Screenwriting : Question For the Readers by Jack Stalter

Jack Stalter

Question For the Readers

Given the fact that scripts get submitted constantly, they're going to vary in terms of format, appearance, etc. What are some big pet peeves that readers have when it comes to reading a spec screenplay? (e.g. flimsy brads, incorrect font, it was written with a crayon)

Pierre Langenegger

Who submits a hard copy using brads these days?

Preston Poulter

One reader wrote a book entitled "How Not to Write a Screenplay" that addressed 101 of the most common booboos.

D Marcus

My pet peeve as a reader is poor writing. I know, you're looking for something else, but nothing else really matters. Yes, book authors must come up with 101 things so they can sell books. And yes, format (font, element placement on the page) is important. So I'll give you one "pet peeve": the use of "WE'. Damnit, the entire point of a screenplay is to write what "WE" see and hear. I can't figure out why so many writers feel the need to tell me in writIng that "WE" see (or hear).

A. S. Templeton

I've found the How-Not-To-Piss-Off-The-Script Reader books (of which I own four) and free blogs to be quite instructive. So what if bitter, disillusioned readers compile their pet peeves to turn a buck? I would do the same, and entirely sympathize with their rage over reading total shite day after day. The books have informed and improved my scriptwriting in many ways, tho I seldom refer to them now. Tuition paid, work done, lessons learned.

D Marcus

Alex, if your "So what" is directed at my comment I will clarify; I think it's terrific when people can earn a buck. I wasn't putting them down I was stating a fact. They must come up with "pet peeves" to sell books. I, too, would do the same thing if it hadn't been done. My point was that most "pet peeves" are meaningless. I'm a reader, I dislike "WE" see and hear. But if the story will draw a large paying audience and the characters attract top talent I recommend the script. Even if the script were full of "pet peeves" a well written script will move up the development ladder. So nothing else really matters. Good writing and storytelling is the be all, end all of a screenplay.

A. S. Templeton

No disrespect intended, but again for those of us on the outside looking in, the "pet peeves" bulleted in such books as Jennifer Lerch's, William M. Akers', and Denny Flinn's comprise numerous, invaluable hints and tips for newbies. Old pro readers may sneer at others' How-(Not)-To books (maybe partly out of envy for others' having published theirs first?), but from the front lines I can assure everybody just starting out that those pet peeves constitute good resources. And no, I am not being paid to endorse those books, nor I have any financial interest in those authors, except for having shelled out the bucks and actually read their books. How can anybody rationally make the case for one not using every resource possible to enhance one's craft?

Craig D Griffiths

@D Marcus I know you are just stating your pet peeve so this is a true honest question, not a veiled attack. I use "We see" to call out a specific shot rather try and tell the directors how to do her job. But I need to call attention to the image to progress the image. Is there a way of getting the message of "The shot is important" to the reader without being annoying. I am of a fan of not reading like everyone else.

Jack Stalter

@Craig D Griffiths - to put emphasis on a visual, I tend to use a SHOT: to make it clear what "we see," or something similar. For example - "SHOT: A GUY walks into the bar." then start a new line.

Craig D Griffiths

I am hearing you Jack. Now be prepared for the Gurus to tell you " you're not the director". I am hoping after reading potentially hundreds of scripts Marcus had some insights. Plus use sparingly. Normally in establishing a new locations opening shot. "We see a country road, fields stretch out in all directions..." I could drop the "we see" but I am trying to achieve emphasis without interruption the pace of the read.

A. S. Templeton

I like how one How Not To writer put it (paraphrasing): "We See" is stupid and unnecessary because it's a visual medium! What, you mean "we" don't see the rest? Then what's it in the script for? Ditto for "We Hear". Point being, find a less lazy way to call attn to especially important stuff in the action descriptions. If it's written well, the reader/director will "get" its importance.

D Marcus

Alex, I'm sorry you think I'm sneering at the "How too" books. I don't mean to give that impression at all. I think it's terrific that those books are out there and that people are making money selling them. I'm sorry you think I am trying to make a case against using every possible resource to enhance ones craft. I don't understand how my posts came across that way.

D Marcus

I'm a big boy Craig. I see no attack veiled or otherwise. I can even take an attack. If you feel "we see" is important then use it. I know most writers feel "readers" are pretty stupid but we really aren't. We don't need the writer to call out a specific shots - believe it or not if the script is written well we can see that shot without reading "we see". As a script reader I am not interested in the shots the writer wants us to see. I'm interested in the story and characters. I know that the script will go through many rewrites from the time I "recommend" it until it is in production. The chances are those shots that are so important will become less important during the development and pre-production period.

Erica Benedikty

Not sure if "we see" or "we hear" is just old school but looking it up, it's used in Syd Field's Screenplay. (1984). I also looked and it's used a lot in scripts like Apocalypse Now, Die Hard and more I know I've seen. Most likely it's just self taught writers who see it in scripts they like and then copy the style. I know I've used it before.

Craig D Griffiths

D Marcus, interesting. Thanks.

Chris Herden

This is an excerpt from a current screenplay I'm working on. I too tried to tried to avoid using "WE" (see below - "We pull back from the Sun") but struggled to find an alternative. I was aiming for the idea of 'our camera' being focussed on the Sun as 'we' pull back toward the Earth behind us, that is, Earth's outer blue stratosphere gradually envelops us as we get nearer, but our camera remains fixed upon the Sun.... I would love some suggestions.... EXT. SPACE The SUN, surrounded by the vast blackness of space. Its white brilliance dissolves as the purplish hue of an extreme ultraviolet filter reveals its fiery turbulence. The Sun is now an orange orb, an angry giant of swirling gasses and solar flare eruptions. TRAVIS(V.O.) It's all too clear that the interplay between the Sun and Earth is crucial for making our planet inhabitable. We pull back from the Sun as it continues to spew hot plasma.

Ellecina Eck

Unless I'm writing to direct, I leave out the "WE" statements. Same for specific shots. A few of my pet peeves as a reader include punctuation omissions, not describing the main characters (JENKINS sits at the bar, nursing a beer. I'd like some idea of who this guy is, for context!), and of course misspellings or misuse of homonyms.

Jack Stalter

@Ellecina Eck - Thank you for the response! I always make sure to at least include the character's age after their first appearance with (##), then a short description like you said. I agree with you on the homonyms -- also the phrase "should of".

D Marcus

I agree with Dan, Chris. It doesn't matter to your story if "we" (the camera) pulls back or not. I know you see the shot in your head and would love it if the director used the shot you have in mind. But really, your job is to tell the story, not to set up camera movies. If you feel that pull back is essential to your story then you have to leave it in. Ask yourself; if we don't pull back will your story be affected?

Michael Eddy

Typos on the first page. Bad grammar. Spelling errors. Format errors. A bad story. If the reader isn't hooked by page ten - or if any of the previously mentioned BS has popped up sooner than that - you're toast. Back in the weekend pile. rejected.

Harold Vandyke

Ah, yes, the ever popular use (or should I say, misuse) of should of, could of, would of.

A. S. Templeton

Woulda, coulda, shoulda and their homonyms and similar expressions are okay in dialog. But would/could/should-anything have no place outside dialog, nor do any conditionals or any other past-tense expressions.

Harold Vandyke

I was actually referring to their use in general. One sees of used instead of have frequently.

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

Yeah, it's too bad that you have to be really good at writing in the English language to easily avoid those basic mistakes(grammar, spelling, format, awkward sentences). If English isn't your first language, or your education was bad (or non-existent) then you're going to make those mistakes constantly. It ostracizes so many potentially great story-tellers. I think the best 'fix' is to do a script swap. Get someone who knows screenplay writing to edit your work & give you notes, and you agree to do the same for them. www.Zoetrope.com is the Coppola's answer to this conundrum (it's free!).

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

ooh, here's my 'pet peeve': unnecessary and/or overly graphic violence. Oh, and sexist attitudes...hate that. The graphic violence thing, it's MORE disturbing to read this stuff in a spec than to see it on film! I don't know why. Weird, coming from me, because I've written graphic violence (my first was rather MadMax-ish!) Anyway, I wish screenplays were forced to have a warning on the cover page. Warning: contains scenes of graphic violence and language. At least then I'd know what I was getting into when I start the read.

A. S. Templeton

Um, logically it would be counterproductive to swap grammar and vocab editing with sb. who doesn't know the difference between it's and its. Maybe just big-picture feedback? Again, as for woulda, "would of" etc., anything goes in dialog. But casual colloquialisms have imo little justifiable place in action.

Harold Vandyke

Yes, Alex, I understood you the first time. I was referring to non-script usage.

Virginia Brucker

Pet peeve? Sharing a script when it's still very much a rough draft. When someone is offering their time to read your work, make sure it's the best it can be before sharing it with someone. Writers are busy people, it's good of them to offer feedback. We need to respect that and make the read enjoyable. That means making your script as professional as you possibly can. It's natural to be excited when you've written a whole script--savor the moment, put it away for a while, and then spend a lot more time revising and polishing before sending your baby out into the world.

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