Why Your Script SHOULDN’T Stand Out
If I want you to read this blog post, what would it take to catch your interest? I would probably have to tell a joke or two, perhaps throw in an engaging anecdote early on to catch your interest. Would you forgive my post if I had a few typos thrown in throughout? Perhaps. But maybe if I had a typo in the first sentence you would chalk it up to my not caring about what I’m writing and continue the endless scroll of blog postings. There is always another blog post to read. Why should you waste your time with one?
Just like your opinion of this blog post matters to me, my opinion of your script matters to you. That’s right. Scary, isn’t it? You don’t even know me, but I can do a lot to make or break that project you’ve been working on.
I’m not an evil henchman sitting on a pile of scripts looking for a reason to burn them. I’m reading scripts for managers and executives at Benderspink. I don’t want to destroy your script. I want it to be great! I want to read the next Oscar®-winning drama, or the next raunchy summer comedy, or the next horror flick to keep me up at night. If your script is great, my job is great. That is why I am here to offer up some tips on what I look for in a great script.
This is going to sound crazy, but the biggest secret I have for you is to not let your script stand out. Wait! Before you flip to the next blog post, hear me out! I want your story to stand out. I want your story to keep me on the edge of my seat, or have me laughing out loud and then getting embarrassed that the rest of the office is hearing me laugh to myself. Your script should not stand out. If your script stands out, your story can’t. Let me explain:
I read scripts … all day. I can tell in an instant if your margins are off and I’ll spot if you’re using the wrong Courier Font. The easiest way to keep me focused on what you’re writing is to not distract me from what you’re writing. If I have to be checking your grammar and punctuation while I’m also trying to stay invested in your story progression, we’ve got a problem. Every time I catch a typo, I stop what I’m reading, grab my pen, and circle it. Is that going to keep me from passing your script on? Probably not. That would depend on how many purple circles your script has at the end. But what it is going to do is pull me out of your story. Every single time.
My favorite part of any script is dialogue. There is nothing worse than reading a script with an incredibly interesting premise that has a lead that has no idea how to talk to people in the script-universe. In the real world, it is completely normal and more than acceptable to lead in to a conversation with small talk. In a script, I don’t have to engage in small talk. I can run away from it, if I’d like! And I will. Start a scene in the midst of action, and bring me right to the reason I’m hearing this conversation. Keep me moving, and keep my interest.
Now that I’m focused on your incredibly fascinating characters, I can also focus on the story you’re telling. The best way to keep me focused is to make your script readable. Long blocks of text do not keep my attention. Ever. It doesn’t matter how interesting you are. I’m here to read a script, not a novel. If you have to write lots of description to explain a scene, break it up, I beg you.
I’m not one of those readers who skims over scripts to get the gist of it. I always try my hardest to read every single word in an action line, but often I find myself struggling to keep my eyes from jumping to the next piece of dialogue. I just thought that was how my attention worked and I’ve learned to live with it.
Last week, I read a script that changed my mind entirely. I read a script that had the most amazing action lines. It was the epitome of the words “page turner.” They were concise. They were snippy. They were exciting. I could not skip over a single word if I tried. I was hooked. I wish I could say the only thing this person had going for them was an incredible talent, although I do believe that is true. Fortunately for my post, this script fit all of the above elements. It was polished, concise, formatted correctly, and the dialogue was just as wonderful as the action lines! It got high recommendations and a rave review from me. I believe you can quote me in saying, “Oh my gosh, this was so, so, so good! You have to read this right now! It was amazing.” As a result of my excessively excited recommendation, a manager read the script, and loved it just as much as I did. By the end of the week, he was a newly signed client at Benderspink.
That’s what we all want, right? We want our script to be read by some stranger that doesn’t know anything about our story to fight for us. We want them to be our biggest fan and cheer about our script all the way to the desk of the manager or agent or executive who will read it.
Having a great story isn’t enough, your talent as a writer will only get you so far. Pay attention to what you’re writing. Care about what you’re writing. If you’ve got a great story, please don’t hide it under the frill. Keep your script boring and your story will shine.
Kelly Boruff reads scripts for management and production company Benderspink. She aspires to one day be an extraordinary TV producer, but for now she is just an extraordinary TV viewer. (Like, real TV. You’re welcome, Nielsen.) Like most people just starting out in Hollywood, she has mastered the art of avoiding conversations about career experience and will not indulge your curiosity by listing out her (recently) growing resume. Follow Kelly on Twitter at @KellyBlick.