But in general whatever can’t be seen (inner stuff only characters will know) needs outing. A bit like SHOW don’t TELL. If a character “feels” something, show it. If a character “doesn’t understand” or “doesn’t know what to say”, won’t this be made obvious by the actor? Therefore, some descriptions like this simply aren’t needed at all. Essentially, we’re looking for moderation when it comes to embellishing descriptions.
NEEDS MORE ENERGY AND TONE
Getting your story down on the page is a tough process, but a lot of the time the craft comes through in the rewriting. Take time to add energy and tone to your script, especially the descriptions, in order to make the script exciting to read. We’ve covered repetition and making the action “in the now”. Avoiding big chunks of descriptions (or dialogues) is the first step. Split them up, or better still REDUCE THEM. Think about tone, too, which can be affected by genre. In a horror movie, we don’t want loads to read – we want to get straight to the point and more importantly straight to the scares. In an angry or sad scene, you might want to create tension and an atmosphere. Essentially, we want to cut the unnecessary stuff and turn static and boring descriptions into a tight, entertaining read.
Want to find out what some of the common script notes are in general? Then check out my COMMON SCRIPT NOTES blog post HERE.
Want a proofread or a style edit? Check out my services HERE.
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