July 10

SHOULD TYPOS COUNT?

Is it fair that typos count against you? Is it a good thing that ideas are placed second to punctuation, grammar and spelling?

I don’t know and I don’t care. Neither should you. If you have typos in your scripts (or your letters, emails and notes to industry contacts)…you are damaging your career. Typos are that important.

Why?

Because you are a writer and, like it or not, you are held to a higher standard. Every reader, agent, and development exec in town knows he or she is safe to pass on a script that includes typos, bad spelling and usage errors. “Poorly written, derivative work riddled with typos.” That could be the coverage analysis of your script.

So, then, why in the hell are there so many typos in your work? Most of the emails I receive have glaring errors. Today, I got one mistaking “right” for “write”. You’re a writer; you should know the difference. And the problem is getting worse, with emails and text messaging seducing us into relaxing proper spelling and grammar. Just remember, your screenplay is not a casual communication. One script sale can launch your career and permanently change your financial status. In addition, you are asking a studio to invest $50 million or more into producing your writing. That’s not play money to a studio any more than it is play money to you. The jobs and careers of the people making these decisions are on the line. Do you think it’s easier for them to say “yes” to a script with spelling errors and typos or one without?

It is very hard to rid your work of typos, spelling errors, improper usage, and grammar problems. I am not impervious to these errors; no one is. But you must set a zero tolerance standard. If you can’t do it by yourself, enroll the help of a well-read friend. Just get it done.

Enough. Go write.

NOTE: I am not suggesting all sentences in a script be grammatically correct. Screenwriters are notorious for the liberties we take. I am suggesting, however, that while a liberty you decide to take for dramatic effect is acceptable, a sloppy grammatical mistake is not.



Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted July 10, 2005 by TW in category "The Business", "The Craft

11 COMMENTS :

  1. By Fun Joel on

    Amen again! But I will (as usual) add something. Or in this case, 2 things:

    1. Do NOT rely on the built in spell-check. Often times (such as the one TW mentions above) a correctly spelled word will not be caught, even if it is the incorrect word. Your script MUST be proofread in full.

    2. While I do catch most typos and grammatical errors when I read a script, like formatting errors, and the like, they will only cloud my judgment negatively. To be fair, I will read all scripts with an open mind, even when I have a pretty good idea beforehand that it probably sucks. I have been surprised (maybe twice in all the years I’ve been reading). And I would never mention typos in my comments, even if the script were riddled with them. But that’s just me personally. I figure the company is paying me for my opinion on the script’s potential, and even with typos, it might have potential. I try to keep my comments to that. But like I say, that’s just me.

    And I haven’t proofread this comment either! 😉

  2. By MrPembridge on

    The final read-thru of any screenplay, whether it’s being submitted to my agents, manager, a C.E. or my grandmother, is always done backwards to front, as in Pg. 119, Pg. 118, Pg. 117, etc.
    [not as in, words backwards. That my brain does on its own.]

    This way I don’t get wrapped up in my own marvelous story and can simply focus on the mechanics on the page. It’s boring as hell, but it works for the most part.

  3. By Emily B. Langton on

    The real problem with typos, spelling errors and such is that they pull the reader out of the story. When the reader comes across a typo or a spelling error, she has to stop to try and decipher what the writer meant. Even with a forgiving reader, typos still handicap the script.

  4. By JG on

    In response to Fun Joel:

    In many cases I am called upon as a reader to deliver my verdict not only in regard to the material at hand, but as well to the potential of the writer himself. A script with more than a couple of typos makes me wonder just how much the writer cares about his work and whether I should force myself to care more than he does.

  5. By Brandon on

    Of course spelling and grammar count in works which are not “casual communication”.

    But to me, emails to blog writers, writing on a blog, and comments in blogs are very casual communikation. I don’t worry about the typos, and hope ewe don’t either.

  6. By WHL on

    Mr. Pembroke,

    I hadn’t heard of proofreading from back to front before, but it strikes me as a fantastic idea. I’ll give it a shot next time I do a final draft! Thanks.

  7. By The Moviequill on

    I know when writers are in their Edit mode… they correct spelling on my Blog. I tend to let those go because my blog is like first draft verbal diarrhea, but no way will I let a script go without passing a fine tooth comb over it

  8. By TW on

    Don’t be surprised if a movie producer googles you when considering your script and comes across your blog and/or comments you’ve left on other blogs. Part of being a screenwriter is projecting the impression that you are better at writing than mere mortals. Casual writing that is publicly available can damage that perception if it is sloppy. Instead, given your dedication to writing and what is really at stake for you, why not use every opportunity to demonstrate that you really are a better writer.

  9. By alan on

    tw

    one of my favorite subjects. it seems such a small thing, but the impression a typo makes is very poor. unfortunately, i think it’s symptomatic of an increasingly subliterate world. instant messaging, email, etc doesn’t help.

    i’ve found it almost impossible to get rid of typos. they seem to procreate while the computer is turned off. certainly, spell check is not to be trusted. in a final polish, over the weekend, i found ‘car’ instead of ‘care’ in some dialogue. the result was crudely sexual (believe it or not) and had nothing to do with the dialogue’s context. brutal. once i wrote (in a scene that’s outside during winter): ‘she exhales a huge plum of frosty breath’. just like that my supernatural thriller became a monty python skit – brutal

    typos – hate them. if i were a producer searching for my next project, a few choice typos (especially in the first ten pages) would garner a ‘pass’. just like that. poof

    and people (reed kids) think its no big deal. your making to big a deal out of it, they say. it doesnt mean anythin. relax. how deos that detract from my stroy? i see tpyos in big famus righters scrips all the time and nobody cares. no fare!

  10. By brollywood on

    First, let me be absolutely clear that I agree entirely with TW and am not trying to defend laziness in my work or anyone else’s.

    That said, I’ve spent the last year reading a whole lot of produced scripts – the greats from the 40s to today – and I’m amazed at how sloppy they can be sometimes. I guess the occasional spelling or grammatical lapse is another thing an established reputation will roll right over. Of course, if you don’t have an established reputation, you’re going to have to sweat the details.

    BTW, it’s easy to catch spelling errors. What usually trips me up is edits to a sentence after the fact that end up messing up something in another part of the sentence I didn’t look at. Tenses no longer agree, things like that. It’s insidious…

  11. By The Constipated Writer on

    I have trouble with typo’s a lot, actually. I find when I’m typing up my first draft, I’ll make the dumbest mistakes, such as your ‘right’ for ‘write’ example. ‘Their’ for ‘They’re’ is a bad one too. And you can’t really count on spell check, because if the word is spelled correctly, but used incorrectly, it’ll be skipped over.

    I usually go over my first draft harshly. Then I have someone else do it. And it never ceases to surprise me how many mistakes he/she finds that I didn’t. Sometimes, a different perspective is invaluable.

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