April 16, 2012

You have completed the script/novel checklist from Part One.  You have polished it more than your mother’s good silverware.  You are finally ready to let it go out into the world.


It is still not fit to send to agents, producers, managers, publishers, and studio people.

It’s not ready?  I’ve done all the work.  It’s a great story. The dialogue is crackling.  Why can’t I launch it into the world now?

So far only your eyes have been made contact with your novel/script.   You need another pair of eyes to read it. You want to send out your absolute best effort.  You don’t get a second chance.

  • Story points you think are clear are incomprehensive to another pair of eyes.
  • The great speech you wrote reads like a long boring lecture to another reader.
  • What you thought is a great twist ending is telegraphed on page twenty.
  • You used “your” when you meant “you’re” like fifty times.  You used the word “like” in an annoying way one thousand times.

Whom do you let read it?

  • Friends?  Only if you want them to say, “It’s great I can’t wait to see it up on the big screen.  Or, I don’t know what to wear to your first book signing.”   Hmm, no real feedback there.
  • Family?  Only if you want them to ask, “Is this what you’ve been working on instead of doing more important things around the house?”  Not much help there either.

Here’s whom you should let read it:

  • Your trusted fellow screenwriters or script/novel consultants.  They are familiar with the techniques of writing screenplays or novels; story, structure and format.  They know how to give proper criticism, “Here’s where it wasn’t working for meThe main character never changesThis should be an O.S. not a V.OThe second act drags.  What does your main character really want?

If you’re getting feedback from more than one source, look for consistent notes and criticisms.  They are most likely true.  Make those changes.  Read it again.  It’s ready for your final polish.  Read it again.

It’s ready to be sent out but I can’t let it go!

More excuses: “There’s just one more adjustment I need to make.  I don’t think my opening and closing images work.  The All Is Lost moment needs to be stronger.  I think it will be better if her best friend is French.”  

Question:  What is holding you back?  Answer: FEAR.   “What if no one likes it?”  “If I don’t get any positive responses I’ve been wasting my time.”

All writers have those fears.  You’ve done the work.  It is ready.  It is the best you could do.  It has your unique voice, originality and story. Yes, it’s finally time to send your precious baby off.  You’ve put all you could into bringing it up; nurturing it, letting it mature into a good honest full rounded script/novel.

YOU ARE FINISHED!  SEND IT OUT!……   And start the next project immediately. Good luck!

Any excuses you like to share?  Leave a comment below or email me at: Stephen@rewritedr.com.


When do I know when I’m finished?

April 12, 2012

You’ve worked on your script/novel for months or even years with dozens of rewrites.  You’ve had all the time in the world to complete it.  You want this baby of yours to be perfect; rejection proof, before sending it out into the judgmental world of agents, managers, production companies, publishers.

So when do I know I’m truly finished ?

Have you completed this screenplay/manuscript checklist?

  • Did you read your script/novel straight through at one sitting?
  • Did you specifically look for emotional turning points, three act structure, and clear plot points.  Are they working?  Are they strong?  Contain big emotional moments?  Does the story slow down at any point?
  • Did your characters have arcs, uniqueness and consistency?
  • Did you read your dialogue out loud?  Is it on-the-nose dialogue or more complex by using subtext?  If it’s a script, have you had a reading of it with actors or friends?
  • Is your prose clear and clean and in tone with the story?  If it’s a script, are the action/description lines short but powerful and add great visuals?
  • Do your scenes or chapters flow?  Does each one move the story forward?  Can some be cut or combined?  Is there complexity to them?
  • If it’s a screenplay, can you make it more cinematic, or add set-up/payoffs or interesting transitions?
  • If you feel you’ve completed all the above steps, you’ve earned the right to put it in a drawer for a day or two.  After a short time away, re-read it again.  Still working for you?  Good.
  • Do your first polish draft.  Look at each word and each sentence. Are there misspellings or wrong punctuation? Did you vary your word choices? Have you replaced the “to be” verbs with more powerful action verbs?  Is the script/manuscript in the correct format?

After all that, if you feel like you want to tweak it more –   STOP!!!  DON’T MOVE!   TAKE YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD!

Writers that still want to fiddle with it, tell me: “I think I’m almost there but I still have to find that perfect ending” OR “I just have to nail a killer opening and then I’m done” OR “If I just punch up my dialogue a little more, then it’s ready.”

You are afraid to finish.  You’ve worked on this dream project and now it will be judged.  It will be out of your hands and you are about to find out if someone else likes it.  You are staring in the face of rejection. That’s scary. But if you’ve followed the above checklist it is almost ready.

What do you mean, “almost”?  There’s more?  But I thought you said I was done.  

You are, almost.

Click on Part Two to see Part Two.

Part Two of WHEN DO I KNOW WHEN I’M FINISHED will delve into getting feedback and from whom before you finally send it out.


April 10, 2010

You can’t tell us what’s happening inside the character’s head. You can only describe what action the character is doing.  We must understand what is going on by the action lines and dialogue only. That’s your job as a writer. It’s hard.  Billy glances at his brother remembering when they were little. Inside Head. – Re-worked: Billy glances at his brother and smiles.  Joan realizes that she is not the woman she thought she was. Inside Head.  – Re-worked: Joan places herself in front of the mirror and shakes her head.  Marty knows the second he turns the knob, the bomb would go off. Inside Head. – Re-worked: Marty reaches for the wires but retracts his hand.  He takes a deep breath.      –  If you use the words, thinks, realizes, knows – you’re inside the character’s head.  Get out of there.


April 3, 2010

Have a reading of your script out loud.  When your script is read aloud, you can hear where the dialogue isn’t working.  You can listen to where the action lines slow down the read or is confusing.  Watch listeners’ faces and see if they are lost.  If people look bored so would your reader.  If you have actor friends, great, if not, as long as your non-actor friends can read, use them.


March 30, 2010


Don’t have characters with the similar names. Readers do a lot of reading.  They read fast.  It’s hard to differentiate between Denise and Dennis.  Sarah and Susan.  Fred and Fran.   Even Jack and John can be a problem if they are used constantly.  You don’t want to give a chance for the reader to stop and have to figure out which character is which.  Then they are taken out of your story and you lost any momentum you had earned so far.   Be creative.


October 16, 2009

What is a SCRIPT BANK?

A script bank contains the scripts you have at your ready to send out to an agent, producer, showrunner, or even a contest.

What do I keep in my script bank?

Your very best work.  Scripts that you’ve written and rewritten and reworked.  Scripts that shine.  Scripts that show off your unique style and voice.  We all have screenplays that we’ve never completed or scripts that just aren’t as good as the rest and have never impressed anybody.  We have scripts that we’ve completed and are very excited about but haven’t had time to do rewrites yet.  You don’t put these in your script bank.

Not every screenplay that you write is worthy of being in your script bank.  You should know which script is your number one script, number two, etc.  What is your very best, and so on down the line.  Why?  Because you always lead off with your best.  If they pass on that script but want to read more of you, – “What else you got, kid?”- you hit them with number two.  If you start off with number three, they may not want to read anything else.

People ask me; is it okay to have a romantic comedy, a horror script, a drama and a thriller? Should I have a screenplay in every genre so that I’m ready for anything that may open up?  According to my experience; you want to be known as that comedy guy that writes very funny scripts.  Or that horror writer that scares the pants off of the reader.  The more you chip away from that same block of ice, the bigger dent you’ll make.  If you chip at one block of ice here and then another one over there, you won’t leave much of a mark in the mind of a producer.

If a producer has a certain project that comes up they’ll be thinking, let’s get that horror guy, not that guy who can write okay in every genre.  Leave a definitive mark in the mind of the production company or agent that reads you.

What if a horror writer wants to write a romantic comedy, something out of the writer’s normal field? Is that okay?  I think it is if that writer is passionate about that romantic comedy and already has a bunch of horror scripts in the bank.  A producer who may know you as a good horror writer but reads and likes your romantic comedy, may want you for a project like a SHAWN OF THE DEAD – a horror/comedy film.  You can bridge the genres.

Some writers may be able to nail every genre.  Some successful writers aren’t pigeon-holed in one genre.  The advice I’m giving here is for that writer that is trying to break in, trying to sell that first script and make a name for him/herself.


How does all this apply if I’m a TV writer trying to break-in or a produced writer trying to get on a new show?

In the half hour world, showrunners have changed what they want to read.  Now they want to read original pilots and hear your unique voice and see if you can tell a good story. You should have at least two pilots in your script bank, preferably a single camera show and a multi-camera show.  In this world you should be ready for anything.  (Most pilots written by aspiring writers should be viewed as “sample writing”, not pilots that will be produced.)

You also need some spec scripts in your bank too.  There was a time when there were a lot of half hour shows to spec, now there’s only a couple.  Find the comedies that producers and agents are willing to read, ones that have not been spec-ed to death.   Write a single camera and a multi-camera spec as well.  That makes a minimum of four great, funny, unique story driven scripts in your one-half hour TV script bank.

Also you can include a spec or pilot script for cable TV; one where you can have your characters say or do anything you want with no censoring at all.  But you want to be careful that you don’t send your THE SHIELD-like script to the showrunners of HANNAH MONTANA or ABC execs.

In the one hour world, there are several genres to think about; procedurals, dramadies, dramas, and the new breed of procedural with more characterization like BONES or THE MENTALIST.  Can you write all genres strong?  Probably not.  Have at least two spec scripts and two pilots in the arena of what you really like to write and where your strengths lie.

Get the feel of your strengths; are you better at plotting (LAW AND ORDER) or is characterization more your thing (BROTHERS AND SISTERS)?   Write to your strengths, as a weak script will cut you off a person’s list and it’s almost impossible to get back on that list.  There are few second chances in writing.

That’s what I see a SCRIPT BANK is all about.

Good luck making many script deposits and I hope all your withdrawals become profitable.

What do you think?  Any questions about this blog?  Any questions for future blogs? Feel free to leave comments here or email me at: Stephen@ReWriteDr.com