By: Rebecca Norris
Picture this: you’re sitting at your laptop, screenwriting software open, about to embark upon the dreaded rewrite. You open your script. You immediately start to panic. Where to begin? What can you do to make your script better? Beads of sweat form on your forehead. You feel overwhelmed, not sure how to start. It feels like this rewrite could take forever. You take a deep breath and…close your laptop. Maybe today’s just not the day. You walk away from your desk…and you don’t open that script file for another month. Or two. Or six.
Sound familiar to anyone? (Maybe it’s just me.) It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the immense time and effort it can take to dive back into a script you’ve already spent weeks, months, or years on. Yet you know that you have to make improvements on your script before you submit it to contests, agents, and production companies. What to do?
To help, I’ve come up with 5 ways to improve your script in minutes so you can skip the frustration and easily jump into your rewrite.
Chunk Your Narration
One way to improve your script quickly is by making it more readable. You want your script to be a “fast read”: one that the reader flips through easily and can’t put down. A great way to accomplish this is to comb through your narration and break up large paragraphs into small, readable chunks of 1-3 sentences max.
No reader wants to wade through lengthy paragraphs to understand what’s happening in a scene. Get to the point quickly in your narration, and do it in small chunks that are quick and easy to read.
Do a Pass for Redundancy
There’s very little real estate to work with in a screenplay. It’s important to make every word count. Sometimes writers can accidentally waste space on the page by being redundant. Here are a couple of examples:
EXT. BUSY STREET – DAY
People stand outside on a busy street in the middle of the day, waiting for the parade to start.
INT. JESSICA’S HOUSE – NIGHT
Jessica sits inside her house, waiting up late at night for her daughter to come home.
See the redundancy? There’s no need to repeat the scene heading in the narration. Instead, these could be rewritten as:
EXT. BUSY STREET – DAY
People mill around, waiting for the parade to start.
INT. JESSICA’S HOUSE – MIDNIGHT
Jessica waits up for her daughter to come home.
Take a read through your script and see where you might be saying the same thing twice. This can quickly improve the readability of your script while also potentially cutting down the page count.
Condense, Condense, Condense
A third trick you can do is to condense your wording. Where do you go on too long? How can you say the same thing in fewer words? Where can you take several sentences and combine them into one? Here’s an example.
INT. BALLPARK – DAY
Marty sits in the bleachers beyond right field, watching the game. He sips a beer. The BATTER hits the ball out toward Marty’s direction. He puts down the beer. He puts on a baseball glove. He readies himself to catch the ball. The ball comes careening down and SPLASH! Lands right in the beer.
It took seven sentences to convey that. Let’s see if we can say the same thing in three instead.
INT. BALLPARK – RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS – DAY
Marty sips a beer, eyeing the BATTER at the plate. The batter connects with the ball and it careens toward Marty. Marty puts down his beer, readies his baseball glove to catch the ball, and SPLASH—it lands right in the beer!
Now we’ve conveyed the same idea in less space, and it’s more interesting to read.
Proofread Your Script
It seems obvious that you should proofread your writing, but you’d be surprised how many people skip this crucial step. I’ve read so many contest scripts that are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. What people may not realize is that many contests have a separate category for spelling and grammar. They may label it Spelling/Grammar, Presentation, or the like.
If your script is full of typos, you can bet you’re going to get a low score in this area. Do you really want typos to be the reason your script didn’t get enough points to advance to the next round of judging? Make sure you find someone to proofread your script (preferred), or make sure to proofread it yourself before sending it out.
Read Your Script Out Loud
Nothing will improve your script faster than listening to it being read out loud. You’ll hear where your narration is dragging on to long, and which lines of dialogue sound natural and which sound forced. This is also a quick way to catch spelling and grammatical errors. You’ll learn more about your script in 90 minutes of hearing it read out loud than you will in weeks of staring at the page on your computer screen.
The best way to get your script read is to stage a table read. Spring for pizza or Chinese food and invite friends over, or cast actors who can read the roles. It’ll be well worth the investment.
Alternatively, if a live table read isn’t an option, you may be able to have your software read the script out loud for you. If you have Final Draft, you can go to Tools > Assign Voices to “cast” voices for each role, and then go to Tools > Speech Control. Press “play” and the program will read your script out loud with you, with a different voice for each role (and for the narrator).
You may be thinking, “In my rewrite, don’t I need to revise my plot? Structure? Characters?” Yes, of course. But using the above techniques can help you suss out other underlying issues in your script, and also help you to effectively jump right into your rewrite instead of pushing it off. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to finish your rewrite quickly!