So you’ve written a script. 100 gleaming pages of escalating tension, complex characters, and deep themes that will stick with a reader for years to come. But before that reader hits the final sentence and rushes your script on to their bosses, they need to read the first 5 pages. And it’s here the reader decides whether their next 2 hours is best spent pouring over your words or is better served reading the next script on the pile. Here are three ways to make sure your first impression doesn’t put your script in the trash.
Number 1 – The Title Page:
The story may start on page 1. But your first impression is the title page. This is often the last thing a writer thinks about when putting together a script. You might be thinking yourself, “how can I screw this up?” Title, name, contact information, and boom a perfect Title Page. And guess what? You’d be absolutely right.
The title page is addition by subtraction. Fancy graphics and images? No thanks. Obscure quotes to get the reader in the right mood? Unnecessary. Summaries of the script? Watermarks? A personal message to the reader? No, no, and no again. The writer needs to remember that a script has never been sold because of a “stellar” title page. But lot’s of scripts find their way to the recycle bin because a writer does too much.
To look professional and save your script, keep it simple. Title, name, and contact. Show some restraint and a reader is going to crack open your script without any negative preconceived notions about your skill level or professionalism.
Number 2 – Typos and Poor Formatting:
With a solid title page, it’s time for a reader to look over your script. Formatting errors and typos are usually identified instantly and upon first glance. If a script has the wrong font, spacing, or margins, it becomes clear a writer isn’t using screenwriting software, and that’s a signal that they’re dealing with an amateur. Maybe parentheticals contains info better suited for action description. Maybe scene headings are missing the time of day. There are plenty of visual cues that might be cosmetic, but indicate a writer’s familiarity with the medium.
Even worse, is an overabundance of typos. While typos don’t typically impact the enjoyment of a script they do send a clear message to the reader being, “I don’t care about my own work enough to take 2 hours to read through my own script.” Well it’s rare to find a reader who will care more about a script than the writer.
For a reader with 50 scripts in the wings, the writer has just given them a signal that this typo filled piece was a low effort job. If spell check was too much to do, then perhaps the storytelling is just as shoddy. That mentality leads to an unenthusiastic read at best or more likely, and another reason for the reader to enter your script with a negative impression.
Number 3 – Bad Action Description:
So let’s say your script looks the part and passes the eye test. The reader can see at a glance that there’s an understanding of the more technical side of screenwriting. Now it’s time to dig into the story and look at the quality of the writing. And in the first 5 pages of a script, there’s no better place to impress than in the action description.
Good dialogue is based in character, and this can be difficult to assess in the early going. But action description is a place where technical craft and expressive creativity merge. Does the writer have concise sentences that gets straight to the point, or the improper literary style packed with flowery and poetic language that turns the script into a Russian novel. Is action description broken up with every change in focus or do lines go on for paragraphs at a time?
There are a number of absolute no-no’s to be careful with, like including unfilmables or non-visual information simply handed to the reader that won’t show up on screen. Having an omniscient narrator in the action description spelling out character relationships, temperaments, thoughts and emotions is a quick way for a reader to spot an amateur screenwriter. But there’s also room in action description for a writer to play, inserting a bit of their personality, varied word choice and syntax, and the effort to direct a reader’s emotions.
A bad writer will mess up action description by including extraneous details or non-visual info. A good writer will deliver crucial plot information in a concise and clear manner. An excellent writer will deliver essential information, but can make action entertaining and emotionally resonant as well as informative. All of this is obvious to a reader within 5 pages of a script regardless of subject matter, characters, or themes.
The first 5 pages of a script are seen as a test for professionalism. The title page is a crude test to catch amateurs, formatting and typos shows off technical knowledge and effort, while action description gives the reader a clear understanding of the pace of the read ahead.
If you want to know how to master these elements of formatting, including much more, click here to check out the Screenplay Formatting Online Course. This is a full and comprehensive screenplay formatting tutorial, step-by-step guide that will show you how to format a screenplay per industry standards.