Readability is Key!
You have a great story. Now it’s time for the industry to get their hands on it. What is going to differentiate your script from the mountains of others stacked up in a producer’s office? There is no magical formula, but there are some ways to hedge your bets. This is a guide to making your script more readable.
Agents, Managers and Actors/Actresses are Busy People
Let’s face it, the agents, producers and coverage readers of the industry are not dying to read your screenplay. They have plenty to do, read and manage. Another spec script handed to them is NOT going to make their day. To you, your screenplay is ART! To them, it’s just another pdf that requires three hours of time to be cordoned off in their already busy schedule.
The goal is to make them love your script. But long before that, we need them to just read it. This article will not help you if your story is flawed. But don’t fear, there are a myriad of articles on the web that can help you with that. No, this is a list of some cosmetic redesigns that can help your script look like less daunting of a read to an industry professional.
Shorten Your Page Count
Sure, your story needs a full 150 pages to be properly told to its heartbreaking end. The problem is that no one is going to read past page 10. The first thing that anyone does when given a script is see how many pages it is. This defines the rest of the journey. A script with a massive page count, is now a task. But when they scroll to the end to see that it’s over by page 95, their mood brightens considerably. They think, “Even if it is bad, I can breeze through this.” And as terrible as it sounds, that’s exactly what we want. Cut the fat and get that page count as lean as you can make it!
Learn to Love Blank Space
Nothing feels better than when you open a new script and see a lot of nothing! Opening a script to find page after page of dense, Dickensian description is a sure sign that it will be in the trash quickly. Write the tightest that you can. Explain everything in the shortest and most meaningful way possible. I personally have a rule when writing a spec script: “Never write more than two lines of description in a row.” If you have to write more, start a new line completely. Break up the space that is thick with action and direction. Remember, our goal is to get our reader to simply read through the entire script. If you make it easy to read, you will make it easy to turn the page. The feeling of burning through a script is one of elaton. It ensures that the reader is focused on your world and not the dread of completing their task.
Have Fun with Description
Your characters have witty lines full of insight and meaning, why shouldn’t the rest of your script? Have fun with the writing that is not going to be showcased in the movie. Many scripts offer efficient description and action while leaving all the personality to be written in dialogue. This cannot be stressed enough, you have a voice too! Don’t let your characters have all the fun! If you are writing a comedy, crack jokes in the description. Don’t just tell us about the world, embody it in your narrative’s overall attitude. It is the best way to totally immerse your reader. Do you have a tense moment of slo-mo action?
Format lines to describe..
You can use these simple formatting tricks to help build out those moments of dread or high intensity. It also creates a lot of blank space. Wink wink.
Write Good Dialogue
It’s no secret that good dialogue enhances a script and is one of the most engaging aspects of a story for a reader. There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re not falling into common dialogue pitfalls. For instance, make sure your characters each have a unique voice. Cover the names of each person on the page, if you can’t tell who is speaking, rewrite the dialogue and differentiate the voices.
Don’t repeat thoughts. Don’t drone on with exposition. Keep it moving along.
Jason Hellerman, an established film blogger and contributor to nofilmschool.com, has a lot of great things to say about writing good dialogue. He says, “Movie dialogue needs to do two things: espouse information and give context to what the characters are feeling inside…without being over the top or having them blurt it out.” You can check out a great article he wrote on the topic here: *LINK*
Get Your Work Recognized!
Follow these rules to ensure that your reader gets through your script without ever having their eyes glaze over. It is the key first step in getting your hard work recognized. There may be many rewrites from that point on, but at least it will be because someone is interested in investing in your work.
Will Anderson is a working screenwriter and key contributor to CinemaWays. He recently had one of his screenplays optioned by BET Studios and is in the process of launching his own production company.