Book review: The Art of Script Editing by Karol Griffiths

art of script editing carol griffiths

I was thrilled when I spotted a new Creative Essentials title by Kamera Books on the topic of script editing; something that always intrigues me given its close connection to script reading/consultancy. I picked it up at the London Sreenwriters’ Festival (use my special discount code: SOFLUID-16X to get a £23 discount) but hadn’t had the chance to read it until the last couple of weeks. Good timing it was, too, because I spent the weekend of the 6th May in London live-tweeting Lucy V Hay’s Breaking Into Scriptreading course (read the tweets HERE) at which the guest seaker was none other than our very own Karol Griffiths! Naturally, I got her to sign my copy and then devoured the book not long after.

During her guest spot, Karol talked about not having been able to write her book, The Art of Script Editing, without delving into some structure. What resulted was, in my opinion, one of the most succinct but insightful overviews of the different approaches to structure that I’ve ever read. Karol talks about how to write a script report using the knowledge of structure, genre and themes that she covers in the first few chapters, and recommends Lucy Scher’s book on Reading Screenplays (and rightly so – I too enjoyed Lucy’s book immensely and think that it, combined with Karol’s, makes the perfect duo).
reading screenplays lucy scher

As the book progressed, I found myself becoming more and more interested. Karol delves into topics such as how to conduct meetings, what questions to ask to analyse a script and get the most out of a writer and even a detailed breakdown of a script editor’s role and duties when working in TV. I was hugely impressed with the thoroughness of the advice – Karol gives us literally pages of questions that you would probably never think to ask of a script, making this book a vital resource for not only aspiring script readers and editors but also writers who are assessing their own work or in the throes of a rewrite.

Personally, Karol’s book was a wonderful refresher for me as a consultant and I particularly enjoyed the sections on visual grammar, pace, the questions and the analysis of TV comedy. For those of you that don’t know, Karol has worked on many films and shows over the years including the iconic Friends, so she knows a thing or two about comedy. Having just completed some blog posts recently on writing TV comedy (HERE and HERE) Karol’s insight came at a great time for me as I was able to really appreciate the questions she suggested we ask of comedy scripts.

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My favourite pieces of advice included looking at where in the script you stopped laughing and/or felt bored. Could it be that the main plot is not strong enough? Should the main plot be the B plot? Or is it that the plots don’t belong in the same sitcom? There were also a lot of good insights into character, such as whether they have enough to do in the plot, whether they have enough ups and downs and whether they have a magnified fatal flaw. Also in the section on comedy, Karol tells us how jokes work – giving us a list of techniques, as well as pointing out how beneficial placing the characters in a hierarchy can be.

At the end of the book is a comprehensive glossary of terms – everything from script terms to film terms and even terms that refer to the script revisions made by production teams. An incredibly useful list – even I learnt something new! I also particularly enjoyed the carefully selected advice and quotes throughout to illustrate the different things Karol teaches us. They include Blake Snyder on finale beats: how the main character triumphs because they incorporate the theme. They advanced in their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A story and context from the B story. John Truby tells us that moral need is a flaw that hurts others whereas a psychological need only hurts the hero. My favourite, though, is this from David Trottier:

If the character raises her cup of coffee to her lips, that’s not important enough to describe… Unless there’s poison in the cup.

I highly recommend this book; a concise but thorough and practical look at what’s involved in the process from script to screen that will benefit writers and script readers as well as aspiring script editors and those looking to work in TV and film. You can buy it HERE.

Want to come to London Screenwriters’ Festival? Use my special discount code: SOFLUID-16X to get a £23 discount!

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