We’re going to do something a little different in today’s article. We’re going to talk about the actual PRESENTATION of a screenplay. The way it’s written, the way it looks to a reader on the page. While not as important as story, the choices in how one presents his work can have a big influence on how the reader interprets it. The theme you’ll find here is that while some approaches are preferable to others, every writing choice you make should be made for one reason: it’s the best way to tell the story at that particular moment. With that said, here are some common issues I run into when I read scripts.


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Clipped writing is something I see a fair amount of.  The idea behind this is that traditional writing is too long-winded for screenplays, which require a more “to the point” approach.   The problem is, some people have taken this so far that it’s unclear what’s being said.  After awhile, the reader starts to feel like they’re reading an illiterate robot.  For that reason, this style probably shouldn’t be used outside of special situations.  Maybe, for example, a character wakes up at the beginning of the script and is confused. So the confused stutter-pattern of clipped writing helps convey the character’s confusion.  There are also times when it works in action sequences.  But for the most part, try to write full sentences.


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Bolded slugs (or bolded underline slugs) have become in fashion lately.  And to a certain extent, they make sense, as they visually signify a new location or scene, which can be helpful to the reader.  Where bolded slugs get annoying is when there are a lot of short scenes or the writer is a slug-lover, so that four times a page, we’re stuck staring at big chunky ugly disruptive lines of text.  My suggestion would be this.  If you write a lot of long scenes, like, say, Tarantino, you can use bolded slugs.  But if you’re constantly jumping from one place to the next, step away from the bold.  It’ll shift the reader’s attention away from what really matters, which is the action and the dialogue.


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Using your description to tell us what a character is thinking is considered shoddy writing.  However, I do see it quite a bit (there was a decent amount of it in “The Fault In Our Stars.”).  Where it becomes problematic is when a writer gets carried away with it and starts using it for things we already know.  As you can see above, we can tell from the dialogue that Miss Scriptshadow doesn’t want to see X-Men, so using description to tell the reader afterwards feels like overkill.  If you want to make sure the reader gets the point, there are other options, like using an action.  So you might cut to Miss Scriptshadow’s computer, see that she’s looking at a trailer for “The Other Woman,” longingly, then click it closed with a sigh.  I’m telling you: Only use this device sparingly.  It can get annoying quickly.


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Forget the dialogue here.  Look at the action text.  Carson “walks aggressively.”  He “angrily opens it.”  Adverbs make your writing look weak and indecisive.  Instead, try to find a verb that says the same thing.  You’ll notice that your sentence all of a sudden looks manly and strong!  “Carson barges towards the fridge.”  “He whips it open.”  Just make sure that you have the right verb for the action.  Don’t put in a verb that doesn’t fit just to avoid the adverb. In other words, don’t say Carson “dances over to the fridge” just because I said you had to verb it.


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Readers don’t want to have to work for basic information.  Screenwriting should be simple and to the point (most novelists will actually tell you the same thing).  The above is a really clunky sentence, the kind a man could get lost in and never come back.  If I had to read a whole script of that, I’d swallow a box of brads and die by internal bleeding first.  To simplify this, focus on two things.  First, figure out how to turn useless segments into actions, then figure out what’s redundant or isn’t needed.  For example, there’s no need to say “wound up,” since we already know he’s wound up and it interrupts the flow of the sentence anyway.  So we’ll drop that.  “Clicking and clacking” does add some sound to the scene, but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  “Disastrously fighting this war-like mess with an ever-deepening desperation” is redundant.  If we really want to convey Carson’s anger, we can add an action, like him shouting in frustration at the end.  So the new simpler text would look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 6.12.40 PM

I’m not saying you should NEVER offer detail in your writing.  You just only do it when it’s important.  Like if a detective walks into a crime scene where very specific things will be important to know later on – then go for it – describe away.  But a guy looking for munchables?  We don’t need to get into any detail with that, unless you’ve got some amazing jokes you can weave into his search (even then, it’s probably not worth it – simplicity should usually win out).


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While I can’t speak for everybody, this practice drives me CRAAAA-ZY.  I don’t know who came up with it, but the sooner it goes away, the better.  First of all, you want to be weary of any writing device that goes against what readers are used to unless you’re positive it makes the script better.  The above looks so odd to a reader, they’ll probably stop for a second and wonder if it’s a formatting error before moving on.  I’m not even sure of this device’s intention.  I just know that it looks and feels odd.


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There was a time and place for “beat” when the screenplay was a technical blueprint.  But these days, it’s more about making the screenplay readable.  Anything that breaks the suspension of disbelief is our enemy.  So when you say “beat,” what does that mean?  It means fake-ish artificial term that has no organic reason to be in your story.  Whenever you can, replace “beat” with something more natural so as not to draw attention to its technical-ness.  For example, I’d probably write this instead…

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 3.38.15 AM


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Okay, this above scene is kind of funny, but that’s not what we’re looking at.  When a reader turns the page, they immediately see a general snapshot of said page.  The last thing they want to see during this moment is a “WALL OF TEXT.” At least three paragraphs with five lines or more.  At least one character who talks forever (or two characters who exchange 6-7 line chunks of dialogue each time they speak).  There’s no doubt that there will be times in your script where you’ll need to write a lot.  Characters do occasionally have monologues (even those should be rare though).

But if there are a lot of pages that look like this?  With big huge paragraphs and character exchanges where both characters are taking forever to say shit?  The reader has given up on you.  The correct way to write is to rarely go over 3 lines per paragraph, and your characters shouldn’t exchange more than 2-3 lines at a time (this will differ depending on character and scene, but it’s an average to keep in mind).  Also, it should be noted that the WORST place this can happen is on your first page.  I see a LOT of amateur writers open with that wall of text and I just know the script is going to be bad. :(

A good reader – and I’m talking about the reader who you’ll eventually have to get past to sell your script – takes his reading job just as seriously as you take your writing job.  So he’s going to have his set of reading quirks, things he can’t stand.  The last thing you want is to trigger any of those annoyances, because then the reader is judging you on something other than what they should be – the story.  Like that wall of text.  Again, when I see that, I know it’s over.  I know it’s over right away.  Sure, there are like 2 exceptions in the last 10 years of scripts overcoming this, but for the most part, readers know it’s a disaster.  Just remember that your job is to make things as easy as humanly possible for the reader.  You want their read to be effortless.  So don’t do anything weird or annoying unless you’re absolutely sure it makes the reading experience and your story better.

What about you guys?  What are some things that drive you nuts when you read?


  • hickeyyy

    I have to say I agree with most of this except one: Subsequent action lines. Alien is written in that style and I’ve found it very visually appealing. That said, it takes a certain kind of writer to pull it off as you have to be absolutely concise. If your action line runs longer than a single line, you’re going to make it look a lot less appealing.

    I think the subsequent action lines could be a good exercise. Write that style to make sure your sentences are getting to the point in as little space as possible. Then remove the hard returns and put them into paragraphs. You’ll find your paragraphs much shorter.

    • brenkilco

      Since camera directions are all but verboten in scripts, a paragraph break is a way to indicate a change in point of view. It seems to me the only time you should keep separate actions by separate characters in the same paragraph is when these actions are so related that what you’re really doing is the verbal equivalent of a reflexive shot-reverse shot.

      She puts a cigarette to her lips. He strikes a match and lights it.

      Even then I’m not crazy about the style.

      • Nicholas J

        Great point. Just like in any other type of writing, a new paragraph means a new idea. So in screenwriting, I like to think of a new paragraph as a new beat in the scene. Not always, but it’s a good guideline.

  • ChadStuart

    About the only thing that really bugs me is the action lines that will break and trail across the page. The first part will be left justified, then the second part will be one line down and centered, and the last part will be one more line down and right justified.

    But, honestly, it’s not a deal breaker. The problem is that every reader will have their own annoyances and rarely will they all overlap. One might hate bolded sluglines, whereas another loves them. One might despise clipped writing, another might think it’s brilliant.

    It’s always a crap shoot when you send a script, from writing mechanics to story to characterization. Everything about this is so subjective. That’s why it’s often called a lottery. You have to find the one person who connects with the material, who has access to the next person up the chain who connects with the material, all the way up to the person who can write the check.

  • Mr. Blonde

    The one that really gets to me, more than anything else, is overly (ha, adverbs) descriptive prose. All I care about is what’s going on, I don’t need to know how the sun glints off a wet road at night time.

    • Randy Williams

      Funny, because I’m the opposite. I’m more invested in the story if the writer reflects a visual sensitivity, even waxing poetic if he or she wants to in describing the material world. He or she has gained my confidence.

    • Nicholas J

      Unless a car is about to hydroplane off the road… ;)

  • UrbaneGhoul

    Carson: X-Men looks good. Let’s go see it.
    Miss Scriptshadow: I’d rather get hit by a meteor.
    Carson: What!?
    Miss Scriptshadow: Shoot. That was supposed to be in the description.

    Carson aggressively eats his munchables.

    • kenglo


    • Citizen M


      The telephone rings. Carson answers.

      CARSON: Yello. Make my day.

      SPOOKY VOICE: Where are the Munchables?

      CARSON: (looking around) I don’t see any Munchables.

      SPOOKY VOICE: That’s because you ARE the Munchables! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

    • http://www.twitter.com/laurjeff Lauren

      Tiniest and most accurate biopic representation of the Scriptshadow life… ;)

  • Randy Williams

    Lots of single line action lines with a space between them. Looks like a grocery list or technical manual if it goes on too long on the page in this manner. I’ve actually seen a whole page in a script like this once. My mind definitely gets into a rhythm with how the story is told and is presented on the page. This can take me out of it. I used to do this and hated myself for it. Finally stopped.

    O.T. Shared this voice translator for line readings with my screenwriting group.


    • Poe_Serling

      “Lots of single line action lines with a space between them. Looks like a grocery list…”

      I couldn’t agree more. Personally, I like to see those kind of single line action descriptions combined into a couple of sentences and broken up with a few well-placed sub sluglines. For example:


      Two vehicles rip across the hard, flat ice, bolstered by the added horsepower. They follow the still visible dog tracks in the snow.


      The snowmobiles whoosh forward. Bennings drives the one loaded with supplies. MacReady and Childs double up on the other.


      steadying his binoculars, while Childs drives, spots something up ahead.

      The vehicles slow down and come to a halt. Something lies just ahead of them in the whiteness, in the middle of the dog tracks.

      THE MEN

      kneel down by the “something.” It is the half-eaten remains of a dog. Its hind legs and lower stomach picked clean. Its ripped hide, flapping in the wind.

      What is it?

      MacReady follows the line of continuing dog tracks.

      Maybe dinner.

      ****By doing this, I always feel it creates a nice flow to the action and keeps your eyes scanning down the page.

      • brenkilco

        Agree but those single words capitalized and set off in descriptive scenes bug me. ICESCAPE. We already know where we are. And THE MEN is downright confusing. Do Macready and his team see other men. No, it’s them suddenly out of the vehicle and kneeling. Just don’t like it.

        • JakeMLB

          Writing like this is often done to signify a new shot or change in camera perspective.

          It is less popular nowadays as it’s somewhat unnecessary, particularly in spec writing. But it’s an interesting take on cinematic screenwriting. Writers who also direct or who are working closely with directors may write in this way.

          • brenkilco

            But simply beginning a new paragraph can signal a change in point of view without the attendant confusion this technique can create.

          • JakeMLB

            I don’t really see any confusion being created and this is a pretty well-respected screenplay (The Thing) being referenced. No other men were referenced in the lead up to “THE MEN” slugline so I don’t see how you could confuse that for anyone else.

            I’d also challenge your assertion that simply beginning a new paragraph can signal the same change in POV. It’s not quite the same. The sluglines create an instant change in perspective that a new paragraph wouldn’t necessarily achieve. It’s also about word efficiency. It would be difficult to achieve the same visual imagery in paragraph form without requiring more words. And more words slows the read.

            I’m not saying you have to write this way, just that it’s different. It has largely fallen out of favor so its certainly not the preferred way of writing as most would favor paragraph form. But certain styles of writing fit different stories better.

          • kenglo

            Has it really fallen out of favor?

          • JakeMLB

            Yeah, not really. Tons of scripts still use minislugs but the version for The Thing I’ve seen floating around is the shooting script and uses sluglines rather excessively for new shots. But yeah, you’re right, a lot hasn’t really changed. There are still scripts that do this but probably a minority.

          • andyjaxfl

            I like minislugs when I’m reading and writing, though probably need to cut back on them in my own scripts.

            I 100% agree that they are in the minority nowadays. I checked a few pro scripts from the last five years before commenting, and while they are used on occasion, it’s infrequent. Brian Helgeland seems to the only big name writer using them.

          • IgorWasTaken

            F. Scott Frazier

          • kenglo

            Hmmmm….back to the drawing board!

          • brenkilco

            Perhaps I’m a curmudgeon. But for me these sub-slugs bring my eye and mind up short and interrupt the flow of the writing. And what little you gain by using one or two fewer words must be weighed against the loss in eight and a half by eleven real estate.

          • JakeMLB

            Yeah it’s not for everyone. I go back-and-forth on whether I prefer it or not. It certainly helps when reading/writing action or other high-tension sequences which is often when I’ll employ it but if its overuse can result in mental exhaustion. It depends on personal preference, style, tone and genre.

          • Poe_Serling

            “…its overuse can result in mental exhaustion.”

            So true… several years back, I remember reading the script for the Christopher Lambert sci/fi film Fortress. Though the screenplay clocked in at 95 pages, I think with normal formatting it would’ve been maybe 60 pages or less.

            All the action scenes were stretched out like this:

            Brennick turns the corner and opens fire —


            He keeps moving. More targets appear in front of him.


            ….. and so on.

            But, hey, someone bought it as a spec script back then… so go figure.

          • JakeMLB

            I loved Fortress back in the day! And I just realized they made a sequel…

          • Poe_Serling

            Fortress 2… huh, I must’ve missed that one somehow. Lambert used to be the king of these B-type movies.

          • Linkthis83

            I like the FORTRESS movie that takes place in Australia. Scared me a lot as a kid. But also made me want to defend my fellow classmates if I had to.

        • kenglo

          It’s written that way because they are SHOTS, not CUT TO:(s), not EXT. ICESCAPE, EXT: THE MEN….I love sluglines, makes my life easier….

  • Andrew Parker

    1. Excessive use of CAPITALIZATION, underlining or bolding in action description. Only reserve those tools for very special action lines that cannot be missed by the reader.

    2. Exceedingly long scenes of dialogue. Throw in an action line occasionally just to break up the monotony.

    3. Getting into a scene way too early. A little chit-chat to start a scene once in a while is fine. But when characters do it every scene, and it neither reveals character or pushes action forward, I go nuts.

    Some other randoms: Any script over 120 pages, Any script where after 15 pages I still have no idea what the movie is about or who the main character is, Introducing a crapload of characters early on with just age and nothing descriptive about them, Anyone who tries to throw in asides to amuse the reader

  • koicvjr

    Story is structure.

    • koicvjr

      Think of why you choose to include what you include in your script. If it’s relevant to today’s society (which it should be, especially if you want it to be commercial) then this is a structural choice. Even though it seems like content. Think about it. It’s boring and not very useful to keep saying a good story is a good story. Yes but a movie that is good and makes big money must choose the perfect combo of choices for content from literally an infinite supply. That’s what sets a money-making good story apart. How are these choices made? Structurally.

      • koicvjr

        The best possible arrangement (the best story) will get you the widest and biggest audience.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Great article, Carson.

    A friend’s script that I’ve re-read a few times did indeed have multiple walls of text that drove me absolutely up the wall. Literally a one page phone conversation that was more or less a monologue (didn’t intercut)… on page 2. A chase scene that was not only incomprehensible, but it literally took up the bottom HALF of a page. And a FULL page monologue, plus 7 or 8 lines on the next page.

    The subsequent action lines I was something I just read about the other day. A site recommended writing all your actions and descriptions that way to make it easier on the reader. I remember David Trotter saying to do this for action scenes in his book. As for why there’s no space between lines, that beats the hell out of me. Final Draft spaces its lines so that that doesn’t occur. So maybe a different software doesn’t do the same.

    • lonestarr357

      Celtx spaces between lines.

      • Ryan Sasinowski

        Sure do.

  • ASAbrams

    I really dislike the “then” parenthetical. It’s weird and it makes no sense to me. The word “then” in parentheses–what is that? That takes me out of the story more than “(beat).” I’ve read enough scripts that (beat) becomes like “said” in a novel. Almost invisible. That other thing, though? That doesn’t really convey a pause to me.

    And I wish novelists hadn’t begun to use it to break up their dialogue, either. I’m in a minority, however, I know.

  • 3waystopsign

    Overused character descriptions: “the popular type,” “obviously part of the in-crowd,” “easy to tell she’s the queen bee of her class,” “star quarterback looks.” etc. etc.

    • Nicholas J

      Disagree completely. Maybe not for your protag or major players, but great for minor characters or in scripts with large casts.

      Everyone knows what a star quarterback looks like. It’s an instant connection your reader can make and they don’t have to waste time trying to figure out your unnecessarily creative description of a character who shows up for three scenes and disappears. Especially useful if you have 15 character names to remember.

      • 3wwaystopsign

        Yes, I see your point. I was certainly referring to the main characters though. When I see that on Page 1 it just immediately gives me an overly familiar feeling, and not in a good way.

      • brenkilco

        I’m a bit leery of non physical description. Take “obviously part of the in crowd.” Why is this better than just “blonde and pretty”. The character’s attitude and associations should come out in action and dialogue. If they do the description is unnecessary. If they don’t the description is valueless.

        • Nicholas J

          I think character descriptions are your one chance to cheat. I like to imagine it as my one sentence I can say to the actor who is playing the part. “Blonde and pretty” paints a physical picture, yes, but it tells me nothing of the character. “Blonde and pretty” is not the same as “part of the in crowd.”

          Here’s a character description from the pilot I’m working on: CARL, 40s, buttoned-up so tight he’s choking yet tries super hard to be cool…

          I think that says a lot about the character, moreso than just telling me he dresses well. Don Draper dresses well, but so does Patrick Bateman.

          • brenkilco

            Just so long as the cheat doesn’t become a crutch for what you’re not showing. One of the more unusual scripts I’ve ever read was the Harold pinter screenplay for the spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum. Now Pinter was a genius and a Noble Prize winner so the guy knew what he was doing. And the script has no character descriptions. None. It’s like he was saying here’s what these people do and say. Cast people who will look convincing doing and saying this stuff. A little extreme but I think there’s a point there.

        • Midnight Luck

          I think it is a short cut for the reader to quickly get an idea about who the character is. Done effectively it very priceless. Done poorly it is, well, just poor.

          I am not saying “obviously part of the in crowd.” is an effective one. Yes it tells us a vague idea, but it doesn’t actually tell us anything about who she is.

          Nicholas J’s description below

          “CARL, 40s, buttoned-up so tight he’s choking yet tries super hard to be cool…”

          does actually give us more insight into WHO this person is, without a throw away vague cliche.

    • ripleyy

      Agreed. I think you need to treat your characters the same way you treat everything else.

      I personally love descriptive character introductions (such as hair colour, eye colour, that sort of thing – even the precise age comes in handy) simply because it helps me visualize when I read. I remember Carson a while back saying that precise age even lends itself to characters, because a 41 year old is different than a 49 year old.

      This isn’t a must, by any means, but it does show that the writer has thought about the character more than what their name is.

  • Michael

    Writing a script is a two-sided coin. One side is “what you write about (the story)” and the other side is “how you write it.” The “how you write it” should be invisible. Readability is invisibility. The reader should never be conscience of the hand of the writer, it only distracts from the story.

    We all hate the niggling over writing style (the things Carson lists above), but that’s what builds trust with the reader. The benefit to a clean, fast, invisible writing style, is the reader will give a script more of a chance. A reader will read through a slow opening, complicated plot points or any number of story issues, if they trust the writer. Give your story every chance it deserves by adopting a readable writing style.

  • brenkilco

    Excellent column. Agree with nearly everything. I think the beat can occasionally serve a useful purpose. If it’s just there to control dialogue rhythm or create artificial tension like the pregnant pauses in old soap operas then no. But if it actually alters the meaning of a dialogue exchange or provides a clue to the character’s thinking then it’s an efficient tool

    A simpleminded example:

    Inspector: How did you know her ladyship was garotted?
    Suspect: Surely you told me inspector.

    Maybe the cop is absent minded

    Suspect: (a beat) Surely you told me inspector

    The guilty party has just given himself away.

  • Matthew Garry

    Great Thursday article again. Some thoughts:

    Regarding clipped writing:

    Action/description is usually plain prose. In that regard it should be gramatically correct. There’s some leeway for screenwriting in that it’s acceptable to require the reader to mentally add “We see” or “We hear.”

    That would turn the example in to “We see feet running. We hear breathing.” That’s easy to understand. It’s only at “Hard and fast.” that things get confusing, since it’s hard for a reader to interpret that, even if a quick mental “we” is added.

    Verse can be used for action/description too, but as a writer you should be aware of the why and how you are making use of it. This ranges from using sentence fragments to convey haste and urgency in the action, to using haikus (as in “Alien”) to convey a particular atmosphere and setting.

    Regarding (beat)/(then):
    The easy solution here is not to use either. Directors/actors are good at interpreting where dramatic pauses should occur; it’s their job. I’d say only use them if the meaning of dialogue changes if you leave the pause out. Use them in the same way as other parentheticals: when they prevent more confusion than they add.

    Regarding walls of text.

    Less is more here, but I think it is genre dependent to some degree. Make sure to make these blocks of text count. There is a fine line between a delicate description and overwriting, and it’s easily crossed. In case of doubt, simplify.

    • Nicholas J

      “Regarding (beat)/(then):
      The easy solution here is not to use either. Directors/actors are good at interpreting where dramatic pauses should occur; it’s their job.”

      Beats/pauses/whatever are a great tool for comedy writing though, because a big part of comedy is just timing and delivery. It’s a good tool to help things read funny. But like any good tool, be cautious of overuse.

      • astranger2

        I recall in one of the Oh, God sequels, George Burns advised the director to use longer beats between some lines of dialogue. The director said he complied to go along, and was surprised by the difference it made in comedic effect.

        • Nicholas J

          Yeah, it takes just a couple minutes of watching a standup comedian with no grasp of comedic timing/delivery to understand how important it is to being funny.

          • astranger2

            (beat) What?

  • Nicholas J

    Oh man, what a great article. If there’s one aspect of screenwriting I feel qualified to comment on it’s this, as I always get positive feedback on my writing style. (Now if I could just get my story skills up to par!) I use and agree with everything from today’s post.

    I could list a hundred things that you should try to avoid, but the biggest for me is unnecessarily mysterious writing…

    A YOUNG MAN (20s, shady) sits on a bench, his identity unknown. Behind him, he hears FOOTSTEPS. He turns, sees the footsteps belong to a pair of loafers. He sees the loafers belong to a MAN (age unknown, dark and mysterious).

    CARL (V.O.): I didn’t know it at the time, but I was an unwitting pawn in a game of life and death.

    MAN: Hi Max.

    MAX: Who are you?

    MAN: I’m Walt, how’s it going?

    Now Walt sits next to Max. Quick breathing is heard and then more footsteps. Max looks and sees a JOGGER running by, who notices the two men. The jogger stops.

    CARL: Max, is that you?

    UGGHGHHHHGHGH WHY ARE YOU WRITING LIKE THIS?!?! I know you’re writing some cool mystery thriller and you think that means your writing should be cool and mysterious, but that just makes things 100x more confusing. The more complicated your story is, the more straight forward your writing should be.

    • Randy Williams

      “The more complicated your story is, the more straight forward your writing should be”

      How true. That finally has stuck in my head. I mean, you can’t read Eddie Panta’s comments on here for that long and not learn anything from them.

    • brenkilco

      This type of writing together with the use of breathless sentence fragments and isolated physical details is usually an attempt by the writer to direct the movie from the page. Don’t hype the story. Tell the story.

  • carsonreeves1

    I was going to include that one. It drives me crazy too.

    • JakeMLB

      It’s actually one of the hardest bits of screenwriting to master. Great scripts will have very little between the dialogue and yet the few bits of description present will be perfect and necessary. It also depends largely on writing good dialogue. Good dialogue can direct action and emotion without the need for description.

  • Midnight Luck


    Not the Black kind. Those are just freaky.

    The text Widow is WRONG.

    The Widow bugs the shit out of me.
    Maybe because I was in Journalism in both High School and College writing for the paper.

    Could be I was a Designer where a Widow is the ugliest thing of all.
    It stops everything.
    It is the opposite of “Flow”.
    It plainly looks wrong.

    At one point in my life I was a Graphic Designer for a NEWSPAPER! (That was effectively putting all my skills and all my various pasts into one crazy nut) I was the Manager overseeing all the other Designers work and all Press and Production. Before the end of the Night, my job was to check over EACH and EVERY Advertisment, Article, absolutely EVERY piece of text, to make sure there were no technical or verbal or layout errors, making sure no printing mistakes happened.

    So Seven days a week the paper went out and I had to make sure absolutely everything about the newspaper was checked before it went to Press. No mistakes of any kind, and even though I didn’t work in Editorial where the articles are written, I was always on the lookout for stray WIDOWS there! Anyone who is reading a long thin article in a paper can’t help but just be jarred when it ends in a widow. Just looks awful AND….

    the MOST IMPORTANT thing…..


    you are wasting AN ENTIRE LINE for ONE WORD!

    In a script it is as BAD if not WORSE.

    Constantly analyze the flow of work. The single sentence, paragraph, dialogue. Absolutely EVERYTHING. <——Widow

    I believe each and every choice of word and layout matters.

    I once wrote a Short for a Contest where it HAD TO BE 12 pages. Well my story in rough form was 45 pages. In the course of a few weeks I had to work and rework it and got it to 12 pages. That was THE MOST amazing exercise I have probably ever done. Talk about writing ECONOMY! Finding the right word, finding the best way to say something. And you can bet, the first things to go, every time, was the WIDOW. I did not have the luxury to give up that one line. I cannot state it in any other way: The WIDOW – HAS TO GO.

    • brenkilco


      absolutely right, spot on.


      was unaware there was a term for this practice. Just learned something.

      • Bluedust

        I’ve also heard it referred to as “orphan.”

        • mulesandmud

          Traditionally, an ‘orphan’ is when the first line of a paragraph starts on the last line of a page, separating it from the rest of the ‘graph, and a ‘widow’ is the opposite, when the last line of a paragraph carries over to the next page, cutting it off from the rest of its ‘graph.

          Midnight’s point still stand’s, though; in modern copy editing ‘widow’ often refers to those dangling one-word lines.

    • mulesandmud

      Tragically, Midnight, your example of a widow with the arrow pointing to it was ruined by Disqus formatting. The effort was very much appreciated, though.

      • Midnight Luck

        Did it?
        hmm, it didn’t for me. I suspect Disqus does it different for everyone. Or something. (<–Yes?)

        • mulesandmud


          • Midnight Luck


  • craktactor

    Number One Pet Peeve (and pretty much the ONLY pet peeve):

    The inability by a large percentage of “writers” to properly spell, punctuate, and/or utilize grammar above an eighth grade level (and still think you are/will be the next Tarantino).

    • brenkilco

      Actually, Tarantino is not the most fastidious writer, grammatically speaking. But for those of us who aren’t Tarantino good point. .

  • Logic Ninja

    Passive. Freaking. Voice.

    • brenkilco

      I hear you burn adverbs alive and then eat them. Assume “are” is on your shitlist too. I mean you’ve shitlisted “are”.

      • Logic Ninja

        I roast adverbs slowly. Eat them hungrily. And lick up the remains wolfishly. Then I seek out any elusive remnants. Watchfully.

    • Kirk Diggler

      This is….. er…. um…. well it IS great advice. It is. Already removing all my is’s (is that a word?) from my current work.

      P.S. It IS taking me a long time!

    • Citizen M

      Presumably you mean something like this:

      Exterior. Olympic Stadium. Berlin. Day.

      QUILLER is walking towards the entrance, away from the camera. He passes through the gates.

      • brenkilco

        Wow, and I thought I was being obscure referencing the script for The Quiller Memorandum (see comment below). You’ve made my day.

        • Citizen M

          When I saw you’d written “Pinter script” I had to google it and just happened to see the example.

          • brenkilco

            Ah. Well catch the movie some time if you haven’t. Pinter’s dialogue, full of floating menace with all the meaning hidden between the lines was just perfect for a spy drama.

      • Logic Ninja

        I tend to use “walks”–though that’s a personal preference. My writing tends to wordiness, so I search constantly for new ways to amputate syllables. I’ll also allow an occasional “is,” or “are” in the interrogative, such as, “Is that really just a verb form? ***googles passive voice*** DAMN YOU MRS. FISHER FROM THE SEVENTH GRADE!!!!!!”

  • Nicholas J

    Haha, this one gets me too. Especially when dialogue beats that go together are separated by a lot of action.

    JOE: Hi Mary, how are you?
    Joe lights a cigarette and takes a drag.
    He looks down the road at a YOUNG BOY throwing bread to a gaggle of geese.
    A semi drives by and honks, sending the geese flying away in retreat.
    MARY: Just fine, Joe.

    By the time I get to the answer I’ve forgotten what the question was.

    • brenkilco

      Often an indication the writer doesn’t think what his characters are saying to each other is interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. You know enter and exunt are about all the description you get in Shakespeare.

  • JakeMLB


    Too often I see amateur writers flub the ordering of visuals. This is easily one of the most important technical aspects of screenwriting since it is in essence a visual medium. Do it incorrectly and you immediately halt the film in the reader’s mind’s eye. It’s difficult at first to master because there is often a balance between describing the setting and then the characters and their actions but it absolutely needs to be mastered in order to write effectively. Frankly, an entire article could be written about this. Carson, get on it.

    • Eddie Panta

      Good point..
      Although, I strive for clarity. but I try not to make each scene feel like it’s on a wide or always General to the Specific:

      BACKYARD – The entire group gathered around the picnic table – Joe sits at the head.
      Joe, at the head of the picnic table, surrounded by the entire group.

      Also, it’s not always necessary to describe the entire room/place before the character speaks.I see a lot of solid text after a new INT. slugline. By the time the character starts speaking, it feels like we’ve been on a still frame.

      Not always easy to avoid, especially if the rooms are important, like in a contained thriller, but I find a lot of scripts where the dialogue could be bumped up.
      The INT. descriptions doesn’t need to be in one large chunk. Breaking up the descriptions takes up more space, but it has more visual flow that way, more of a real time feel.

      • JakeMLB

        Yeah, finding the balance between that push and pull can be difficult. Ultimately it comes down to visual writing. Writing as you see the film in your head. But it takes some experience to develop that natural instinct, particularly for genres where the visuals are really important. This is where prior experience as an editor, DP or director would really come in handy.

    • ripleyy

      Think about the illustrators and the people working with CGI the next time you think about visuals, especially when it comes to science-fiction. You need to be as descriptive as possible in order for those people to do their jobs. A futuristic city could be anything. Make it easier for them by going into a little more detail.

  • steveblair

    Carson, what did you think of the (nearly) blank pages in “Jane Got a Gun”?

  • brenkilco

    No I think you should begin a new paragraph only where it is required. A thanksgiving dinner scene could be shot in a single master shot. And could occupy a single paragraph. If you would normally cut in to a specific character for a particular action, say if somebody starts to choke on a turkey bone, this should be a new paragraph. If someone rises and goes to the telephone that definitely should be a new paragraph.

    • Eric

      (Since it’s been 8 hours, I guess it’s safe to say my original post got eaten. Let’s try this again)

      I think we’d probably agree 90% of the time, but I took exception to the idea that you weren’t crazy about:

      “She puts a cigarette to her lips. He strikes a match and lights it.”

      The only reason I could think of to break that up is if it’s supposed play out slowly. To change:

      “She puts a cigarette to her lips. He strikes a match and lights it. She exhales a thick plume of smoke.”


      “She puts a cigarette to her lips.

      He strikes a match and lights it.

      She exhales a thick plume of smoke.”

      Seems highly wasteful of the limited amount of page space screenwriters have. I also don’t think the amount of page space used is indicative of how long that action would take to play out on screen (in most cases).

      • brenkilco

        After consideration, I think I am in agreement with you. The closest I can come to a rule is that if the actions of two or more characters can be viewed as some kind of whole, could be filmed together in a single shot, or presented in one continuous movement than they can certainly be described in one paragraph. For instance, you wouldn’t break a fist fight into separate paragraphs every time someone throws a punch.

        It’s ultimately subjective and your aim is clarity.

  • Poe_Serling


  • Cuesta

    So you’re getting old and angry huh?
    Happy birthday.

  • Citizen M

    Dialogue that doesn’t move the story along.

    MICK: Hey.

    DEAN: Hey.

    MICK: ‘Sup?

    DEAN: Oh, nothing much.

    MICK: You going to the party?

    DEAN: What party?

    MICK: Kate’s party.

    DEAN: (faking ignorance) Oh, KATE’s party! Uh, no.

    Just get it over with.

    MICK: Hey, you going to Kate’s party?

    DEAN: Kate’s…? Uh, no.

  • kenglo

    Wow…Happy BURPDAY grendl!!

  • brenkilco

    Screenwriting is a form that can encourage self deception. If your dialogue is tin eared you can tell yourself that it’s really all about structure. If you can’t write descriptive prose you can tell yourself that a script is only a casual blueprint and the director and his designers will fill in the gaps. And yes, if an individual has a stranglehold on dramatic structure, he may be able to finesse his other limitations as a writer. Could Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino or even Robert Towne write a novel? Probably not. But yeah, the issue of talent can’t be ignored.

    • Cuesta

      “Could Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino write a novel?”

      And neither a screenplay. They’d be crushed by the reader’s rules.

      • Citizen M

        You don’t use the rules to judge a screenplay. You use the rules when attempting to analyze where a failed screenplay went wrong.

        • Cuesta

          I respectfully disagree.That’s just naive.

          How many times did you read “I couldn’t get beyond third page because some rule some rule. PAAAASS.”?

          Or, “I just know the script is going to be bad”. Of course, nobody changes course after make up one’s mind.

          Like that time Casablanca’s screenplay with a fake name went through all Hollywood and got a pass from everyone.

        • Paul Clarke

          “You don’t use the rules to judge a screenplay. You use the rules when attempting to analyze where a failed screenplay went wrong.”

          Brilliant – When I watch a movie with friends and it’s got problems and I start analyzing them on the way to the car park, my friends complain I’m too analytical and should just watch it and enjoy. But that’s what was trying to do. Only if it’s bad or I get bored does the analyzing begin.

          If they break the “rules” but do it well (ie – the understand why and do something about it) then I will still enjoy it and won’t be analyzing.

          And Happy Birthday Grendl.

  • fragglewriter

    I definitely needed this article.
    Also, less directions on the page UNLESS it helps the reader understand the scene/moment.

  • Linkthis83

    I rail against this stuff constantly. My head wants to explode. I know I’m severely outnumbered and have zero credibility when it comes to this stuff. So perhaps if people that actually mattered weighed in on the subject, maybe…just maybe, things around here could change for the better:

    When I entered the entertainment business in the late eighties, I don’t think there were as many scripts being written and submitted to producers and networks. The number of people booting up Final Draft or Scriptware in the hopes of becoming the next Steve Zaillian or David E. Kelley has probably expanded as a result of the popularity of famous screenwriting teachers like Robert McKee, increased numbers of film and television writing
    classes taught in colleges, and a plethora of websites devoted to instruction in the craft, so it makes sense that the system would be overloaded and that more of the scavenging for material would be left to those lower on the food chain. But if you are one of those hoping to break into scriptwriting and are disillusioned that your prospects may rest in the hands of someone just out of school and with little experience, I’d say two things:

    (1) Fear not, since, in my experience, truly good writing always finds its way to the decision-makers because the young people who are reading the scripts are more like the audience than those of us they assist. We do listen to these early readers, knowing that in some ways the opinion of an assistant or intern has even more validity than our own.

    And (2) No, there isn’t a chance in hell that I’ll read your fucking script, so don’t ask.


    * Keep in mind that 95% of the scripts they cover are either poor or pure crap. The upside is (1) this means these gatekeepers desperately want to read a great script and (2) good writing will stand out, even to readers who have little understanding of the craft.


    In comments, screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe added some thoughts that take what I said over the edge and goes one louder, if you will. I wanted to make sure the GITS community saw them, so I am re-posting them here in full:

    First of all, I LOVE this piece because what Polone says is honest and blunt and, at the end of the day, not necessarily a bad thing at all.

    A NOTE BEFORE I SAY ANYTHING ELSE: Some of my comments are going to be vague for obvious reasons. However, in full disclosure, I do not know and have not yet worked with Gavin Polone, though I know OF him very well. Please do not attribute any of the following comments to him. Thanks.

    Second, what he’s saying, as far as I’m concerned, often gives you and INCREDIBLE advantage as a writer. There are many, many, many excellent studio execs and producers who are fantastic at their jobs, love what they do, and KNOW what good material is. And there are just as many who are in it solely for the money, are there via nepotism or dumb luck, and couldn’t possibly give a shit about quality – they just want to get movies made and be “Hollywood”.

    In BOTH of those cases, Scott is absolutely right – their associates and assistants are underpaid, overworked, and have read so much absolute shit over the last weeks or months that they are DYING for just ONE great piece of material. And if they find it, you can bet that they will forward it to every other associate and assistant they know faster than you can blink, because they’re all in the same boat. Subject Line: FINALLY SOMETHING GOOD.

    And when that happens…you’ve built buzz. When assistants and associates are all talking about the same thing, the execs and producers hear about it. The good ones will jump at the chance to find out if there’s something there they love and want to get behind; the bad ones will jump at the chance EVEN FASTER if for no other reason than to either a) be the one that found the Next Big Thing or b) at least NOT be the one who IGNORED the Next Big Thing.

    No matter how you slice it, that’s GREAT for you. What happens afterwards is a complete crap shoot. There will be execs/producers that just don’t have time to read. There will be others that love it but really don’t see it working for them for whatever reason. There will be others that just don’t dig it. Best case scenario, a great exec/producer falls in love and
    you make a sale to someone who believes in what you’ve written. Less ideal is you make a sale and a shitty one makes your life hell during development, and you move on to the next one eventually with a nice paycheck for your troubles.

    But maybe more important than anything, there’s this: Hollywood is filling up more and more with young creative people who want to work in the industry not because they want to get VIP tables at clubs and have celebrities on their speed dials, but because they love. Movies. Period. That means there are a TON of young people out there right now working in Gatekeeper positions who want to find something they love and FIGHT for it, not just pass it on because they think it’ll get them a promotion. They’re willing to make noise.

    When you write something that you love, you’re going to write your best. When you READ something you love, you’re going to do your best to get in the ear of everyone who can help make it happen. So, as Scott mentioned, don’t read Polone’s thoughts and get discouraged. Coverage is a necessary part of the process, and if you write a great script, it can be the biggest part of the process for you.


    And now this: A great thoughtful comment from long-time friend of the blog and future super producer Nate Winslow who works for two production companies in Hollywood. In his comment, which I am reprinting here, Nate gives us a front line perspective on what it’s like to be a script reader:

    As one of those underpaid and overworked interns/assistants, I back wholeheartedly what Geoff just said and agree with him completely.

    I read a lot of scripts. Right now, I’m currently working for 3 companies (that shall remain nameless–so, like Geoff, forgive any vagueness here) and one Black List. Between two of those companies, I’m in an office 5 days a week, spending the majority of that time reading scripts: when I come home from those offices, I spend the majority of my time reading more scripts. In the off chance that the other testimonies weren’t good enough, I
    can tell you first-hand that the majority of the scripts that I read are not great, life-changing pieces of writing. The VAST majority of them aren’t, actually.

    I can’t speak for my fellow underpaid and overworked brethren, but for myself I can say that Geoff is spot on when he says that I really, really REALLY want to read a great script. More than you know: I’m sure the writers that get back my coverage (with my name hopefully erased. I want to live to be 30) with a big fat PASS on the bottom might struggle to believe that, but I start every single script hoping and praying with all of my might
    that I’m about to read something great. Because not only would a great script
    be a huge relief to my soul and briefly restore my faith in the art of storytelling; not only would it have me fist-pumping and emailing everyone else I know who are looking for great scripts; it gives me, for however long I manage to have it in my hands, the most valuable currency in this entire town.

    A. Great. Script.

    When you write a great script and I get to read it–in an official or unofficial capacity–you’re doing me an enormous favor. You’re giving me something I can yell about and fight for. You’re giving me something that I can get behind and believe in and gush about and rant about and talk about to my friends and–most importantly for both you, writer friend, and me–go to my boss about. If I have the opportunity to read something that I think is
    absolutely fantastic, and something that I think my boss will potentially love just as much, I’ll find a way to get it in front of him.

    And the reason for that is exactly because there are so many crappy scripts that cross in front of my eyeballs. Too many! And readers, like Hollywood at large, are ALWAYS looking for a great script–and when you find one, it’s like finding a Golden Ticket.

    I speak from experience. (Apologies for vaagueness here) In the past year, I read a script for coverage that I absolutely adored. Flat-out loved, and believed incredibly strongly that it was destined to not only be a movie, but a huge hit movie that would potentially win a ton of awards and entertain millions and millions of people. So I gave it a RECOMMEND and unconditionally raved about it in my coverage. I told a supervisor this story
    the other week and he looked at me like I was insane: he’s got a few years on me and he told me he expects to give three RECOMMENDS out in his ENTIRE LIFE. Rare birds, those recommends. But I gave this script one and instead of just sending it to my direct superior and letting them read it, I sent it to my direct superior and then emailed them a 4 paragraph email explaining to them that if they do nothing else this weekend, please please please please read this script. Please. I was a little more eloquent, but that was the gist. They read it. They loved it. I got asked to explain myself to THEIR boss, and I
    did–they read it and THEY loved it. Then it went up the chain to THE boss, and it sat on the top of their to-read pile and waited.

    Unfortunately it was right in the middle of an incredibly busy time at said company and there just wasn’t quite enough time to get it read and do anything with it. (Coincidentally, two weeks later, that script sold to a studio for a large sum of money and is going to get made imminently. Validation of a certain kind.)

    But that was a script that blew me away to the point where I cared enough to bug people that I normally have no cause or reason to bug. And, luckily, after they had read it, they all shared the same feelings I had for the script so I didn’t get fired, but that’s all it takes. Make one person care enough to make other people listen to them.

    We read far too many screenplays. The idea that we’re rooting for a screenplay to suck or sharpening our claws to rip it to shreds while cackling gleefully is ridiculous. Readers aren’t masochists. I love movies. I want to make great movies. And my part in all of that right now is reading a lot of them and trying to find the great ones. Good scripts are a drug and whenever someone I know finds one, immmmmeeeeediately emails get sent out and PDFs are shared and read and shared again. One intern with a decent amount of
    friends and contacts reading your script and loving it is one step removed from
    fifteen other people getting sent that script—each of them send it to fifteen of their friends, each of whom send it to fifteen of their friends, each of whom…20 minutes later, 500 people have heard about your script. Be nice to the little people.

    I probably read 15 scripts a week, I don’t get paid to read a single one of them and I open every last script hoping I’m about to find something that I can take to my boss and force them to make it.

    Readers are your friends. Make someone fall in love with and believe in your script and you’ll be shocked at how hard someone is willing to work for you.

    There you go. Just like what I said. Just like what Geoff said. We may think every reader in Hollywood is a cynical asshole. In fact, most are passionate lovers of movies. They do become hardened over time by the amount of shitty scripts they read. But if there’s one thing I’ve heard consistently from script readers since befriending my first one back in 1988, they always hope the script they crack open will be a great one.

    Now it’s just up to us to write it.

    • Linkthis83

      And if you don’t feel like reading all the stuff I just posted, at least do yourself a huge favor and check this out:


      It’s work to go through the links from 1-15, however, it’s totally fucking worth it.

    • Linkthis83
      • MaliboJackk

        One thing I noticed early on
        — teachers have different motivations.
        But professionals in the industry often have different views as well.

        Alfred Hitchcock believed movies told stories through a series of visuals. That dialogue should be used only when necessary.
        (Grew up making movies in the silent era.)

      • kenglo

        I just realized this when I read – http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/07/05/25-things-you-should-know-about-dialogue/

        When they always said “show, don’t tell”, but after reading this article, and then going back and looking at scripts, I realize there is truth in “showing by telling” I was so excited I outlined a script in two days, sequenced it out, started on Wednesday, and am on page 21 already. I feel like a burden has been lifted, because the greatest thing I got out of this article is

        “…a character says shit,then does shit, then says shit about the shit she just did.”

        And another great article – http://www.talentville.com/snippet/232 about the mini movie method, how you break it down by story, sequence, scene…..

        And who the heck says Syd Field doesn’t know his stuff? –

        page 162 – “It is the story that determines how long or how short your scene is. There is only one rule to follow: Tell your story. The scenes will be as long or as short as they need to be; just trust the story and it will tell you everything you need to know.

        Throughout my many years of teaching, I’ve noticed that some people have a tendency to want to make a rule for everything. If there happens to be eighteen scenes in the first act of a screenplay or movie, they feel their first act must have eighteen scenes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night by a hysterical writer on the phone saying, “My pages are too long,” or “Act I is thirty five pages long,” or “My Plot Point I happens on page nineteen”; then I hear labored breathing in my ear, followed by a plaintive cry: “What do I do?”

        I listen and always give them the same answer: “So what!”

        So what if your first act is too long; so what if Plot Point I occurs on page 19. So what! You can’t write a screenplay following numbers as you would a drugstore painting. It is the form of the screenplay that’s important— beginning, middle, and end—not the numbers on the page.

        The paradigm is only a guide, not an absolute! Writing a screenplay that way doesn’t work—

        trust your story to tell you what you need to know, what scenes you need to write, or what scenes not to write.”

        Amen. Man I used to love GITS, and HULK and TRUBY and Field and all the blogspots (SS is ADDICTIVE!) but if I spent all my time learning and not applying, or doing, I’d get nowhere. But it was refreshing to visit those web pages again. Thanks link!!

        Back to writing!!

        • Linkthis83

          “So what” was almost my initial response to a lot of things people said on SS when I first got into writing. Only then, I didn’t have a basis for it. Now I do!

          Thanks for the article suggestions/links as well.

    • MaliboJackk

      Hey Link
      Thanks for taking the time to post this.
      What I’m hearing described is the perfect world: Readers searching for great scripts. Readers who are passionate lovers of movies.
      It’s almost as if these readers aren’t human. As if they aren’t subjective. A totally different class of people who are highly skilled, highly professional. Unlike the type of people involved in development hell. Unlike anyone you might meet in Tales From The Script.

      We all know the stories of how Eastwood’s reader hated UNFORGIVEN. How PULP FICTION was called the worst they had ever read. How Goldman said — nobody knows anything. How studio have passed on great scripts. How actor have passed on great roles. But somehow — readers can recognize a great script.

      I have no doubt that readers can recognize something that is well written. But what about a great script? Or even a good script? This is what I hear from the above comment — I ONLY GIVE THREE RECOMMENDS.

      • Linkthis83

        Hey MJ, you are welcome. You already know I have my own resistance to some of this stuff. So I thought I’d go and see if I could find script readers actually talking about things that count against a script.

        I posted what I found.

        The most important, to me, out all the stuff I found, was the Twitter chat conversation that I put into the pdf document and made available from mediafire.

        I just wanted some balance to the subject. :) And also to make sure my perspective isn’t completely inaccurate and naive. However, while writing pages for the WS contest, I did get to appreciate how formatting is piece of storytelling. That was extremely valuable.

  • Randy Williams

    “You are a person with integrity, who is forthright and intelligent. You can be somewhat of a perfectionist, and you are often hard on yourself and sometimes others as a result. Your ideas and opinions are strikingly unique and unusual. You are forever learning and sharing what you’ve learned. Famous people born today: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Wagner, Naomi Campbell, Laurence Olivier.”

    One of those if you are born on this day characteristic things.

    Fits you perfectly, I do believe.

  • peisley

    Not using spell check. An occasional misspelling is ok, but when they don’t even take the time to just let the computer do the walking it’s clear they’ll be sloppy somewhere else, too.

  • ripleyy

    Bold sluglines, in my opinion, make the script look professional and clean. Non-bold sluglines in scripts look bland and makes the script look like it has no personality. There is no right or wrong way, though I do personally hate underlined sluglines with a ferocious passion.

    Honestly, it’s tomato/tometo. It’s one thing and it’s another. You can’t please everyone, so I always think it’s better to just write the way you do. I do admit everything in this article irks me except the bolded sluglines and the “(beat)” – “(beat)” is basically a pause.

    I mean, can you imagine how long this article could go on if we all just shared our likes and dislikes? Any insecure writer would have a mental breakdown. Just write the way you do and when you have something you really love, then focus on what is the best way to write it.

  • Nicholas J

    Style is too often emulated over substance. Writers copy Tarantino’s long dialogue and nonlinear storytelling without realizing he is using those tools to create tension (among other things). Tarantino is the Pai Mei of tension.

    Talent is a big part of knowing how to give a scene substance, but is also important in recognizing substance in other people’s work. If you don’t know how others create substance, how can you expect to create it yourself? So many people say Tarantino is all style and no substance. It’s not that substance isn’t there, it’s that you don’t know how to recognize it.

    Good to have you back grendl.

  • koicvjr

    The subsequent action with no spaces is an attempt to use the space more efficiently. It’s a verticality thing.

  • astranger2

    Miss Scriptshadow once wrote an article about script “no-nos.” In it she said she never used italics. What are some reader thoughts on “italics, underlining, CAPS, ellipses, dashes, spelling out numbers” in action and dialogue? What irritates them in this area?

    Also, until recently I had always double-spaced between sentences. After reading a discussion Link had, and asking others, it seems this is archaic. Now, double-spacing looks odd to me. Is this just one of those trivial things that don’t matter?

    So many rules… So little time to break them…

    • Linkthis83

      I think the majority land on single space now. I was taught and conditioned for the two spaces and haven’t broken myself of it yet.

      From my understanding, a lot of software now autocorrects the use of two spaces. I’ve never looked at this so I have no idea if it’s true or not.

      I know Celtx will let me double space all day. I have to go through those line by line to make sure I’m consistent with the one space.

      From what I understand, double space was a necessity based on the width of certain letters in type font. Because fonts now are created for letters to take up the same amount of space, it has rendered it unnecessary to use double space:


      EDIT: I double spaced while typing this post and I actually saw it get “fixed” when I hit “post.”

      • astranger2

        I asked someone at the Writer’s Store (Sheldon Turner Contest) about the spacing, and they agreed with you — some yadda, yadda about when writers used typewriters. But I’ve noticed, a small thing like that can save you a few pages over an entire rewrite.

      • Nicholas J

        I once read a script that had no spaces after sentences. Also commas instead of periods. Not just once, but the entire thing. True story. But honestly, as horribly written (both technical and story) as it was, it was one of the most memorable and funny scripts I’ve ever read. Though it wasn’t a comedy.

    • Nicholas J

      Basically overuse and/or improper use.

      GOOD CAPS: John is running down the street. BANG! John falls over, dead.
      BAD CAPS: John is RUNNING down the street. BANG! John FALLS OVER, DEAD.

      JOHN: So I was walking down the street…
      AL (V.O.): As John talked, my mind wandered to last night when I had sex with his wife, and how I couldn’t wait to rub it in his face.
      JOHN: …and it was the most delicious hot dog I ever ate.

      JOHN: So… I was walking down the street… um… and then I came across this… hot dog vendor…
      AL: I had sex with your wife last night…
      JOHN: …What?!

      JOHN: So I was walking down the stree–
      AL: –I had sex with your wife last night.
      JOHN: What?!

      JOHN: So — I was walking down the street last night — and I came across this hot dog vendor — most delicious hot dog I ever ate–
      AL: Cool — I had sex with your wife last night.

      • astranger2

        Poor John… The Caps thing confuses me, because I read a recent article from an established writer about how you need to emphasize certain passages now to outline plot points for the reader. So they won’t miss them.

        Have you ever posted a script here on SS? You obviously have an excellent grasp on formatting, and I’d think it would be a great paradigm to review. Your previous points about character description are very good.

        • Nicholas J

          John will be okay, hot dogs are his favorite thing in the world and he hated his wife anyway. And, uh, the scene where he gets shot was a dream.

          I think I read that article as well, and agree with it. What I do now is, no more than a handful of times, I write a sentence in all italics at important character moments for my protag. Something simple like “It’s the worst moment of her life.” These usually would coincide with plot points, and just help a reader track the important turns of a character’s life or in plot.

          I think spelling things out every once in a while is okay. In movies they do it all the time with things like camera moves, music, acting, etc. We writers don’t get to do that, so we have to compensate using what’s available to us — caps, italics, etc.

          For instance in JAWS, that moment with Brody on the beach when Jaws first appears. That’s when the danger first hits Brody, it’s a hair-raising, important plot point, and is something you could emphasize in all caps. Spielberg does it with a dolly zoom and scary music, why can’t I do it with italics or caps?

          I haven’t posted before to SS, but intend to in the not-too-distant future.

          • astranger2

            That’s great stuff about the “it’s the worst moment of her life.” Thanks for all the input. A lot of posters are probably weary of formatting talk, but I found Carson’s article, and responses like your’s extremely useful. A lot of these writer “errors” are easy fixes. I look forward to your screenplay.

            I like the protag in the upper right corner. He has a charm…

          • Nicholas J

            I think the #1 goal should be to get the reader all the way to the end. Having a great story is the best way to get them there, but a clean script helps enormously.

            Shoot me an email if you want an excerpt. nicholasjwrite@gmail.com

      • klmn

        Hey Man! Leave my wife alone.

    • Jaco

      Like many of these things being discussed here – it doesn’t matter.

      Read tons of scripts. Write tons of scripts. Get a feel for what works for you. Develop your voice. Develop your style. Listen to feedback to see if there’s something you are doing that isn’t working for others. Figure out why.

      lather. rinse. repeat.

      Ultimately, these pithy “rules” are nothing more than guidelines.

      • astranger2

        Obviously true, but after receiving contest feedback, there are things that bother the reader. You’re right though. If the writing had stood out, she might not have noticed the pimples, just the smile.

        • Jaco

          There are things that bothered your reader about your script . . . don’t let that stifle your creativity going forward. Figure out why it didn’t work and do better next time.

          Look . . . my pet peeve is spelling/grammar/mis-use of the English language. However – I’ll forgive anything if the script delivers an awesome tale.

          I will say – if a reader dings you for violating a rule that’s on some sort of “Screenwriting 101 Checklist” – and that’s the only reason you get dinged . . . then screw them.

          • Citizen M

            Anyone who sends a script out that is not polished, professional, and proof-read, is an idiot.

            After you’ve done the heavy lifting of writing it in the first place, a few hours fine-tuning the language, formatting, and logline will be time well spent.

          • Jaco

            Absolutely – certainly not advocating sending out a script that isn’t ready.

            But . . spelling mistakes occur. Even in pro scripts. Just saying that a good story has a funny way of turning off the editing portion of the brain.

            If a reader is unable to appreciate a perfectly crafted story because of some misspelled wordz or punctuation gaffes, then that reader is an idiot.

      • Acarl

        Tru dat!

    • mulesandmud

      You rattled off a laundry list of issues there, but one that I haven’t seen anyone respond to is the use of italics/underlining/bold/caps, presumably for emphasizing individual words or phrases.

      All of those are acceptable, but that doesn’t mean you should overuse them, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you should use all of them in the same script. In fact, never do that. The most important thing with adding emphasis is to be consistent about when, how and why you’re doing it. A script that interchanges italics, caps, and underline all for the same purpose just looks sloppy.

      • astranger2

        I did rattle off a laundry list. ; ) Because there really is no set standard in this craft you can’t just flip through the “Chicago Manual of Style” for an answer, because readers are different, and the form constantly changes. And then of course, if you are a brilliant writer you can twist and bend the steel any which way you’d like.

        I recently fell into the “clipped writing” habit because I read a lot of scripts favoring that style, but have since reversed course. The reason I fell into that trap is I am overly-novelistic in my descriptions and was looking for a fix.

        I realize now, no matter how you approach this, you have to remain true to yourself. The clipped writing is not at the core of who I am as a writer.

        And every time you read an article about formatting, or ask a friend in the business, they always respond the same — “great writing triumphs all.” Well, for some like myself, I know I haven’t reached that rarefied air yet.

        If I persevere, however, I feel as if I can write something that is still marketable. So like most here, I’d like to make sure the rough edges are filed off so the reader won’t have cause to arbitrarily stop because the writing wasn’t Tarantino/Sorkin level.

        As Citizen M pointed out, spelling and proper grammar should be a minimum requirement. Ange always seems focused on the fact 101 rules should be a hundred-and-one rules when spoken.

        You make an excellent point, however. Regardless of what you do, consistency is vital. That’s a great takeaway. Either underline, or use caps throughout. That bit of advice I will start immediately.

        Thanks for your thoughts.

        • mulesandmud

          As De Niro says in Ronin, it’s a toolbox. These conversations are just about finding the right tools for the job, and two of those jobs, for better or worse, are formatting and presentation.

          These are conversations that need to be had, plain and simple. I don’t think we could find single person on this board who actually believes that format trumps story. Likewise, you won’t find any architects who believe that a house’s trim is more important than the foundation. But an architect with no interest in the fine-adjust details of their own design, that’s a scary guy to let build your summer home.

          The way someone approaches the little details matters; sometimes it matters most of all. A cut corner here, a skipped step there, those choices say as much about a person as the big picture decisions. And make no mistake, producers looking to buy your script are judging you as much as they are the script, so if your goal is to be a full-time, professional screenwriter, it’s on you to prove you can act like one.

          Artistry is about expression and creative inspiration. Craftsmanship is about having a specific skill set and taking pride in your work. Professionalism is about knowing what your job entails, and doing it. Be honest with yourself, and whichever one of those you’re lacking, fix it, because two out of three doesn’t cut it in this business.

          • astranger2

            I love the architect metaphor. No one will admire Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” if it literally falls atop them. Foundation is important.

    • Midnight Luck

      I tend to find that overdoes things in the script. I only use CAPS and basically just for certain SOUNDS. (sorry, overkill)

      I am not a fan of Bold, or italics or underlining. Just never needed it for anything. And it looks to busy / chaotic / overkill which slows down the read.

      Double spacing? I don’t think I would do that. TV writing, or is it Sitcom writing does that. I am not even sure why. Haven’t delved much into Sitcom writing.

      • astranger2

        I wrote that incorrectly. I was speaking of spacing between sentences. As in whether or not there should be one or two spaces after a period or other punctuation. It actually helps eliminate “widows.”

        I agree with you there. I don’t even like two or three words on the next line, although it can’t be helped. It’s just not aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Sorry for the confusion, but in rereading, I’m sure EVERYONE will interpret it that way… lol.

        • Midnight Luck

          It can be taken either way I guess, unless you say, “after the period”. After the period I totally get. Again, having been in Journalism too long, a Designer too long, etc. We used to double space after a period NO MATTER WHAT.
          Then time changed everything.
          It is cleaner and quicker though to use one space. If I accidentally use two spaces now, it just feels off.

    • Matthew Garry

      Italics aren’t used, except for the uncommon case of foreign dialogue.

      Underlining is used for emphasis in dialogue. It’s also used in action for pivotal plot elements (it should only be used a few times for an entire script).

      Caps are used for first on-screen appearance of a character, important plot devices and elements, and sounds.

      Interruptions are usually indicated by a dash.

      Trailing off and/or leaving something implied at the end of a line can be indicated by either an ellipsis “…” or a dash.

      Pauses are usually indicated by using an ellipsis or “(beat)”.

      Spelling out numbers makes it easier to assess dialogue length.

      If a writer learned to apply any of those things differently, that’s not a problem.

      If a writer doesn’t follow anything, it usually not a problem, as long as there’s consistency throughout.

      If a writer doesn’t follow anything, and has no consistency throughout, it still doesn’t need to be a problem, but then again, if a writer, out of carelessness or ignorance shows a reader he hasn’t even bothered to open and read a webpage on basic formatting when writing, how does that reflect on his or her attitude towards the things that actually do matter in a screenplay? Of course a thrown together script can still hit it out of the park, but the odds are diminishing.

      In short: none of the small stuff is actually irritating by itself (or, often what irritates one is okay by another, so there’s really no right way), but giving a reader some indication you actually did some homework first breeds confidence.

      • astranger2

        After you read all the screenwriting bibles you come away fairly confident. And then you dig into a pile of scripts to learn from, and come away dazed and confused. I appreciate you’re guidance here, and like mules said earlier, consistency is probably key to establishing a professional look and read to your screenplay. Kind of like in “Elements of Style,” where White says if you’re unsure how ti pronounce something, say it loudly.

        Don’t add inaudibility to the potential miscommunication. At least if you are conistent with your formatting, it will look cleaner, and as you said, indicate you did some homework prior.

  • Linkthis83

    Happy Birthday, g.

  • Ambrose*

    As soon as I saw the illustration for today’s article it immediately transported me to Nevada in the 1950s.
    And a certain guest named Frankie Pentangelli.

    Frankie: “Hey, Fredo. Hey, what’s with the food around here?”
    Fredo: “What’s the matter?”
    Frankie: “Kid comes up to me in a white jacket, gives me a Ritz cracker and a chopped liver, he says, ‘Canapes’.
    I said, ‘Can of peas’, my ass. That’s a Ritz cracker and chopped liver.”

  • ThomasBrownen

    THIS. It makes some scripts REALLY frustrating.

  • Jarman Alexander

    “I know we don’t talk about natural ability here a lot because that tends to ruin the illusion anyone can do this”

    This. All of this. If you don’t, A) sell your first script, then you need to, 2) dedicate your life, or, D) enjoy it as a hobby.

  • Nicholas J

    LIKE, for MY SCRIPT, OR i’ve seen others do it too, I’LL use caps to PUNCH up my action and so YOU know RIGHT where important words are IN my sentences, also THE caps give my writing confidence and BALLS. (I also use them to send subliminal messages to the reader.)

  • mulesandmud

    Always figured you weren’t so much born as conjured by an occult screenwriting ritual gone horribly wrong. Cheers, brother.

  • Acarl

    Well put, well said! happy B-Day, Gren.

  • witwoud

    I love this sort of rant, because I think so much bad writing is a result of sheer pigheadedness. Writers have big egos, and most of them suspect, deep in their hearts, that they are something special. ‘Yeah, yeah, I know all this stuff … but it doesn’t apply to ME,’ they think. ‘Okay, my scenes are fifteen pages long but that’s because I’m trying to convey the atmosphere of a run-down fishing village, and I can’t put in much of a plot because it’d be too expensive to make with boats and stuff. Anyway, it’s sort of a spoof, so.’

    The best remedy would be to take hold of the writer by his hipster ponytail and bang his head onto the table forty or fifty times while shouting in his ear ‘You are not different! You are not different!’ But these harangues by Carson, Grendl and others are the next best thing. Problem is, the effect wears off within about two minutes, after which the writer goes back to tinkering with the commas in his fifteen-page scene.

  • http://www.twitter.com/laurjeff Lauren

    Ok, here’s my two-cents… As the sole picker-outer of Amateur Offerings scripts, I’ve noticed some serious ‘improper presentation.’

    When I’m looking to pick scripts, my initial instinct is to pick the best premises. I found a couple cool loglines last week, opened up the PDFs…. and then found the formatting was WAY OFF. As in, Microsoft Word documents instead of Final Draft/Celtx/etc. Also found one that was more novel than script – again, formatted with a word processor. Yet another was a Final Draft document, but it was all single-spaced, short action lines. It looked like an epic poem. The idea was badass but I couldn’t justify including it. I had to trash all these scripts as options which was a bummer because I would have loved to include them.

    People often wonder why the pickings are sometimes slim or mediocre with Amateur Offerings. Well, the options are pretty slim when several scripts don’t even look or read like scripts.

    For those of you just starting out, lost in a sea of “Should I do this or that with sluglines/italics/names?” – don’t get caught up in such minor details until everything looks ‘legit’ at its most basic level. Read pro scripts, friends’ scripts, etc., and get a feel for what’s right, what’s amiss, all that jazz. Digesting correct mechanics as a reader yourself, and how it all flows into an easier read, is the best way to learn what will make your writing easiest for others to read. Doing so will encourage much higher chances I’ll pick your script for the site :)

    • Nicholas J

      “it was all single-spaced, short action lines. It looked like an epic poem”

      To be fair, this is a legit style but it’s pretty old school and rarely used. Although WALL-E used it and was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay, so there’s that…

      • Casper Chris

        A legit style? Who decides what’s a legit style or not? Either it’s standard or non-standard.

        • Nicholas J

          The reader, I suppose? It didn’t work for Lauren so she passed it up. Another person might like it. That’s the best argument for following a more standard style, I’d say.

        • Jaco

          It’s called vertical writing. Standard in the sense that you’ll find plenty of pro scripts using this style effectively. Some writers use it throughout, some use it just for set pieces. Much like anything – done right, it can be beautiful.

          That said . . . I’ve used this style quite a bit in my current spec . . . talk to me after it goes wide and everyone says it’s shit and I’m sure I’ll change my tune. ;)

          • Casper Chris

            I use vertical writing myself for action scenes.

            But not single-spaced lines in “epic poem form”.

        • gregthegreg

          It was also used in the Walter Hill draft of ALIEN and was his preferred style of writing. Sometimes referred to as “haiku format.”
          If used correctly, it can create a great effect.

          • Casper Chris

            Yea, I remember reading that.

            My point is just that everything is a legit style as long as it works for the reader.

      • http://www.twitter.com/laurjeff Lauren

        The script in question also boasted zero dialogue, so I can understand some minimalism is required. WALL-E is definitely the best example of such.

        The script I found didn’t seem to hold that style with the purpose or conviction WALL-E probably maintained; it read, to me, as someone’s perception of how ‘easy’ scripts are written. Perhaps I’ll throw it into the Amateur pile if I’ve got nothing else in the coming weeks, if only to spark a conversation and see if the story can surpass its visual aesthetic. As long as it’s inspiring genuine debate about and possible evolution for the craft, that’s always good!

        • Nicholas J

          Yeah, I’d guess they were trying to style it that way instead of simply not knowing the craft, especially since you have to go out of your way to format like that in Final Draft. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be done well, ha. Though if the storytelling is somewhat there it could make for some good discussion.

        • Casper Chris

          Well, you have our curiosities piqued now.

          Maybe that’s what the writer counted on all along haha.

    • Randy Williams

      I just downloaded a script from some site the other day because the premise sounded promising, wanted to take a look. It was in Microsoft Word and totally open to me defacing it, changing it in any way I cared to. Putting my name on the title page if I was so inclined. Don’t think that will happen, I haven’t read it, but did notice several typos on the first page, like “aptartment” which I’ll probably correct as well as other mistakes as I read. Anyway, not a good sign.

      Just very creepy to me. Would any artist put their painting in public with such little concern that it might be defaced?

  • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismulligan/lunch-meat?ref=live Chris Mulligan

    Damn. I way overuse BEAT. How was “Drive” written? Did they just say how slow he talks once, or have a hell of a lot of BEATs the whole way through?

    • Casper Chris

      I’m not going to stop using ‘beat’. I love my beats!

      • astranger2

        Like Sonny and Cher sang, “… and the beat goes on…”

  • JakeMLB

    You need to remember that a lot of the screenplays you read on internet forums are from YOUNG WRITERS, as in first time writers, as in individuals either still in college or recent graduates or other individuals who are first experimenting with the craft. Young people in general have an inflated sense of self and its only exacerbated by not truly understanding the craft and not yet knowing whether they have the talent and work ethic to succeed.

    It takes time to learn where one’s talents lie. Maybe you started writing comedy but finally came to the realization that your talent lies in drama. That’s part of the learning process and certainly isn’t uncommon. I’m sure you burst from the womb spinning yarns like Bill Goldman.

    Every time someone goes off on one of these rants I just shake my head because it’s likely that they themselves had an inflated ego at a young age and were committing all those “oh so obvious” errors that their older (and presumably egoless…) self is railing against.

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t truth in your words but remember: this all seems obvious to you because you’ve been through the ringer and now know what it all means. These rants aren’t going to stop young writers from being naive.

    • grendl

      Best Birthday wish ever. Thanks!!!

      I’ll fight another day, Jake.

  • pmlove

    Consistency – not thinking through the implications of your choices / having characters act true to themselves.

    Recent AF entry Firewake was a good example of the former. A lot of work went into the world building but everyone felt frustrated because it all felt undermined by the fact it was set in a world with human infrastructure.

    It would’ve been much better if the writer had sat down and followed through the implications of the rules s/he set up. If a world was built by unicorns, what would that actually look like? If they could levitate things what would happen then? If society was rigidly structured, how would that impact on character interactions?

    Sitting down and working these through actually helps you work out unique story choices and might save you rehashing old tropes just in a flowery setting.

    Same for characters. Although I never finished it (so guessing the following), I’m sure this is what Craig’s Devil’s Hammer script did well. We have bikers in the typical horror set up, but instead of them reacting like the teenagers in the camp, it is refreshing as they react differently – like a biker would.

  • Midnight Luck

    Timing / Order / Rhythm

    Structure all. Sentence the mixed is up
    –The sentence structure is all mixed up.

    Cart before the horse.
    Everything Back to Front.

    This is a big one it seems.

    So many of the Amateur scripts I read have all these things mixed up. The sentence begins with the ending thought, then tries to write the rest of the ideas and thoughts after the fact. Only then, in a giant circular explanation do they get back to their meaning.
    (kind of like this sentence and explanation)

    The idea being affected is put after what is affecting it.

    Even just basic sentences are written in a way where it is almost impossible to tell what is going on, UNTIL you reach the very last words of the sentence. Then it can be cobbled together and you can make sense out of it. The SENTENCE itself, however, is still a mess.

    I find it difficult to write that way, so it is extremely hard to create an actual example.

    I do have to say, many other people here don’t seem to have as much problem with this kind of thing as I do. Even Carson rarely says anything about it in his Coverage of a script. So it is possible, slightly, Ok, maybe totally, that it is only problematic for me.

    Even so, I don’t think people should take the chance, since out in the real world, you don’t want to come across a reader who is baffled as to what is being written, said, or meant.

    Clarity is King.
    So finding a way to make sure what you want to say, is said, should be tantamount.

  • Kirk Diggler

    Then why does your wallet say ‘Bad Motherfucker’?

  • IgorWasTaken

    People (including our host), please don’t do this:

    The problem is, some people have taken this so far that it’s unclear what’s being said. After awhile, the reader starts to feel like they’re reading an illiterate robot.

    And considering that today’s post is entitled “The Dangers of Improper Presentation”, the start of that second sentence is especially wrong.

    It should be, “After a while, the reader starts…”

  • Citizen M

    Well, there you go. If you’re not in L.A. schmoozing and making connections, better make sure your script is well written and not offensive to readers who know their theres from their there’s.

    • Unfinishe

      And I had an error in my above reply — “words is”…

      Tarantino spoke highly of using a technique called “lying,” which I believe helped get him his gig on GOLDEN GIRLS. I live in L.A., but I don’t schmooze, which is probably one of Tarantino’s most under-rated skills: the guy’s a prob’ly a beast in a room — enthusiastic, opinionated, knowledgeable.

  • carsonreeves1

    It can be challenging, I admit. When I’m reading an AOW script that I’m into, I ask myself, “Am I liking this because I really like it? Or do I like it because it’s better than most amateur scripts?” It’s hard to be completely objective, but I give it my best shot. :)

  • carsonreeves1

    Just keep writing and keep learning. You’ll keep getting better. It’s the surest formula out there. :)

  • pmlove

    I agree with it being too adult (well, assuming the audience is kids anyway).

    But I think the consistency stands. There are two types of world building – one which is core to the story, and one which is effectively incidental.

    The coyote / roadrunner is incidental. You could change them to anything and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Pigs and houses is a metaphor but again, there is zero harm in changing the characters out for humans, fox and chicken etc. The story plays out the same.

    Another example is that 37th dimension script. Yes, there’s a man who’s a turtle but you can get rid of that with no story consequence. The world is incidental.

    The issue with Firewake is that you’ve spent a lot of effort building the world that it becomes part of the story. You’ve obviously thought about the fact that they have hooves, can’t pick things up, therefore levitate. But the levitation is used only in circumstances when they need to appear human. It feels like having the Ents/trees in Lord of the Rings live in houses. Or the giants in Game of Thrones.

    If you just had a certain world and said, fuck it, unicorns can pick up items and left it at that, I think it would be less of an issue. Then it’s just Spongebob. A sponge, with hands. Move on. But the levitation makes us want to believe the reality of it. Then the question becomes – why have this when you can levitate – why not have a levitation chamber to recuperate in instead of a bed?

    Hopefully that makes some sense.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    Thanks man, good to know!