ACTORS CHOICE AWARDS: Tips From Larry
As you go through your screenwriting career you will no doubt learn
many tricks about the art and craft of screenwriting.
Great, wonderful techniques about story and character.
All exciting. All to propel you to success.
HOWEVER, until you become an A-list writer, you have to first deal
with the almighty Reader. If your script does not honor proper format,
their first impression of you could be that you're an amateur.
We do not want that to happen! In teaching I have discovered that
sometimes it's best to approach things from the "What Not To Do"
perspective. Having said that, what follows are formatting
indiscretions I noticed in some of the winning scripts.
I want you to be the best that you can be. If you are looking for a
job you will probably first take a shower, put on clean clothes and
comb your hair before leaving for an interview. This is a metaphor for
formatting. I trust you got the point.
DO NOT use a registration mark after your title. The Producer
assumes you're professional enough to register or copyright
your work before you send it out.
DO NOT use the "we" word: we see, we hear, we sense, we feel...
DO NOT tell the reader what to do with the camera. Don't pull back,
zoom in, pan to, close up on, wide shot of... You write, let the
director direct. This kind of stuff irritates the hell out of a
Reader and pisses off the director.
DO NOT jam your paragraphs. Before a primary slug line you should
have three spaces. Before a secondary slug line it's okay to
have only two.
DO NOT introduce a prominent character without also describing them.
Age, look, etc. gives the Reader a picture of your character.
Otherwise you let the Reader create the character. You want that,
go get the Reader to co-write with you.
DO NOT allow a descriptive (action) paragraph to go deeper than
five lines before double-spacing to begin again. This is not
five sentences, it's five lines! Otherwise the page looks like
too much of a chore to read. You don't want the Reader negative
before reading. You don't want the Reader putting your script
on the bottom of the "I'll get to that one when I have all the
time in the world" stack. I'm sure you can see how this particular
paragraph that you are presently reading (back off and look at it),
which goes deeper than five lines, looks like a whole lot
more work to read than one with only five or fewer lines. Know
what I mean, Vern?
DO NOT forget to put the circa information (THE PRESENT) (1886)
(2050) (SOMETIME IN THE FAR DISTANT FUTURE) at the far end of your
very first slug line on page one. The Reader needs to know right
off where they are in time.
DO NOT CAPITALIZE any words other than the CHARACTER'S ENTIRE NAME
when you first introduce them. Okay, if you want to capitalize
sounds when they're coming from a source other than an
on-camera one, do it. It is best not to, though. It junks up the
DO NOT use ing's. Instead of "John is walking down the street"
write "John walks down the street". Watch this carefully. It's
an easy trap to get into.
DO NOT use CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO: This is the stuff of a shooting
script, not a spec or presentation script. It clutters up the
joint and uses precious page space. You write, let the editor edit.
DO NOT allow a dialogue block to go deeper than five lines.
Four is the recommended limit. The reason is the same as in
the above note.
DO NOT ignore margin rules for both paragraphs and dialogue.
For this and many, many other formatting details, consult
(invest in) "The Screenwriter's Bible" by David Trottier or
"Screenplay - Writing the Picture" by Russin and Downs.
And unless it has been revised and updated, NEVER buy
or consult a how-to format book older than five years. Never!
DO NOT put anything cryptic in the margins. The writer's
initials, symbols for dates, God-knows-what stuff...
It's irritating clutter, and serves no purpose.
DO NOT connect (continued)(continuing)(con't) to, next to,
under, or anywhere around a character's name. If a character
speaks and then speaks again, give the Reader some credit.
They'll get it. It adds clutter. Lose it. What I do is add an
ellipsis at the end of a dialogue block if the character is
going to speak again.
DO NOT give directions in the form of a parenthetical below a
character's name in a dialogue box. That's lazy writing.
If you have an action that needs to be identified, do it in
the description paragraph where it's supposed to be.
DO NOT overdo ellipses. If in fact it is absolutely imperative
the actor give a pause before saying the next bit of dialogue
in a dialogue box, okay do it. But only if it is absolutely
necessary. You write. Let the actor act.
DO NOT let anyone know you ever heard of titles. Ignore them.
Never refer to them. You write, let the art director art direct.
DO NOT put (CONTINUED) at the bottom of the page. If the Reader
doesn't have sense enough to turn the page we've caught the
wrong Reader. Same rule is true for the top of a page. If they
don't know there was a page before this one... It's meaningless
DO NOT use dialogue when it is unnecessary. (This is a tell-tale
sign of a beginning writer.) If you can replace a line with
action, like a nod, shrug, blank look... do so. And re-read
every line of dialogue in the script to see if you can remove one,
two or more words (I'll bet you can) and not lose the meaning.
In dialogue, less is best.
DO NOT neglect description when you enter a new location. Describe
the room/area, etc. for the Reader. If you don't know what it looks
like, who does? Neglecting to do so is lazy writing.
DO NOT spell the word okay as o.k. or O.K. Spell it correctly.
DO NOT put FADE IN anywhere other than the left-side of the page.
DO NOT get cute with slug lines. After INT or EXT it is best not
to put a period or a comma or a colon. Simply add one space and
write the LOCATION followed by a space then a hyphen (one only
hyphen, not two) then a space and then time of day: EXT HAUNTED
HOUSE - EVENING.
DO NOT uses ellipses in description to give the Reader pause.
You write. Let the Reader pause where s/he thinks it's necessary.
It adds clutter and it's irritating. You don't want to piss
off Mother Nature or irritate the Reader.
DO NOT use more than one exclamation point. !! or !!! is overkill
clutter, and clutter is miasma.
DO NOT neglect to announce at the very beginning of your scene
description, every character who is in a particular scene. Unless
a character is going to enter midway through, let the reader
know who and what is on the screen from the very beginning.
You see it, so let them see it, too.
DO NOT just say something like CITY STREET in your slug line and
let it go at that. Describe the city street. Is it busy with cars,
pedestrians? Is it windy? Is it deserted? What is this scene?
Don't expect the Reader to make these decisions for you.
Don't be a lazy writer. Do your job.
DO NOT use more than three (...) dots for an ellipsis.
What's the point? It's that old nasty clutter again!
BECAUSE OF LIMITED TIME, FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT IN THIS BUSINESS.
LET'S DON'T LOSE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SELL OUR STORY BECAUSE WE
DON'T HAVE A GOOD ENOUGH GRASP OF FORMAT. DRESS FOR SUCCESS,
AS THEY SAY. SHINE UP THEM SHOES. AND SMILE PROUDLY.
YOU'RE A WINNER!
I wish you all the luck in the world,