What are the most important tasks you have to undertake while working on that final polish rewrite draft of your screenplay?
Believe it or not, many screenwriters don’t really know what to focus on as they work on that final draft. We’ve covered the basics of revising and editing your screenplays.
Read The Script Lab’s Mastering the Art of Revising and Editing Your Screenplays!
But what are the most vital accomplishments that you need to make before you save that final draft and send it to managers, agents, development executives, producers, contest, and fellowships?
1. Lasting Grammar, Spelling, and Format Mistakes
The post above covers this goal tenfold, but it’s worth mentioning once again.
No screenplay is bulletproof. Even the most successful screenwriters write final drafts that miss some spelling, grammar, and formatting errors here and there. It’s only natural. We’re all human.
But the point of a polish draft is to, well, polish the script. So despite any proofreading and vetting that you’ve done before, you need to go through each and every line once again. Those mistakes are there.
It may be as simple as a missing letter, missing punctuation, or having an extra space. Or it could be a character name that was incorrectly attributed to some dialogue. Or a lousy scene heading. Whatever it is, make it your goal to find as many as you can. And then consider handing over to someone you trust with the caveat that they know you’re not looking for story or character notes — just technical mistakes and errors.
Pacing is everything when it comes to wanting the reader to have an excellent experience. Even if they don’t especially enjoy the story and characters, you can still get good marks by having a well-paced script with an engaging concept.
And here’s the hard truth — if your script lacks excellent pacing, it won’t be read past the tenth page or so, no matter how good the logline is. Plenty of great writing samples have been tossed aside because the pacing is horrible, the scenes don’t cinematically blend in cohesive fashion, the writer has written redundant moments throughout, and the scenes, sequences, and moments throughout aren’t edited and arranged with the attention to detail that a film editor has when editing a feature film.
Read ScreenCraft’s Why Screenwriters Should Think Like Film Editors!
3. Dialogue Flow
Proofreading allows you to feel the flow of the dialogue. And that dialogue needs to feel alive. It can’t merely be exposition and characters talking us through the plot points. It has to flow.
You can accomplish that flow by first experiencing the script as a read, which is essentially reading it from beginning to end without worrying about any of these four other goals we’re covering here. This read has to be all about the dialogue. Yes, you can read the scene description and locations to follow the visuals of the story, but your focus is on how each dialogue exchange feels and sounds.
Some accomplish this by reading the parts out loud to themselves. Others give the scripts to a group of friends or an assembled acting troupe for a script read session. Whatever you need to do to ensure that the dialogue flows, do it. It’s so important.
The narrative. The characters. The story. The dialogue. The pacing. The tone. The atmosphere. The concept. Everything has to be consistent throughout your screenplay.
Inconsistency is one of the plaguing problems of new screenwriters. They take multiple months to finish a screenplay and usually their writing sessions are scattered, due to an understandable lack of discipline when first starting out. Because of this, the content they write is often inconsistent in all of the areas mentioned above, and more.
So many screenwriters are so concerned with just finishing the script. And most feel that finishing the script means getting to THE END or FADE OUT. Nothing could be further from the truth. The script is completed when all of those elements are the best they can be and consistent from the beginning, middle, and end.
So as you go through your script, make sure everything is as consistent as it can be.
If one location is written in a scene heading in one way, it has to be written in that same format throughout the script.
If one character has a certain attitude, outlook, belief system, temperament, and trait in the first act, those have to be consistent through the rest of the film unless the conflicts they are dealing with is changing them.
If the script starts as a fast-paced thriller or action adventure, that tone has to carry on throughout the whole script because the expectations have been raised in the eyes of the reader or audience.
And concept-wise, if you portray your concept within a particular genre, you have to stick to that genre throughout. And if it’s a cross-genre concept that pairs two or more genres together, that has to be consistent throughout the script.
Consistency is key.
5. Pepper Your Script
When we talk about peppering your script we’re referring to the need to go back and spice it up. Sure, the plot may have been fleshed out by you in previous drafts. Sure, you may have connected all of the plot points leading up to the final climax. But that’s not enough to create a compelling and engaging screenplay that goes the distance in Hollywood.
You need to throw in some quality misdirection by raising more questions or show us some subtle visual clues leading up to every twist, turn, plant, and payoff.
You always have to be looking for ways to make your script even better. It’s not enough to just get it done and tell a story. You have to engage, entertain, and surprise. This process will decide the difference between a good script and an excellent script — an excellent read and something that really stands out.
Read ScreenCraft’s Best “Plant and Payoff” Scenes Screenwriters Can Learn From!
If you look at a film like The Sixth Sense, you see how M. Night Shyamalan peppered that script — which eventually made the audience go back multiple times to discover those subtle moments and clues.
This is one of the most enjoyable parts of the screenwriting process because you’ve already done the legwork of plotting out the story — now you get to play in that sandbox. The reader (and hopefully the eventual audience) will appreciate it.
These are the five main goals that you need to accomplish before you decide that your script is truly finished. And even then, you’ll likely come back to tweak these elements after you’ve received some feedback and notes from your submissions. A script is never truly completed until you see it on that screen.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. Make sure to read his growing archive of posts at ScreenCraft for more inspiration.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies