Monday, February 2, 2009

Formatting - The First Thing Every Writer Gets Wrong

Last week I went to pick up scripts from one of my jobs, and the assistant handing them over – a good friend and fellow screenwriter, by the way – saw me flip through a few pages of one of the offerings. Even before I had a chance to say anything, he remarked, “I know. I hate when they do that too. I can hardly read them like that.”

The infarction in question? The writer used Times New Roman font instead of Courier. And I completely understood what my buddy meant.

To the layman, there’s no difference between Times and Courier, but to a reader who’s gotten used to the formatting, there’s a world of difference. I can skim through a Courier script quickly and retain a lot of it, but put the same script in Times and speed-reading because a lot harder, as if I developed a learning disability. Part of this has to do with the fact that Times font is a little smaller, but I’m certain there’s something at work here on a subliminal level. It’s as if there some kind of psychosomatic script-reader autism that one can develop, where deviations from the format cause difficulty in reading comprehension. As silly as it sounds, several readers have backed me up on this.

This is all just a long-winded way of saying that when submitting your script, be sure its in Courier or Courier New 12 point font. Any other size or font will throw off the “actual” length of your script when the error is corrected. I’m not immune to this. I wrote my first script in Microsoft Word at Times New Roman 12 point font. It came out at 118 pages… until my error was pointed out to me and adjusting the font inflated the script by a good 15 pages if I remember correctly.


Spacing errors are equally annoying, particularly egregious ones. You might think we’d never notice if you cheat the side or bottom margins, or expand the dialogue margins in order to keep the page count down. Trust me, we’ll know. We read a 12 scripts a week so we can pick out inaccurate margins without even looking hard. It’s another one of those things that screams “mark of an amateur” but more importantly, by squeezing more words onto a page, it again makes reading a harder on your reader’s eyes.

It probably sounds arbitrary when a reader harps on formatting as a major factor in the read, but it definitely has an impact. It’s called an “industry standard” for a reason. That’s the way a script is supposed to look. To put it another way, if you were applying for a job at a law firm, you wouldn’t go in wearing a torn T-shirt and flip-flops, would you? No, you’d dress for the job you wanted because being a smart interviewee, you’d know that presentation is an important determiner of how people perceive you. When screenwriting, consider your format the wardrobe for your job interview.

Final Draft (and every other scriptwriting program might seem expensive) but it is worth every penny. Not only will you not have to figure out how to create a template with your word processing program, but you’ll win points with your reader.

1 comment:

  1. What about Normal / Tight line spacing options in Final Draft?