Why can't we have one convention for formatting? An editor corrects my formatting of age, e.g., Tom, 25, to Tom (25). David Trottier, per his Bible, uses the former without the brackets. Which is correct?
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Short answer? Either. I've done it both ways, sometimes within the same script. Never heard a comment either way. Julie (25), has a body that spells S-I-N or Julie, 25, has a body that spells S-I-N doesn't matter a wink compared to if Julie is a three dimensional character in a killer story. Tell your editor to move on, Shakir!
Agreed. Doesn't matter. I love Trottier but I use the parenthesis for ages. One of the few things that's left to personal preference.
Thanks to all. I do write the names in CAPS when they are first introduced but not in caps afterwards. But, don't you think there should be an authorized convention for all aspects of formatting so that everyone is on the same page and some initial reader is not going to throw out a script because he/she has different beliefs about what is correct and what looks professional? I am of the opinion that David Trottier is the authority. Am I wrong? I heard that some people are turned off very easily by anything.
No professional reader is going to throw out a well written, marketable script due to different beliefs about "correct" formatting. The "editor" has a different goal than the reader. The writer is usually paying them to make corrections. The reader is looking for a great, well told story that will attract top talent. And no, I do not think there should be an authorized convention for all aspects of formatting beyond what is already in place. Frankly whether one puts the age of a character in brackets or parentheses has no bearing on the story at all. An editor who says one is correct and the other incorrect is a fool.
What D said.
Hey Shakir, as everyone else has said, don't worry about the editor's comment -- it was an overly pedantic concern. Writing prose and writing scripts are two different beasts. I've read plenty of scripts in which ages are not even given! Yes, do look to David Trottier's "The Screenwriter's Bible" as safe guidance. But, also do understand that some formatting choices really come down to personal preferences. Just keep in mind, story clarity is key. :) Best to you!
I'll share some personal preferences and/or pet peeves of mine... I actually don't like to see ages in scripts, or rather, ages given in number form. YES, I KNOW this is against the norm, but personally I find numbers visually disruptive. I like a smooth read. I don't care for 'staccato' character descriptions either. I'd much rather read, "BOB, a hard-mouthed man of thirty" verses "BOB (30), hard-mouthed." There are other ways of revealing information in a terse manner. This comes down to writing styles, of course, and all of us are different. Also, ages given in scripts are sometimes redundant or unnecessary. If I'm reading a script about a teen drama and clearly the age of the protagonist is given, I do not need to see (17) for every secondary classmate character. If it is clear that everyone is a junior -- we already know their ages. Unless, the age is really important, like a child genius character who is a high school senior but is only 12 years old, then, of course, it is necessary. Also, does it really matter if a character is 35? Or 38? Or 70? Or 75? Again, in my opinion, unless it is vital to the story, an approximate age is not needed -- late 30s, or 70s is enough. If characters are revealed clearly in context ages are already apparent -- hence redundancy. Anyway, I much prefer to get to know a character throughout a script rather than be hit with everything upfront -- assaulted with information. I'd rather be lured. Intrigued. I like a reader's intelligence to be assumed by the writer. Yes, of course, give a clear character description, but allow nuances to be revealed later. Again, these are just preferences of mine -- my quirks! This is meant only as an example of mixing formatting, writing styles and personal preferences in regards to creating spec scripts. :) Best to you!
I would just write it as you would prefer it. Trust your own style. Little things like that aren't too important. The important thing is whether or not it's an easy read. Whatever flows better. Especially for a Spec.
I don't use ages in scripts unless it is critical to the character, since I have no idea who they will cast... what would the reader think of that?
I totally agree William -- as I previously exposed some of my own writing proclivities and reading preferences. I too avoid giving ages unless it is truly necessary for the character or for story clarity. For those who prefer to give an age, or who are new to screenwriting, or who are uncomfortable with that notion "The Screenwriter's Bible" is a good place to reference possible ways to handle character ages. Of course, these references are not really hard formatting "rules" but rather formatting guidelines. :)
That's why I don't read blogs by competition readers.
That's interesting, CJ. I have experienced the opposite. Although, I've been slightly more exact with age, but again only with main characters and if critical to the story. Here's an example of an age phrase in a description of mine based upon a true story; "... a hubris man of twenty-four." Through my journey as an aspiring writer I've developed a keen sense of practical logic. The subjectivity we encounter can be confusing and frustrating, but I tend to stick to my guns and make only slight adjustments. I listen to all feedback and consider every point I'm given, especially when given by someone with extensive professional experience. The key always boils down to story clarity. If I'm leaving out an exact age, my character and scene descriptions give clear clues to what's happening for anyone to discern a rough age. I try to walk that fine line... As told to me by a former V.P of Development at United Artists... with a spec script, you want to achieve a crystal clear, smooth read. Assume the high intelligence of a reader -- they've seen everything! You want to lure your reader through the story. Pull them in and never let them go! Your goal is to get them to fall hard for your story and for your lead characters. When your spec script heads into development, ages of all characters and other finite details will be flushed out, which of course includes many many rewrites and casting. :)
Maybe because I tend to use the Nicholl script sample, I will use a parenthetical to clarify if a speaker is referring to an object or person. I rarely, if ever, use it for an emotion. I let the context dictate the emotion.
I went to a Formatting Convention once...
Elle, that's crazy talk.
Yikes! Formatting Convention?! Yeah, that sounds like a good time... :) Ha Ha!
Yeah, subjectivity and variants of professional opinion do reek fear and frustration. Clear cut single direction would be helpful, but detrimental to originality and creativity. Again, I try to navigate these waters with practical logic. You cannot control the caliber or opinions of competition judges or readers. You can only control what you create on the page. :)
Don't fret, CJ. :) You're an amazing writer and you are getting your work out there. Just keep going! Keep the faith, bro!
I think, at the end of the day, the importance of formatting lies in the readers first impression. If your formatting is so different from the norm that the reader decides the writer is too amateurish to bother reading the script then it doesn't matter how good it is. Small discrepancies here and there in the script will probably be noticed but ignored if the script is good. So the key is to keep the reader from dismissing the script out of hand.
When working with screenwriters (Proof Edge is my baby) I recommend using a range in parentheses so it's clear what the range is and it leaves it open for casting purposes. They way I've heard it explained to me is this: if you write 'BOB JONES (52)', an actor who's 58 might pass on the role, whereas if you write 'BOB JONES (50s) you allow for a wider net. The one exception is, of course, kids and teens. 'Teens' would be pretty vague so it's better to be more specific and write (15).
Great analogy, CJ -- competitions are like exams. Exams in which the marking criteria keeps shifting! I love your other analogy too -- entering a screenwriting competition is like playing a subjective lottery. Both are spot on.
And remember; the professional studio reader has a different criteria than the contest reader and the paid "editor".
A lot of interesting comments here. ~ D Marcus said, "An editor who says one is correct and the other incorrect is a fool." I wish someone would tell that to the fools that keep jerking around with script formatting. THEY are the ones who dictate what's correct and what isn't, not editors. And just who are these people (who obviously don't write) that keep screwing around with what is considered acceptable formatting? Not just ages, the whole shebang. The Spec Format Guide by Fade In Magazine (updated yearly) might be a saving grace, assuming of course that IT'S correct. ;-D
I was told a simple and understandable answer when I was writing scripts. If the person is caring so much about the format of the script and not the story, they are either bitter or your story sucks. Now this doesn't mean you should put 0 effort in formatting your script, but if someone is really complaining about the (25) or ,25, then I would suggest moving on to someone else who will read it. There are over 200 Development executives alone at Dreamworks. You could send out over 1,000 of your scripts and get potential bites. Just put the legwork in. Once I finish my final edit of my next script, which I think is my best work and I've worked really hard on, I will be mailing it all over. If I don't get a bite, I don't. If I do, great. I don't write for recognition. I write because I love it. If I happen to make a career out of it, amazing. Either way, nothing will stop me from telling stories. Even if they are shit and don't make good movies ;)
don't sweat the small stuff. give them a great concept, with interesting characters and a lot can be overlooked. writers tend to fret the 'quality' of their writing, when this is down the list of producers. there will always be notes, but if you don't get them interested nothing else really matters.
It seems that when you reach a certain level people just don't care. I'm reading BRIDESMAIDS and it's full of typos! Also, 12 YEARS A SLAVE (another screenplay I'm reading) seems to fly in the face of many of the "rules." I guess it makes sense that there is so much variation--the screenplay is merely a blueprint, NOT the finished product.
These are not spec scripts. Read last years big spec script sales. "White House Down" Read things like "Shawshank Redemption". Read scripts you know were not a hired writer working for the business or already in it.You can find great spec script sale records over at the black list. And read stuff that is in line with your work :D
You are correct, Stephen. There is a different criteria for the unproduced writer writing a script as a writing sample and the produced writer writing a script on assignment.
Thank you Beth. I'm in the same boat when it comes to characters age. I also believe in revealing a characters approximate age through context. However in a recent short I'm close to finishing, the character I had in mind was 40. The actor that was cast is 27 or 28. I did have a discussion with the director about my disagreement. It ended up working out. This is a hot button for a lot of readers and writers. Its an easy excuse to not read your script. I know of several writers who become very pedantic because the characters age wasn't listed. They give long winded excuses as to why they couldn't infer the age of the character.
Hello Shakir, The efficient rules of formatting, those with a real purpose, fit on one page. All other rules, those that may be arbitrarily replaced by others, are unnecessary -- Plus they are HARMFUL. They cause waste of time and energy that should be better spent for more important work. E.g. to refine plot or dialogue. Readers, gurus and other execs who are interested in stories are not interested in these details. The others, the nitpickers who interfere either to show off or to pinch you some money, they are not really interested in stories. The thing is the latters may often get in the way.
Pedantic is right! However, respectfully, I get it. A spec script that on the surface appears up-to-date with formatting, has no typos and matches current trends shows a higher level of professionalism. Those front gate readers tend to give the surface look much more importance. Again, I feel it's finding that balance, walking that line between industry expectations and individual writing style. :) Best wishes to all of you!
Sorry Jean-Marie, but I disagree. There is nothing harmful about proper formatting, nor is it a waste of time. Sure, there is some flex to them and many things have multiple ways to be done. Ignoring formatting can cause a reader to set your script aside and if it isn't read then it doesn't matter how great the story or characters are. Selling a script is dependent on it being read in the first place and formatting is the one thing that can get your script ignored. It is very important that when readers look at your script it visually looks like a professional screenplay. Sloppy formatting is not professional.
Sorry Trey, I was not speaking about sloppy formatting, I was speaking about "overeading". But you seem to have the solution of Shakir's problem. When you want a script to be read without bias, do you : - previously write to your prospect to know Who will read this script and if he likes the ages being with or without brackets, the scene headings underlined or not, if he recommends or banishes the use of the double dash, if he recommends or banishes the use of (MORE) + (CONT'D) - using capitals or not - etc. etc. - send as many scripts as there are possible combinations of all these arbitrary rules, - or use some magic to match with your reader's compulsion? What would you think about a town where each policeman could fix the max speed and give you a ticket to his own liking? It's a shame that so many writers like Shakir waste their creative time trying to solve this problem which has no solution. And it's a shame that such a topic needs to be deal with. By definition : - a good rule has a real purpose and is universal, like margins or the use of a non-proportional 12 font, - a rule which can be at the same time arbitrarily chosen by one party, changed, or forbidden by an other party, cannot have a real purpose and be universal. This is an unnecessary and harmful rule and it shouldn't exist.
Jean-Marie, where I disagree is your assumption that its black and white: a rule either has real purpose or is harmful. It's not harmful to follow rules that others do not. I would say it's rather harmful not to. Take the parenthesis around the age rule from the OP. If you follow the rule that places parenthesis around ages it's not harmful at all even though the rule is arbitrary now. The only thing that would be harmful would be using the rule sometimes and not other times. That would make you look amateurish and lazy. Also, concerning your comment that it is a shame Shakir and others waste their time learning proper formatting. Is any student searching for knowledge wasting their time? I say no. We are all constantly learning and seeking out knowledge is not a waste of time. Suggesting otherwise is what is truly harmful.
Sorry Trey, You're WRONG: 1. >>"It's not harmful to follow rules that others do not" : It's harmful to correct the work of somebody who uses an other arbitrary rule than yours as long as it respects custom, and cast doubt in their mind. No reader, no editor should do that. No universal rule = that's custom that applies, and custom usually has multiple forms which MUST be respected. You're free to choose your own arbitrary rules, not to impose them on people, a fortiori when others are still trying to impose their own! 2. >>"Shakir and others waste their time learning proper formatting": Shakir and others waste their time trying to understand rules some boasters want them to think it's the unique right way ... while each of the latters may have their own! Nothing to do with propper formatting! 3. >> "Is any student searching for knowledge wasting their time?": They are wasting their time when they are taught stupidities. Suggesting otherwise is what is truly harmful.
Yes, story clarity is key. :) Look, Trey is not "wrong," nor is any of us, really. However, the word "harmful" seems overly dramatic, don't you think? NONE of this is a waste of time, but rather part of the process. One needs to be aware of formatting. All of it. Even the arbitrary elements and their different options. Age example: TOM, 25, verses TOM (25) verses "twenty-five" in a descriptive sentence. IT IS respecting the craft and the profession. A flippant, disrespectful attitude about formatting and craft reflects poorly and is unprofessional. You must learn and master form before bending or breaking it. Worked for Picasso, did it not?! If anything, this discussion demonstrates the subjective nature of screenwriting and the wide variety of opinions within the industry. I gave some of my formatting "preferences" but that doesn't mean I'm going to dig my nails in and refuse to try alternatives; change my mind about a formatting choice if it better serves my story. There is no ONE WAY. There never will be. So... accept it. Roll with it.
Well said, CJ. I prefer to think of "rules" as guidelines. :) "Roll with it" meant that some of those guidelines are always going shift or change and thus we must make creative decisions as we go. Formatting is meant to serve the story and the writer, not the other way around. :)
Hmmmm. Ok Jean-Marie, your clarification makes more sense. I will agree that when amateurs offer advice it can often be harmful. But lets be real, if you know that the person offering you advice is an amateur you need to also know that it is just that, advice. My comment was more towards the teachings of a professional. Lets take the example of Trottier's lack of parenthesis from the OP. Its not harmful that he teaches that even though it is fully arbitrary. Nor are we obligated to follow that particular rule. Once again, my main issue with your post was your portrayal of the issue as a simple black and white decision. It's not, it's dependent on many factors.
Oh, bear in mind, that "professional" script you read that broke a lot of "rules" may have been written by someone who has paid their dues and has earned "professional lax." Also, that script may have been written on assignment or perhaps by the person(s) who actually directed/produced the film and therefore did not have the burden of going through readers, or needing some sort of "approval." For those of us trying to break in, we, unfortunately, must be much more diligent. :)
OOOh, can I have a T-shirt too?! How 'bout "Anarchists Roll With It" ...no?
OK Trey, 1. " Its not harmful that he teaches that even though it is fully arbitrary." What is harmful is when (First) every master doesn't teach the same, giving strength and credibility to (Second) pseudo-professionals who make this or the opposite official rules they decree. 2. "...even though it is fully arbitrary. Nor are we obligated to follow that particular rule." I'am glad you agree with that! Just what I wanted you to finish saying! So you'll agree that no one, either being reader, editor, consultant..., may blame or correct you to do so, I presume? THAT IS the only answer Shakir needs and everybody must respect, either being reader, editor, consultant or someone else... 3. So you will agree that when pseudo-professionals (most of them not able or gutsy enough to write a screenplay = not even amateur writers!) decree, it can often be harmful. And if you know that the person offering you services is a pseudo-professional (have a look at IMDB) you better do business with someone else. To finish with, something funny: as you can see, as a French writer I need my work proofread and edited before entering contests or marketing it in English speaking countries (three of my proofreaders I salute are Stage 32 members). I made my work rewritten by a well known Hollywood consultant once. And you know what? That brought back the worst results I obtained, including in its own contest!
Again with the black and white Jean Marie. You said. What is harmful is when (First) every master doesn't teach the same, That is absolutely false. In what industry ever do all the "masters" agree on all details. Give me one, just one. I understand the desire to have one answer so that you can condemn all others as "harmful", but the world, and especially humanity, doesn't work that way. We are a people of diversity with innumerable ways and methods of doing any and everything.
Exactly! You say the truth here! "We are a people of diversity with innumerable ways and methods of doing any and everything." And this must be respected by everybody, even by John Doe, Script Doctor at Godforsaken place.
Again with "harmful?" Perhaps a better word would be "frustrating." :) "Harmful" to me sounds a little "preachy" or "self involved," you know? I'm only talking about the word "harmful" in this context. :) And, sorry, but most everyone -- readers or judges for competitions, or script consultants, or script gurus, or whatever -- do respect the diversity of people and different methods. What we are encountering are differences of subjective opinions. But, opinions based on industry experience and knowledge. Therefore, do warrant consideration. The reality is that it is up to us -- the WRITER -- to decipher all the suggestions, opinions, "rules" and make our own decisions about our own writing. Learn from feedback and learn to trust our gut. At the end of the day, it's really all about story. Superficial formatting concerns are just a small part of this crazy, wonderful world of screenwriting. Best to you!
Hi Beth, Maybe my English language skills don't make me able to judge the relevance of "Harmful" and if that's the case, I apologize. Otherwise, you're persfectly right: it's really all about story. That's why writers write, allowing format nitpickings gurus to earn a living. That's why the latters importance should be a bit little weaker. And that's why I prefer to take my storytelling lessons from people like Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Steven Zaillian, Francis Ford Coppola, Ernest Lehman... than from format doctors who never wrote a story. 8->
Nah, Jean-Marie, your English is just fine! :) No apologies needed. I think it's just different connotations, or possible interpretations of a word within context. It's all good! You sound like a very passionate and creative writer. Best wishes to you!
I've never used ages but have used and use age ranges. Mid twenties, early thirties, graying, near forty, elderly. It is interesting though that a specific age does keep description less wordy. Heck if I know what's best.
Hello Beth, Thank you for your compliment, Hello Ben, Some explanations. 1. - Why is there formatting rules (= why were they established), and where can you find them? 2. - why are some of them useful, unique and universal and why are some others plural, arbitrary and should all be considered right as part of custom? 3. - Why are the latters often a problem for screenwriters? 1.0 - The two main rules were established in the forties and fifties when the use of the typewriter became widespread. The most common typewriters used a non-proportional Courier 12 - pitch 10 font. Margins where established for two purposes: - facilitate reading, - and beat time so either you fill it with action or dialogue, one page of script is about one minute of movie. The count of pages gives approximately the length of your movie, so an accessory rule is to number the pages beginning at "FADE IN:". There are some more universal useful rules that are made to facilitate the reading and the analysis of screenplays, like the structure of scene headings, shot instructions, characters positions when they are out of frame (Off Screen, Off Camera, Voice Over), parentheticals, etc. etc. The above rules are visual. There are some more useful rules that are not visual: e.g. screenwriter should avoid the use of shot instructions and the abuse of parentheticals, because they are not alone in the creative process: shot instructions are the domain of Directors an Cinematographers, parentheticals content (emotions...) is the domain of actors. If your story is clear, they don't need any instructions to make a good job. All these rules are common and you can find them everywhere on the internet with useful examples (ask Mr Google, Wikipedia) for free. The ways to make evolve. So rules that were frormerly useful may become obsolete and be called into question. E.g. the use of (MORE)+(CONT'D) on page change because we tend to read screenplays in speed view on computers, tablets... 2.0 - The above rules are useful and universal, because they have a real technical purpose related to what all is about : work together to tell and show a story. However, many people in the industry forget one of the paradigms they teach to others: LESS IS MORE. And they tend to accumulate new rules that have no real necessity, are multiple and opposing, each finding followers who try to impose them. E.g. the ages format problem this topic began with. What these arbitrary false-rules teach is mostly not wrong. These are just different right ways of doing something, as parts of custom. 3.0 - What ‘s bad is the way some people use these pseudo-rules, and as a result the confusion it sows in the screenwriters' minds: 3.1 - The first purpose is to judge if you're in on screenwriting without reading any word of your script. If not, => bin . Based on the idea that if you don't know formatting rules, you're a newby and you don't know storytelling rules. Obviously not a great way to discover new talents, a great way to deal with established but untalented authors , perfect to make the mass of mediocre cheap movies released every year. 3.2 - Then is a reader's common compulsion: power is rewarding, a great way to feel yourself important. And when you can take power on somebody who's doing something you would like to do but cannot, give them lessons* and feel yourself superior, that's the nirvana! The better the story is, the bigger format blames and corrections will be. (* using favorite words like "unprofessional", "amateurish"...) 3.3 - To finish with is the marketing stuff: did you notice that many writers may work for free, but never readers, doctors, consultants…. - same thing for actors. This is because writing and acting are art; while reading, correcting, etc. are just ways to earn money. And help to screenwriting is a big business: about 10.000 specs on the market, less than 30 that will be produced, more than 1.200 contests and festivals. Screenwriters need to polish and repolish their work. Doctors and consultants have a big interest in keeping writers into trouble enough to make them buy more and more services. So if you write ages using brackets, they remove them, if not, they add them, and so on. The thing is to make as many changes as possible, either they are justified or not. This is partly true for action and dialogue too. E.g. If replies are longer than what you wrote in the rewrite you bought , there might be something wrong! Hope to be helpful.
All I know is that I see TOM (25) most often. Just follow how it's done in the great screenplays.
If you feel a need to keep your editor happy, then use of parenthesis is a minor adjustment - doesn't mean it's a formatting change you're stuck with forever. Trottier's book is a fantastic screenwriting guide.
There ARE conventions, but they keep changing it seems. We talk about this quite a lot over at Triggerstreet Labs (which is mostly for screenwriters).
Producers are looking for scripts that will attract top talent and a paying audience. so that's what readers are looking for. The format "rules" are simple. What becomes dogmatic is style - like Shakir's example. As long as the margins are correct, the font is correct and the elements are where they should be then everything else is just personal style. And personal style is usually what creates dogma on message boards, forums and blogs. Just to be clear; I'm talking ONLY about pro readers covering for producers, not readers/consultants. They have a very different agenda. But once the script is in the hands of producers (and their team) the individual style doesn't matter. Only the likelihood of the script attracting top talent and a paying audience.
My name is Darrell Shanks. I'm the Head of East Coast Programming of a global television network. My job is to find quality films, shows, Web series, movies, cartoons and plays to televise. Inbox me if interested or email me at Dshanks76@comcast.net
Some other interesting info about reading and querying: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20140605031959AAfhK3Q http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.fr/2009/02/sellascript-get-damn-refund.html http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/sellascriptcom/culver-city-California/sell... http://www.indietalk.com/archive/index.php/t-37308.html This is really important because when they send your query letter to their X,000 contacts, the few ones who read it now know you're not a professional!
See how a format question may have several responses (not all of them needing a copy of Screenwriter's Bible): https://www.stage32.com/lounge/screenwriting/Please-help-complicated-tec... Many thanks to Laurie Ashbourne and C Peterson, who are the only two professional readers having made their input to this issue at this date.
Happy New Year!