The Spellbound Screenwriter

Breaking In: Zen And The Art Of Guerrilla Script Marketing
The Spellbound Screenwriter

School has started. Class, get out your notebooks and pencils. If you want to know the simplest and easiest thing you can do RIGHT NOW to prevent your great script from ending up on the “reject” pile when you send it out into the marketplace, this article is for you.

You know those e-mail scams called “spoofing”? They send out letters designed to look exactly like they were sent to you by your bank, asking you to resubmit your account number and password, but the e-mails actually come from scammers Larry and Joe from Queens. Well, I never fall for those things. Why? Because Larry and Joe can’t spell worth a damn.

I’ll never understand it. Why do these crooks go to all the trouble and expense of sending out a million pieces of spam, carefully designed to look exactly like the real logo and e-mails of a major bank, and then blow it all by misspelling “fiduciary”? It would have cost them a measly fifty bucks to hire somebody to proofread their letter. Isn’t it worth a lousy fifty bucks if it’s going to help them complete their mission?

Well, sometimes I wonder the same thing when I read writers’ screenplays. Why don’t they fix all those obvious boo-boos? No matter how good your script is, if it’s got more typos than a fourth grader’s book report on Goosebumps, nobody in Hollywood or New York is going to take your screenplay seriously.

First of all, reading a script loaded with those kinds of errors is enormously distracting for professional readers. But spelling and grammar errors make a bad impression on readers for other reasons, too. Rightly or wrongly, readers tend to assume that if you can’t spell and didn’t proofread your script before sending it out to a contest or a film production company, you were probably just as lazy about learning your craft.

Are there any talented screenwriters who can’t spell and wouldn’t know a dangling participle from a hanging chad? Yes, of course. I even know some of them. But they all have the good sense to find some way to fix their spelling and grammar before submitting their scripts to the marketplace. Sending out your script to producers, agents, or contests without proofreading it beforehand is like shooting yourself in the foot. If you know that you can’t spell or tell the difference between “its” and “it’s”, it’s time to hire a copyeditor.

When I’m not reading your scripts or writing scripts of my own, I write novels for major publishers. Before turning in my manuscript, I proofread it many times. My book manuscript is corrected again–multiple times–by editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. After they’re all done with it, I proofread the final galleys several more times, and always find several more errors that we all missed on the previous rounds. Why? After multiple readings and rounds of editing, people start to see the words they expect to see, rather than what is actually typed on the page.

When my books go to press, invariably there are still at least one or two typos in the published book. Actually, editors will tell you that nearly every book ever published has at least a few typos in it, though you may have to look hard to find them. Often, these errors are corrected in subsequent printings.

If even books published by major publishers, proofread by their authors and many professional editors, still have a few errors in them when they go to press, imagine how many mistakes must be in your screenplays!

The moral of the story?

Don’t be like Larry and Joe. After you’ve completed your final draft, hire a professional copyeditor or proofreader (ideally, one who also knows correct screenplay format) to go over your script and fix any errors.

By the way, your screenplay doesn’t have to be 100% typo-free when you give it a “test drive” by sending it to a freelance script analyst for his confidential opinion and advice–or you send it to independent script analysis services such as Script magazine’s ScriptXpert— though of course readers are always grateful when it is. But before you send your final rewrite out into “the real world” of potential buyers, your script had better be, like Mary Poppins, “practically perfect in every way.” That includes spelling, grammar— and screenplay format, too.

Keep pitching. See you next month.

One thought on “The Spellbound Screenwriter

  1. Barak

    I find it interesting that this topic keeps coming up. There must be thousands of screenwriters that constantly send out misspelled screenplays because I see a posting like this online or in a magazine at least once a month. I always try to get at least 3 different people to read through my script for all kinds of errors and then I always read it outload to myself a few times. Reading it outload helps a lot.