You feel like your script is ready. Maybe there’s a competition deadline looming, or you’ve found a way to get someone to read it. Now is not the time to re-write – you’re going to ride this draft and see what happens. But your work is not done. Here are some last minute things to do to make a positive impact with the overwhelmed reader who’s taking the time to read your work. I know, because I’m one of those readers.
Before we start – take a moment to congratulate yourself. You wrote an entire freaking script, and you’re letting strangers read and judge it. Be proud of that. Then check these 5 things before hitting ‘send’.
1. Spelling and Grammar
I know, it’s obvious. I’m not saying your script must be spotless. No one is perfect. But a spelling error in the first sentence is unforgivable. I’ve seen it too many times.
Think of the reading process as a new relationship. The reader is taking precious time to focus entirely on your work. They don’t know you. All they have is what they see on the page. When they see a script filled with typos, poor grammar, and formatting errors, they may start thinking if you’re lazy with the spellcheck, you’ll be lazy with characters, structure, and emotional connection. You wouldn’t show up to a first date unshowered and in your pajamas. Don’t submit a script you haven’t read through looking specifically for spelling errors.
2. Novelesque Scene Description
Sure it’s fun to describe a windswept landscape kissed by clouds as dark as the inside of a civil war cannon. And that stuff looks great…IN A NOVEL.
You haven’t written a novel. You’ve written a script. Brevity is King/Queen. Too many writers feel the need to impress a reader with their literary command when it actually sends the opposite message. Wordy SD tells a reader you either don’t know the rules, don’t want to follow them, or don’t care about wasting their time.
3. Script Length
The days of 120 pages for a feature as industry-standard are over. It’s 110 at most now. If your draft is 114 pages long – it should be trimmed. People in the industry who read scripts for a living – managers, agents, and development executives – usually have about 50 to read EVERY WEEK. If they see 120-page count, they groan audibly. Help them with a shorter script, and they’ll like you before page 1.
But how to trim? Cut that scene description. Focus on dialogue which I’ll get to shortly. Then look at every scene. If you have ‘establishing shots’ – make sure they are VITAL. No-one cares about elaborate fight scenes or long car chases, no matter how awesome they feel to you. Many readers skim those scenes to see if anyone important dies. Extra pages send a message you aren’t great at self-editing and have probably written a bloated script. Not a first impression you want to deliver.
Go through your script, cut all the greetings, farewells, and repeat dialogue, then condense sentences using more impactful language, even down to making sure a sentence doesn’t run over two lines – and you’ll save pages. When I say ‘repeat dialogue’ I mean: ‘Tommy’s dead.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yeah’. ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah, he’s dead’.
Your characters don’t need to answer a question with a yes/no. They can move straight into the next bit. Example: ‘Are you going to Mom’s?’ ‘Yeah, she needs my help with the curtains’. Cut the ‘Yeah’. Trim superfluous words, and you’ll be amazed at the space you save, and how much stronger your dialogue will feel. And only tell us something once. Don’t keep reminding us your character is working on a vaccine because her parents died of the illness. Once is enough.
5. Your first 10 pages
Your first 10 pages are the most important at this stage of your career. If those pages aren’t solid, the rest doesn’t matter because no one will read them.
A reader is like a speed date checking you out. Are you able to dress yourself, speak coherently, and are you interesting enough to learn more? Your script gets 10 pages to prove you know what you are doing.
Far too many writers waste pages with ‘set up’. We watch characters wake up, shower, eat breakfast, blah blah. Sure, Scorsese might get away with that, but no-one knows who you are. Wasting time with artful descriptions of toast, or tired character introduction scenes as you tell yourself the twist on page 85 is going to knock their socks off will doom your script.
Here’s a simple trick. Write a logline or tell a child your story. If none of what you say is even hinted at in your first 10 pages – you have a problem.
It’s your job to find creative and original ways to engage your audience as quickly as you can. Just tell us what we need to know before you launch into your story/journey. Don’t be afraid. Dive in. We’ll keep up.
Once you are a recognized writing genius, some of these rules will not apply. But until that day, trust that your ‘voice’ will shrine through with your characters, your emotional authenticity, and your unique worldview. Follow basic rules, and you will give an amazing ‘first date’ impression to anyone reading your words.