5 Basic Formatting Errors that Kill Script Readers

 

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[Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Lee Hamilton of the Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition. Learn more about the competition at the end of the article.]

by Lee Hamilton

When writers submit scripts to production companies or directors, the first hurdle they must face is getting past the reader. Maximize your chances by avoiding these five pitfalls.

1. No title page

Or worse still, a title page that’s missing vital basic information such as the writer’s name and contact details. This is much more common than you might think. You may have written the best script in the world, but if the reader doesn’t know your name or how to get in touch with you, you’ve just ruined your chances.

2. Incorrect file format

By far the easiest and best file type to both send and read is the good old PDF. Not only is it the most popular and convenient file type, it protects the writer’s work, as the content cannot be manipulated. Sending scripts out in any other format not only makes the reader look unprofessional, the recipient probably won’t be able to open it.

3. Large blocks of text 

A reader’s heart will sink when scanning through a screenplay that’s adorned with masses of text. This means it’s going to take longer to read and time is money. Create more white space on the page by writing each new shot on screen as a new line on the page. And cut up lengthy dialogue by inserting some action for the audience to watch while they listen.

4. Misuse of parentheticals

This tool is something to use sparingly and only when a line of dialogue can be easily misinterpreted. If dialogue is written well, nine times out of ten, the readers will get the meaning of a line without needing to be told. And parentheticals are certainly not for directing action, which should be in scene descriptions.

5. Wrong layout

Similar to using the wrong file type, not sticking to the industry standard screenplay layout gives a misleading page count as well as being distracting to the eye and taking longer to read. Not using screenwriting software makes it look like you’re not serious about being a screenwriter.

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Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition is all about discovering new exciting screenwriting voices. With 32 Oscar, Golden Globe and Cannes winning judges on board to read the top scripts, not to mention 70+ production companies and agents, Shore is in a great position to get your work into the hands of the people who can help kickstart your career.  Shore will also be financing at least one winning short script this year with a minimum budget of £5000. We want to build on the successes of our previous short winners, most notably Ben Cleary, who won this year’s Live Short Film Oscar. Learn more at shorescripts.com.

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