Saturday, September 19, 2009

Getting Back To Basics

OK, so this week's post isn't going to discuss screenwriting - exactly. I just thought I'd take a minute to talk about some of the basic proofreading errors that I see repeatedly. Hopefully, a few tips will make these easier for all writers to catch in their own work.


It's so easy to use the wrong form of this word. And while I don't want to list all the dictionary definitions for their usage, here are a few tips to avoid some of the more common errors:

They're is used when you are shortening "they are." If you use "they're," read the sentence back to yourself and substitute "they are." If it doesn't make sense, you've used the wrong spelling.

There is generally used when you are referring to a place - a geographic location. For instance, if "Jeff and Bob went there," this is the spelling. The easiest way to remember this - it has the word "here" in it. So think locations and geography (although there are some other usages for this word).

Their means that the item belongs to or pertains to people (or aliens or dogs or other characters you've created). It's "their house," "their party," "their car." Their is generally used when referring to "they" or "them" in some way.


A lot of writers seem to forget about "too." They use "to" for everything.

But "too" does have its place. I could copy the dictionary meaning, but I think the easiest thing to do is to show you examples where "too" applies:

It's too much.
It's too easy.
He eats too often.
I wanna go too.
I'm clever too.

So, basically, "too" means in addition or to an excess. It can also take the place of "also" sometimes, as in "I wanna go too."


I get it. I know a lot of you want to close your quotation marks around the specific word or sentence while ignoring the following punctuation. This is one of those grammar rules that I just don't understand. And yet, when you're using a period or comma in conjunction with a closing quotation mark, you need to put the punctuation first.

For example:
She said I was too "wordy."
She said I was too "wordy," and then she edited my entire page.


When you review your scripts, watch out for those passive verbs. Whenever possible, change your sentence structure so you can make the verb active. It really does make for a better read.

"Sally is walking toward Bob" becomes "Sally walks toward Bob." Or better yet, "Sally skips toward Bob."

"Joe is caught off guard by Tom's comments" becomes "Joe whirls around, surprised at Tom's comments."


It's so easy to miss mistakes when we proofread our own writing. As writers, we get so close to the material, our eyes sometimes see what we meant to write instead of what we actually did type.

When you review your work for errors, try to shake up the way you read. You can read your scenes in reverse order, from the end of the script to the beginning. Since you won't be able to hone in on plot this way, you'll see the words differently. You can also catch on-the-nose dialogue and flat scenes by reading in reverse.

Another way to catch mistakes is to read your script word-by-word instead of sentence-by-sentence. Or, you can slowly read the script aloud. Try to find a method that works for you and lets you see the words as you really did type them.

That's it for this week. I hope these small reminders and tips were helpful. Have fun writing!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Do We See What You Think We See?

OK, the title isn’t actually a riddle. It’s a question you should ask yourself whenever you review a scene you’ve written. And I think I can simplify today’s blog with this equation:

Reader = Viewer

Yes, the first person we have to impress is a professional reader – a manager, an agent, a producer, etc. But a script is a written template where the ultimate “end user” is a viewer. When you write your scripts, try to remember that you really need to be writing for both.

Too often, I read scripts where the professional reader and the viewing audience don’t know the same information. While there are definitely instances where this is unavoidable, generally speaking, you should think of a reader as a viewer and make sure they know the same facts.

There are a few specific instances where I see this problem develop. In the first example, the viewing audience actually knows more than the professional reader. In the other examples, it’s the reader who gets to know more than the viewer.

Think about the experience of sitting through a movie. Generally, before a word is spoken, you see an image. You see characters in a room, and you get a feel for that room. Oftentimes, as I read a script, the writer hasn’t created an accurate visual for me right after a header. So I start reading a scene unaware of what I should be picturing as the events unfold.

Here’s an example:


John deals two cards face-up to Mark and then two face-down to himself. Mark’s cards are a 10 and a five.

OK. Winner gets to take Megan to prom, right?


John peeks at his cards without showing Mark. John shakes his head.

Mark takes a deep breath – looks down at his cards.

Hit me.

John tosses him a card. It’s a six.

Oh, yeah - 21. Megan’s going to prom with me. Me. Not you!

Hold on.

John turns over his cards - a four and a three.

He takes another card. A nine.

Come on – gimme a five.

He turns the next card. A 10. He grimaces.

Oh, yeah. You busted. Megan is all mine.

Megan punches Mark in the arm.

I didn’t agree to any of this.

Whoa! Where’d Megan come from? The entire tone of the scene changes with Megan in the room as the boys gamble for a date with her.

I’ve read a lot of scenes where events unfold like this. Megan was in the room the whole time – I just “forgot” to mention her presence before I needed her to do something. And the scene lost some of its bite and became confusing because of that omission.

A lot of writers only mention characters if they’re about to speak or physically do something. But it’s the writer’s job to make sure that what a viewer would see on screen is always on the page. The first line after the header should have been:

Megan watches as John and Mark play cards.

It’s vital to know that Megan is in the room. When I review a three-page scene and suddenly realize halfway through that a character has been in the room all along, I often have to go back and read the scene again.

Well, that’s OK if you make me read a scene twice. But if you lose a professional reader – one who’s reading your script and considering gambling money on it – you may not get that second chance. So be sure that what you write on the page is really everything you picture on the screen.

The next example is the exact opposite – writers often tell a reader something that they’ve forgotten to tell a viewer. Sometimes, it’s as simple as writing this character introduction:

SALLY, 28 and Mary’s sister, enters the room.

The reader now knows that Mary and Sally are sisters. But the writer still hasn’t told the viewer.

I’ve read scripts where, after an introduction like this, no one mentions that these two women are siblings for half the script. Then, suddenly, on page 50, Mary is yelling at Sally for stealing Dad’s money. A viewer would be caught completely off-guard by the sudden revelation that these two women are related. And, all along, the writer really thought the viewer knew because it was right there in the description back on page one. But it never made it onto the screen, so the viewer is now totally lost.

When I write a character description, I try to only write physical attributes that would be on the screen once the role was cast or character traits that would be helpful to the actor or actress playing the part. I try not to write other details in the character introduction – such as what someone does for a living or if they’re someone’s child or spouse or sibling. By skipping this information in the description, I’m forced to tell it in some expository manner that a reader and a viewer would understand.

I don’t just see these omissions with character introductions. I also see them with headers. Sometimes, a writer overwrites a header and gives us too many details. But that vital information fails to make it on the screen. That’s a part of the reason why you should keep your headers nice and simple. (For more information on writing headers, take a look at the previous blogs.)

That’s it for this week. As always, if you have any questions, you can post comments here, e-mail me at or join my Reader Ready page on facebook.

Have fun writing!