Readers of this blog and writers lucky enough to have bagged an early bird discounted copy of my book ‘Writing For Television, Series, Serials, Soaps’ (order here from Kamera Books https://www.kamerabooks.co.uk/creativeessentials/writingfortelevision/index.php?title_isbn=9781843443377) will know just how much I rate the job of the Script Editor and the vital position they hold within the script department of a television drama production.
It is a complex, detailed, creative and logistical job that does not suit everyone. That is why writers working along side a script editor, as they go through their various drafts of their television script, are in a rarified place. Here they can be assured of one on one attention and will benefit from having their work disassembled, analysed, tweaked, assessed and if necessary, put back together again in better shape than it was before.
For the writer, this process can be an un-nerving one.
So here I have listed the key areas a script editor will be covering at your first draft edit session and the things they will be thinking about when they read your script for the first time.
They are busy people; these script editors. Lots to think about. Give them less to do by nailing these aspects of your script. Do this before your first edit session, as much as you can. They will love you for it. And so will your script.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
DOES THIS RESONATE AND IF NOT, HOW CAN IT BE FIXED?
If the script editor has to ask this question; the chances are the story doesn’t ring true, or grab the attention. This could be solved by going back to the narrative structure and work out if there are any glaring plot holes, or it may be a research problem, in which case, do more of that and make the story feel rounded and real.
DOES THE MESSAGE COME ACROSS?
This is an issue of subtext. If there really isn’t an underlying message to the text/plotline, the story will read two dimensionally and lack an emotional connection on the part of the reader. This needs fixing here, in draft one, because if a weak subtext is allowed to continue being so, the script will die a death on screen.
DO WE CARE?
Again; a question of emotional connection. It is vital that the story line has a relevance and an immediate impact on the emotional imagination of the reader and therefore, an audience. If the script editor is asking this question, it may be a case of going back to the subtext and make sure your message is getting across.
HOW THE SCRIPT STARTS – the first minute plus the next ten…..
The all important first ten pages. They must rattle along; be full of character detail and the story must be pushed on through these inital stages. In television, the first minute is vital and all the minutes after that. Each minute on screen counts. Make sure this is the case in your script. No extraneous description, superfluous plot points, no rambling or vagueries allowed.
THE MIDDLE – does it sag?
A constant and real problem in even the most professionally put together script. This is always a problem to do with plotting. Make sure your narrative has enough muscle, enough depth, to go the distance of at least 3 acts in a standard episode of television. This may mean stretching your story over an hour of drama, or half an hour, it depends on the format of your show. If the plot line sags, it is because there is not sufficient material to cover the distance. It may also mean you are being too obvious with your initial plotting and have missed a few tangental plot points you can make in the first act, thus adding depth and distance to the second act. Go back to your plot structure. Are you missing any story line connections? What about your characters? Go back to their subtext to motivate further story depth in the middle of our script.
THE ENDING – does it stick in the mind?
Very important that the ending of the script sits well in the mind and in the imagination of the reader (and therefore your audience) Make sure you are hitting both a visual and a narrative-led moment as you end your work. If you are contributing to a long runner, then your ending will often directly affect the script after yours. Make it pay. Leave the audience interested, and engaged.
DO THE SCENES INTERCONNECT AND CUT TOGETHER SEAMLESSLY?
Use your visual imagination here. I always encourage my writers at Script Advice Towers to ‘see’ their scenes cut together, in their mind’s eye as they write. Glaring omissions, in terms of narrative structure, will be obvious if you can ‘see’ your scenes in 3D on screen. Once you have written the first draft, print it out and cut it up. Now, move the scenes around and play with the way the scenes connect. There are often several interesting options as to how the scene structure will eventually look. There will be obvious scene runs in your narrative, which must do so in a linear fashion to make story sense, but in other cases, you can play with time and scene jumps; it just all depends on how clearly you take your reader through the narrative.
THE OVERALL SHAPE – once read; does it hold up?
If your script editor is asking this question, then the odds are you have gone awry somewhere within the scene structure you have adopted for your script. The story sits in the centre of your script; from it resonate your characters and their story arcs. Each one must be clearly described and followed in your script. If scenes have a disjointed nature and the story line is not smooth in the telling, then the overall shape of the script will be undefinied and the writing appear ‘woolly’. Clarity of structure is what gives your script it’s proper, defined shape.
ARE THEY TRUE TO THE SHOW?
If you are writing an epsiode of an established series or serial, then this is an obvious question for the script editor to concern themselves with. Make sure you are really famililar with the characters; watch a lot of the show you are writing for and read past scripts. Pick out your favourites and work out for yourself, how they ‘tick’. If you truly understand the characters you are writing for, even long-established characters that the nation know really well, will appear fresh and real on screen for your audience.
ARE THEY CREDIBLE AND INTERESTING?
In a new show, or an original piece with characters not yet established in the collective mind of the audience, all characters must be rounded, have solid, layered, detailed subtext. They must all have something to strive for, something to believe in and a journey to go on in each script you write.
DO THEY CARRY THE PLOT FORWARD?
If your characters have subtext and are motivated by it in your writing, then this will not be a question asked by your script editor. If they are not carrying their story weight, the script editor will help you come up with a better, more detailed, resonant story line for the character(s) posing the problem.
ARE THEY SUFFICIENTLY MOTIVATED?
It’s that subtext issue again. Subtext motivates text. Without it you have a one way, calorie deficient plot line that won’t satisfy anyone. And certainly not your script editor.
DO PEOPLE REALLY TALK LIKE THAT?
Well do they? Try and get your dialogue as real as it can be to both your ear, and that of your script editor. They are the litmus test for this element of your script. Dialogue should have a natural rhythm and flow to it. Replicate that, and you have done the job well.
IS THERE A SUBTEXT TO THEIR CONVERSATIONS?
That thing again. Subtext. Make sure your characters have a steady seam of subtext running through everything they say and do.
IS IT RELEVANT AND CURRENT?
So hard to get right but so important to do so. Dialogue reflects the mores of the day. Make sure your characters speak true to their nature and to their environment.
DOES THIS GRIP THE EYE AS WELL AS THE IMAGINATION?
Television is a visual medium and your script should be strong in terms of character and dialogue and also the visual aspect of the world your characters live in. Make creative decisions about where your characters are in a scene, what the scene looks like and what the action is; a stunt with tons of visual impact, or a small domestic scene peppered with real human detail
DO THE VISUAL PARTS OF THE SCRIPT SUPPORT AND ENHANCE THE TEXT?
When the visual apsect of your script works in tandem and harmony with the written word, then this television drama will begin to sing.
CAN THIS SCRIPT BE REALISED BY A DIRECTOR?
Your script editor will cry – real, salty tears – if you write ‘pan to’ or ‘developing shot’ or ‘long shot cut to mid’ or anything that remotely refers to actual camera shots in your scripts. This is not what is needed. Your script editor will be looking for visual clarity in scenes; so the director will be able to instantly understand and translate for the screen, what is happening, how it is happening and what it all means. So be clear about what a scene looks like, who is in it and what is happening. Use your visual imagination to impart a sense of mood and tone and always remember, less on screen is more. Visual imagery can often surplant the need for dialogue exchanges.
PACE AND TONE
OVERALL, WHAT’S THE RHYTHM OF THE SCRIPT?
Story telling is a lot like music. There is a structure to it that depicts the shape, there is a pace and rhythm that sits well in the inner eye and ear of the audience. Each script has a shape and a timbre, unique to that work. If the effect left after reading your work is a disjointed, jarring one, then your script needs re-tuning. Go back to narrative structure; how you have chosen to tell the story, to your scene structure; how your scenes cut together and your character motivation and personal story arcs. The problem lies in there somewhere.
DOES THE TONE APPEAL?
Some scripts have a ‘downer’ affect on a script editor at first draft read. Some read flippantly, or on one level; rather monotonous and undiverting. Make sure you have light and shade in your work. A good script needs both to resonate.
Then there are the day to day house keeping elements of the script editor’s job to take into account. Your script will have to deliver the requisite length, be on budget, and use the allocated cast available – this stuff you can’t do alone. Your script editor will take you through these areas.
This is something you can sort on your own initially and I recommend you do so as soon as possible in your writing process. Time your script as soon as you have got the meat of the story down and the structure in place. A script coming in at 80 pages which is meant to be for a 60 minute slot should be trimmed to fit before the second draft. If a script is over running a tad at this stage, then there is not too much to worry about. Under timed scripts are a problem though. Address the story line again. It may be a matter of introducing a mini strand or even digging deeper on a character’s motivation.
The script editor will be aware of the budget restrictions in place on your script so be guided here.
LOCATION V STUDIO ALLOCATION
This will have a knock on effect to budget, so make sure you have used the location allocated correctly to your episode. The same applies to the studio allocation. This will form the majority of your script’s internal workings.
Again, take advice. Your script editor will tell you who is available and how they must be used in your episode. If you are writing on a long runner, the Story Document will tell you who is available and what story lines you are writing.
Add a night scene without thinking and you have just caused your production team a headache they may not have to schedule. So (again, guided by your script editor) be certain each night scene you write has to be done after dark. If not, then make it a daylight scene or one that can be shot without direct reference to the outside at all!
Get help with your scripts by contacting me on www.scriptadvice.co.uk and follow me on twitter Yvonnegrace1