2 Aug 2011

Script Reader Gripes: #2 A little goes a long way.

Sometimes in life it is the little things that matter - cream with strawberries, your boyfriend emptying the cat litter tray, your mate making you a cup of tea while you're in the middle of Donkey Kong Country about to beat the evil dancing pirate crabs. The thing is, sadly it is easy to get complacent and take the little things for granted until the one day they aren't there; you get put off your strawberries after digging through cat poo and in the mean time your monkey has been pinched to death by the crab pirates.

So I'm wibbering on (this is unusual how? Cheeky!) and you are wondering what cat poo has to do with scripts. Often in scripts the little things get over-looked but when you add them all up those little things become big fat hair-pulling things of super annoyance. This is my own personal list of 'little things' that get in the way when reading scripts. You may have written the best script the world has ever seen, so please don't blight it with the following...
I'm starting with my biggest 'small things' gripe; character names in dialogue. Obviously sometimes you need to have a character name in your dialogue but please don't over do it! The more you use names in your dialogue the more contrite and unrealistic your dialogue sounds;

Dan: Oh Mary, will you ever forgive me? I'm still the same Dan you fell in love with.
Mary: I don't know Dan, so much has happened.
Dan: It's not my fault Mary, your sister came on to me.
Mary: (upset) Dan shut up! I can't take this.
Dan: Please Mary, listen to me.
Mary: I've heard enough Dan. You won't change, you don't know how.
Mary grabs her coat and goes to exit.
Dan: Mary, Mary, Mary wait. I love you.
Mary: (pained) I'm sorry. I can't love you Dan. I can't.

Re- read that without all the names:

Dan: Will you ever forgive me? I'm still the same man you fell in love with.
Mary: I don't know, so much has happened.
Dan: It's not my fault your sister came on to me.
Mary: (upset) Shut up! I can't take this.
Dan: Please, listen to me.
Mary: I've heard enough. You won't change, you don't know how.
Mary grabs her coat and goes to exit.
Dan: Wait. I love you.
Mary: (pained) I'm sorry. I can't love you. I can't.

It's not the best dialogue ever written I know, but it makes such a difference not having the names in there don't you think? It feels more realistic, has more weight to it and its much easier to read because it flows. Just take a quick look at how many times you have a character name in your dialogue and ask yourself if it adds anything and if you really need it. Can you use a stage direction or an action to point towards a particular character instead? 

This is an actual line I once read in a script, it was put in brackets underneath a line of dialogue that had some police jargon in it. Hey, if you can't be bothered to write lines of dialogue you like, don't expect me to write it for you! Although this is a more extreme example, this throw-away attitude to lines of dialogue or stage directions is more common than you might think. Its a small thing and it might just be me, but when I read things like:


I want to know what that 'something' is! Is it a photo? Of what? What does the photo reveal about character? Dan's back-story? Is the 'something' an item? Perhaps a medal that tells us Dan is a proud person and has positive memories of a particular time in his life that he harks back to. WHAT IS IT? TELL ME! And if you don't know or don't care what it is - then cut it.
The old lady wanted something like this to get about in, but better.

Ah yes, the classic. Lots of sites talk about the importance of formatting and spelling and we all know how relevant it is to get this right so I won't bang on about it too much here. Just to say that despite everyone seemingly knowing the rules, scripts still come through full of spelling mistakes and horrible formatting errors. A script reader has to read a lot of scripts - your eyes cross at the best of times but when lines of dialogue are all over the place and teh speleing taks a lott of consitration ot reed it, it becomes more of a chore than a pleasant reading experience. The only thing worse than bad spelling is repeated bad spelling of the same word.

If only they had.
Also, I never find the spell checker in Final Draft very reliable and so I always get someone else to read the script when its finished. They don't have to be a writer, they just have to be good at spelling!

Along the same lines as having character names in dialogue...

Dan: I'm really very very sorry. It's just that... well, how can I explain this. When you use too many just really very well words in a sentence it just, well, can get very annoying. Really they could all just be cut out of the sentence and then the dialogue would read just really very well.
The zip worked just really very well.
You get my drift. Only use these extra descriptive words when you really (*snigger) need them to add emphasis. Otherwise consider cutting them or find a better word that is more suited to your character perhaps.  There are other words that could be added to these four and some writers tend to have a word that they overuse, their own personal version of 'just really very well'. Keep your eyes peeled on that final read through, that's all I ask.

Those are my list of the little things - the things that pull me out of the world you've worked so hard to create. These things aren't deal breakers but add them all up, pay them a bit of attention and you will help make the lives of anyone who is reading your script that bit easier. :) Now, how do you like your tea?

Keep writing, reading and eating strawberries with cream.