Be A Pro: Script Punctuation Matters

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Be A Pro: Script Punctuation Matters

Does your script need to have perfect punctuation? Yes!

As a screenwriter, there’s a certain level of professional pride that goes into what we do. And in assessing scripts that come in, be they to a production company, contest, or coverage service, readers can tell almost immediately if you as the screenwriter take that level of professional pride in your work.  

In THE DEPARTED, Frank Costello tells Billy Costigan, “Lennon said, ‘I’m an artist. You give me a fucking tuba, I’ll get you something out of it.’”

A puzzling amount of scripts simply do not punctuate dialogue. Here’s some un-punctuated dialogue…

“Hey Bobby you coming to the mall later? Okay cool good to see you bro take care.”

Here’s the same dialogue, with punctuation…

“Hey, Bobby? You coming to the mall, later? Okay, cool, good to see you, bro. Take care.”

Which one looks professional? It may seem like a small detail to quibble over, but it speaks to the approach. There are 14 punctuation marks commonly used – make them count! If you care enough to punctuate your dialogue, you’re likely applying the same level of rigor to your storytelling.

Typos and grammar errors of course are unforgivable, and it’s widely understood that those are not okay to have in your script. But setting punctuation aside for a moment, what about presentation? Not every script has to be hyper-stylized, with tons of italics, bolding, underlining, ellipses and so on (though this is a valid style, and often helps the read).

But there is a clear difference between someone who is putting care into their description, and someone who isn’t. Here’s a description of a mundane, routine scene opener…

“Bobby walks into his office. It’s plain, typical office, no windows.”

Here’s the same CONTENT, but with care to the presentation…

“Bobby steps into his modest office. No windows, no pictures of family, nothing but an ancient Dell computer with a keyboard that looks sticky.”

Again, which one looks more professional? The thing to remember is, as a screenwriter, you are swimming upstream against THOUSANDS of scripts. Experienced readers have likely devoted a rabbinical amount of study to reading scripts. Every little detail, a choice of words, a well-placed comma, a vivid descriptor, those things MATTER.

If you approach your craft like a pro, readers will pick up on it, and they’ll instinctively come into your material with a positive bias (“This should be good!”) vs. a negative one (“This looks unprofessional, which means the script is probably going to be weak.”) By devoting care to the smallest of details, from punctuation to presentation, screenwriters can give themselves the best chance to have their work assessed favorably.

Share your stories of professionalism leading to success in the comments below!

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