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"Written...but read?"

Paul Buscemi's Column for Monday December 3, 2001. Buscemiarts@hotmail.com

Recently, at my day-job, Julia Roberts was interviewed in connection with the upcoming release of "Ocean's 11." During the interview, she spoke of a script that was so well written; she even read the "stage direction."

This served to reiterate in me, the theme of getting important screenplay details into places other than the block description paragraphs. It's just a sad fact that a script begs to be skimmed, not read. We really can't blame actors or development people if they have to speed-read our work. The amount of scripts these people have to review can be daunting.

My philosophy has always been centered on finding creative ways to creatively dispense information that reads quickly and interestingly. Sometimes this information can just come out in the dialog, but you really have to watch that it sounds like a real conversation. More than anything else, I work, re-work (and work some more) the dialog in my scripts.

I cannot review any dialog without tweaking it further. Changing a word, dropping a word or sometimes just one letter is part of any re-read I do on my work. I also read aloud the dialog and at times record myself doing it, for playback later. This probably stems from having once been an actor. (Okay, so my thespian tendencies were limited to the Civic Arts Repertory Theater in Walnut Creek, California) Or possibly, from all those conversation-recording and transcribing assignments, in film school. I have to say the policy of constant dialog tweaking pays off (and I have the reader coverage to prove it!).

A good way to get important little story details across to the busy reader is done by exploiting the pre-line actions between the character's name and the actual dialog. The trick is keeping them brief, which must be done.

My favorite trick for getting important information across is to break up a descriptive paragraph so it draws attention to itself on the page. For example a description passage traditionally looks like this:

"Fire has created a wall between them. Through the fire and heat, she sees Gavin isn't moving. Beyond Gavin, stands the mortician, who removes his hat and bows his head."

However, the above passage will read with greater ease if it's written more like this:

FIRE - has created a wall between them.

Through the fire and heat, she sees Gavin isn't moving.


Stands the MORTICIAN, who removes his hat and bows his head.

The beauty of this is that any certified script skimmer still feels like they are skimming - when in actuality they read all the important details. Here's another example:

"The wind becomes more intense. The bells clang more recklessly as the fire grows and grows."

This information can be driven home with more intensity when it's put down like this:


Becomes more intense.


Clang recklessly.


Grows and grows.

The only drawback to this method is that it adds to your page count. My screenplays are a balancing act between page count and quick read-ability - Which is a challenging little assignment all of it's own (unless your reader only reads, just the dialog anyway.)



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