Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Talkback - If you know a mistake exists, why not fix it?

I got a question from a reader named Norm recently:

I have a question though as a professional reader in Hollywood. Does grammar matter in a script? There's this debate raging on the forums over at Stage 31 at the moment and people are swearing that grammar is in fact not important at all in a spec and that studios will simply hire people to fix it. I would love to get the opinion of an actual script reader on this. If you read a script with bad grammar, would you still give it the stamp of approval?

I'm sure we've kinda discussed this before. Most questions of this nature can be boiled down to these guidelines:

Make your writing look as professional as possible.  Thousands of scripts come into each company a year.  It's a deluge - and most of those scripts are bad.  So people are going to have ways of thinning the herd.  Some of you are going to argue that it's not fair that someone might toss your script aside without giving it a full read.  To that I say, "When someone on American Idol has the wrong look, the wrong attitude and their voice is not only weak, but completely lacks technique, do you really need to hear them sing a three-minute song in it's entirety?"

Don't give your reader any reason not to remain engaged with the story.  If your grammar is so atrocious that one has to re-read some passages over and over again to understand what happened, that's not a good thing for you.

If someone retorts "I read a Tarantino script and he misspells everything!  No one cares!" punch them in the face.  YOU are not Tarantino.  When you write a film that grosses $100 million, jump-starts several careers and gets nominated for Oscars, then fine, get lazy and write it your way.

If the script is a great story, brilliant concept and flawless characters, and it happens to have poor grammar, then yeah, I'd probably still give it a Consider.  But here's the thing - writers who care enough about their work to turn in something that exceptional aren't going to invest that much care and then shit the bed when it comes to grammar.  The people who stand out from the crowd well enough to break in almost always agonize over showing their work in the best possible light.

Why buy a tux and then wear sneakers with it?

My Talkback question to you:  Why does this question keep coming up?  Why must this be a debate on screenwriting boards?  If all of you are intending to be professional writers who take pride in your work, why are you not kicking the assses of the lazy hacks looking for validation on how to cut corners?

The biggest fights I see on screenwriting forums are over little pissy shit like this: should sluglines be bold?  How much should I underline and italicize?  Readers like me often jump in with suggestions or guidelines on how to make your script more appealing.  Most people are appreciative, but there's one asshole who says, "You wouldn't flunk David Koepp over a formatting and grammar nitpick, so ergo formatting doesn't matter!"

Actually, that belligerent asshole probably doesn't know the meaning of the word "ergo."

My point is, I get the curiosity.  I get seeking the advice of people on the inside.  What I DON'T get is why you guys waste so much energy fighting over this stuff.  If you really believe grammar doesn't matter, then don't waste your time berating everyone.  Hell, let them waste their time getting their grammar perfect while you beat them across the finish line.

Similarly, if you know there are benefits to a more professional look to your script, and some jerk in the forums tells you that the gurus know nothing, the bloggers know nothing and that you're an idiot for caring so much, why do you need that dickhead's approval of your method?


  1. Letting stupidity cross the street first is one of the toughest, but one of the most essential, parts of staying sane on the internet. "Grammar doesn't matter" guy is the same as the dude who thinks cops harass him for no reason, even though he has 6 DUIs.

  2. On the whole I'd say many of us spend far too much time on these boards instead of actually reading/watching/writing.

  3. Not THESE boards, obviously. You all know the ones I mean.

  4. I'd say it's mostly a justification - they need to justify they're inability/unwillingness to do it right. And they fight anyone who stands up and challenges their justification because they cannot afford to be wrong.

  5. THANK YOU! Every once in a while (mostly when I'm looking for an excuse to do anything but write) I get drawn to those boards for a nose around. I can never decide whether it's because I hold out vain hope of stumbling across some nugget of insight, or if I'm just entertained by idiots being assholes (and also vice versa, I'm easily entertained).

    A while ago, I was trying to figure out a niggly bit of formatting - I knew there wasn't necessarily a definitive right or wrong, but I decided to ask in a forum, just to see what happened really. The handful of opinions on what I'd asked were drowned out by the hoards bellowing "none of this matters! Don't overthink it! Pros don't care about this stuff!" which irritated me no end because a) if I've chosen to wonder about something, I don't need your opinion on whether or not it's worth wondering about, thanks; and b) I do care about this stuff.

    Not at the expense of story and character, not that I'm losing sleep over a slugline, not that my script will be tossed summarily aside because of two typos that escaped proofreading, but because giving a little bit of thought to how my work is presented is part of the job, as far as I'm concerned.

    That said, I'll still be back for a nose next time I'm actively procrastinating. I just know that some day, they will reach a consensus on "we see", and dammit, I want to be there when they do...

  6. have you evar red a script with bad grammer? its dang awful to read and you have to re-read it over and over again, then you put it down andgo. to hell with it.

  7. I'm tired of this argument. I hire a copyeditor to work over my scripts before I send them out. Shouldn't everybody?

    There's a certain type of artist who loves the refrain, "There are no rules in art."

    Well, motherfuckers, there are rules in screenwriting. Learn them before you break them. It's one of the oldest clich├ęs out there for a reason.

  8. Check it out, Im back!