Screenwriting : Punctuation by Michael Ross

Michael Ross


how detrimental is a rare misused punctuation? I tend to put a period in place of a question mark in my dialogues. I'm not an idiot I know the difference, lol. Maybe it's because I'm in the habit of using periods since we don't use question marks anywhere else. I don't know. 

Now, don't get me wrong I find 99% of them, but for a submitted script how much would this affect you negatively if your format, structure, plot, character, and dialogue are on point? All of which I get great feedback from peer review cover.

Barry John Terblanche

A punctuation era here and there is no biggie. As long as the format is correct, the reader will see that the writer knows his/her stuff... cause a good story always helps to oversee those little typos. That's just me coming from a competition reader.

CJ Walley

I'm heavily dyslexic and often takes me multiple attempts to write a single sentence. It's very painful and that's before having to Google some words because my spellchecker can't even work out what I'm trying to spell. As a result, my drafts are littered with typos and dropped punctuation. Sometimes I'll hand something in that's only a dozen words yet still has a glaring error in it, like an entire word missing. The problem with being dyslexic is you just can't see the issues because your brain doesn't associate words with letters, it associates them with images.

It's never held me back. Producers aren't looking for typists or technical writing specialists. You either have valuable entertainment on the page or you don't. Accurate writers are very easy to find. Writers with a strong voice who operate professionally AND appreciate production constraints along with marketing needs - very rare.

Are there some people out there who get bothered by minor errors? Sure. Do you want to work with someone like that? Probably not. Can a script be too polished? Oddly enough, yes. I've seen comments from producers who are wary of scripts without a single error because it looks like the writer has spent too much time fussing over it. You can't win sometimes.

None of the above excuses outright laziness though and it all compounds. If someone's a few pages into something that's badly formatted in Word with poor prose, clunky dialogue, and no structure, the typos are only going to grind their gears a bit harder.

Tessa Shaffer

As a reader, I won't put something on the "pass" pile for just punctuation. I understand sometimes this gets missed and there's also times when a question could be delivered as a statement and vice versa. That being said, it's always good to get a final script proofread and have another set of eyes help with the small stuff. =)

Michael Ross

Great feedback. I love it.

Phil Clarke

Hi Michael Ross - you actually touched on the answer yourself. If it's a "rare misused punctuation", then it's not going to matter in the slightest. However, if your draft is littered with typos, missed or redundant punctuation etc. (and I've seen drafts where we're talking 50+ on each), then this is going to have an adverse effect on the read. Poor punctuation can alter the meaning of a line (i.e. the infamous eat, shoots and leaves example) and you don't want a reader thinking one thing when you meant another. As long as the line is comprehensible and not open to confusion or misunderstanding, then you should be okay.

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