A friend of mine mentioned the idea of writing more short scripts because they could be used as calling cards – if produced – for larger works. Short scripts can be as short as one page or as large as 60 pages though most tend to fall within 3 to 25 pages. It’s important to note that in the script world one formatted page runs about one minute of airtime.
The advice my friend gave me happened to coincide with The Muse Online Writers Conference, put together by the awesome everywoman Lea Schizas. If you don’t know about the conference, you should.
One class I took during the conference was Writing the Short Screenplay with produced screenwriter Kristin Johnson. I knew the class would give me the opportunity to crank out a short script in a week, and it did. Within a week, I had written SOCIAL NETWORKING, and I was elated.
And then came editing.
For me, there are four major KEYS to editing a screenplay – whether it’s short or feature-length.
FORMAT is KEY.
Yep, just like a novel manuscript, format is vital. If you attempt to submit a badly formatted screenplay to an agent or production company or contest, then you will receive the “slush pile” treatment just like any novel manuscript would. There are several books you could get to help you with format, but the one I LIVE by is David Trottier’s “The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script”. If you’re like me, you also may want examples of formatted scripts to see what a script really looks like; one place where you can purchase both feature film and TV scripts is Script Fly.
VISUAL is KEY.
Movies, TV shows, and made-for-TV movies are visual. The scripts are primarily parsed into two categories – dialogue and action. The dialogue is not stale and typical; it reveals the characters, the conflict, etc. Just like in a novel. The action shows us the movement that occurs within the movie.
Recently, my media writing students wrote short scripts for me, and the major problem they had was differentiating between “action” and “narration”. In a novel, it might be perfectly OK to write the following: Sarah’s tears continued to fall as she thought about the death of her brother and the evil bastards who took his life without a care for the ones left behind. In a novel, that’s narration. In a screenplay, this type of writing is not VISUAL. We couldn’t, as moviegoers, know Sarah’s thoughts or know this is why she’s crying. That knowledge would have to be conveyed either through action or through dialogue.
As an editor, you have to put yourself in the place of a moviegoer and ask yourself, “Can I see these things occurring?”
If you can’t see it, and it’s integral to the story’s plot and to character development, then you need to figure out the best way to visualize the material.
TALKING is KEY.
Strong dialogue is very important in scriptwriting. Dialogue, as state above, should do at least two things: reveal character and develop the story’s conflict. When reading the script, it’s important to look for stock, generic dialogue. In real life, we have dialogue like, “Hey, how are you doing?” “I’m doing OK. Tired. You?” “Good, thanks for asking.” Unless dialogue like this…those helloes and goodbyes of conversations…is integral to character development and/or story development, it is often not needed.
READING is KEY.
At some point in the editing process, you should print a copy of your script and read it aloud. The more the merrier, actually. One of my students corralled a bunch of his friends into his dorm room and they acted out the script. Having seen the rough draft of the work, I can guess he caught some minute things during the “performance”. You can read aloud the action and attempt to visualize it, remembering that if you can’t visualize it, it needs to be restructured. You can read the dialogue for authenticity. Like my student, if you’re lucky enough to get a few friends to act it out while you sit on the sideline, you can actually see and hear the story unfold to catch things regarding the story’s pacing, interest (to other potential viewers), building of conflict, climax, and resolution.
What you’ve probably noticed is that most of these key elements are vital in editing a short story or a novel, too. The major difference is the visual element that gains prominence in screenplays.
Before the editing even begins, however, you want to make sure you have a GOOD STORY to SHOW your viewers. Much money is put into the production of a movie and even more is put into the marketing and promotion of a movie. If your story – like with a novel idea – is not fresh and marketable, it won’t see the light of day…unless you produce it yourself.
To conclude, I have to share this article, "Three Approaches to Developing a Screenplay" by Gina Vanname. If you’re actually interested in writing a screenplay, it’s worth the read!
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at The World According to ChickLitGurrl.