AVOID ANYTHING OBVIOUS
This can involve small, insignificant descriptions like “X walks over to the door” and “as” phrases like “As X does something, Y notices something about her” – essentially, you don’t actually need the “as” at all; it’s just one of those overused words that could be cut. Parentheticals fall under this category, too – if it’s obvious it’s not needed.
TRUST THE ACTORS
You only really need to use a parenthetical if the line of dialogue would otherwise be too ambiguous – for example, sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is being sarcastic or serious. Adding pauses, beats and other directions for how actors should say their lines really just isn’t needed – likewise with describing every little action they must follow in the scenes, such as “X nods her head” or “X puts her hand up to her head”. Granted, sometimes these descriptions can add a nice bit of emotional resonance – just don’t do it all the time!
FIX PLURALS AND APOSTROPHES
Plurals usually entail just adding an “s” to a word, so don’t use an apostrophe! Apostrophes mostly indicate possession. If something belongs to something else, we use an apostrophe and then an “s” – like “the dog’s ball”. If there’s more than one dog, then you put the apostrophe after the “s” – like “the dogs’ ball”. Character names can cause confusion. The general rule is, if the person’s name already ends in an “s”, you still add an apostrophe and an “s” to indicate possession – like “Jess’s purse”. Other apostrophes indicate that words have been shortened/put together. For example “don’t” is actually short for “do not”. When put together, we don’t need the extra “o” so we take it out, and to show that we have done this we put an apostrophe there instead.
GET RID OF ORPHANS/WIDOWS
How mean! Yet, it is one of the simplest ways of cutting word/page counts. Orphans, or widow words, are the ones that come at the end of a paragraph or sentence and which take up a whole line all on their own. By editing what comes before to get rid of the need to have that one word on a new line, you will – if you do this throughout the whole script – shift the text bit by bit and maybe even shave off a few pages!
MAKE THINGS HAPPEN NOW, NOW, NOW
Most of the time, this involves avoiding “-ing” or mixed tense phrases, such as “X is standing” or “X is sat”. “X sits” – end of! Other times, this may concern descriptions that come “after the fact”. There’s no point in describing something that has already happened or which was already obvious. Likewise, sometimes it is better to have the action lead the scene and do the talking. Ultimately, we want to CONDENSE all our descriptions and make them as effective as they can possibly be…
CONDENSE CONDENSE CONDENSE
There are always opportunities to condense your descriptions. Think simplicity, flow and – above all – action! We want the descriptions to be atmospheric, but also to-the-point, and we also want to avoid bad style. Here’s an example of condensing and improving a description…
“Alex, tall and handsome, the cool-guy type all the girls swoon over, is taking his brown-haired, shaggy dog for a walk while listening to loud Drake tunes as a loud noise goes off, making his dog bark and pull on the leash. Alex feels annoyed, but then he sees stones scatter in front of them and Alex is suddenly shocked after he looks up to see a massive boulder coming towards them.”
“Music thumps through Alex’s ear buds. His dog barks and pulls on the leash… BOOM! – that’s not Alex’s music. He takes off his ear buds just in time to see stones scatter before him and looks up to see a huge ass boulder crashing towards them.”
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Find out what the 10 most common editing notes are HERE.
Want to find out what some of the common script notes are in general? Then check out my COMMON SCRIPT NOTES blog post HERE.