Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The most easily avoidable mistake young writers make

You’ve worked on your spec pilot for months. You’ve taken a course in pilot writing. You’ve read two books. You’re so desperate for information you’ve read through the archives of this blog.

You’ve got a dynamite premise. It’s EXACTLY what every network is looking for right now. How’d you tap into the zeitgeist five minutes before everyone else? And those characters -- they just jump off the page. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are even willing to audition.

Your story is ingenious, shows the unlimited potential of your series, and has a inspired twist. Think: THE USUAL SUSPECTS but better!

And it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Move over Mel Brooks. There’s a new sheriff in town and it’s YOU.

If ever there was a slam dunk, a home run, a can’t miss – THIS IS IT.

So how come readers stop reading on page three and toss it into the reject file?

Answer: Typos.

You could write the greatest spec pilot of all-time and if you have typos on the first three pages you’re dead. It’s just that simple.

It’s amazing how many writers will pour their hearts and souls into their scripts and then skim over the proofing process. The message typos send is that you lack dedication and judgment – even if we both know that isn’t true.

So before you turn in your masterpiece, go over it with a fine tooth comb, and then have a friend or two do the same.

Now you may be saying, “Well, wait a minute Levine – you have typos in your blog all the time.” Yes, but I’m not turning it in to CBS. We all make typos and we all overlook them. That’s why it’s so critical you go that extra mile. You enlist some help. The competition is steep. Give yourself an edge by presenting a proofed-proof script.

As always, best of luck!

28 comments :

Carol said...

Recently I was attempting to read an article from a respected site, and there were two mistakes in the first paragraph. I decided if they didn't care enough to proof-read, I don't care enough to read it. (they wrote 'breath' instead of 'breathe' twice.)

Rob Greenberg said...

There really is no excuse of tpypos.

Stephen Robinson said...

A young man once showed up at a Writers Group I was in a while back with a piece riddled with typos. He was fully aware of the fact but "didn't have time to proofread -- just ignore the typos." I couldn't "ignore" typos that were so bad it was almost painful to read. In his mind, he's giving us THE GREAT GATSBY just with grammar and punctuation errors and it's our problem for not being able to "ignore" the superficial and see the brilliance. But it's actually the care you take to correct the final copy that gets you to where you need to be.

VP81955 said...

As a former newspaper copy editor (and, back in my youth, a four-time school spelling bee champion), I have one word for Ken: Amen!

Steve Mc said...

Having a second (and third) set of eyes is great since spellcheck won't catch the incorrect usage of a correctly spelled word (there/their/they're, it's/its etc).

Matt said...

Are there professional proof readers or people who will make sure your spec is in the proper format for a fee?

blinky said...

Two think thet typows wood make parson stop reeding a brilllient script is jest sally!

Gary said...

I was in charge of writing product literature in my job, so I had to be obsessed with proofreading and watching for typos. However in the age of texts and tweets, I think proper grammar and spelling are becoming extinct. You cannot go one day without reading "I should of done that" or "Your wrong" or "We will loose the game." Today's youngsters just don't care. And they're walking on my lawn!!

Anonymous said...

My job involves reading a great many documents intended for submitting to court. If the person who wrote the document allows typos (or other errors) to slip by then my view is "if you didn't care enough in preparing this document to check for errors then why should I or anyone else care enough to read through it? Redo it!"

VincentS said...

And don't just rely on Spellcheck!

Frank Beans said...

Typos sukc. People who make them deservve to be unemploye.

Unknown said...

This reminds me of an old quote: "I feel sorry for people who only know one spelling of a word". Ben Franklin

estiv said...

After reading enough of other people's work in creative writing classes, it hit me that reading un-proofed text is like listening to a speech by somebody who can't stop throat-clearing: you want to pay attention to the meaning, but you can't.

Sam said...

If you want to be a writers assistant, this is a key skill. Pro tip: read it backwards. Your eyes jump over words because it can fill in the blanks. Force yourself to look at it a new way and suddenly errors are glaring.

MikeN said...

There was a newspaper, I think it was the Boston Globe, that was the recipient of a letter writing campaign by middle schoolers who were attacking education reforms. The newspaper decided to run the letters unedited, to show just how poor the education system was as provided by the teachers who pushed the kids to write these letters.

Roger Owen Green said...

two tru!

Peter said...

Ken, what's your best and worst movie of 2016?

My favourite was The Nice Guys. An instant classic by Shane Black. I thought it was absolutely perfect. Loved every single scene.

Worst was Ride Along 2. The first was a mildly funny action comedy. The sequel was appalling. Dumbed down, boring, unfunny, just an all round pile of crap. The only good thing about it was the gorgeous Olivia Munn.

Matt said...

::: Pencil :::

If anyone is interested, the brown pencil used in many episodes of MASH is: Generals G314 Draughting Pencil and it's available on Amazon. This pencil was used not only on MASH, but also seen in "The Waltons" and "Lou Grant" (as well as many other CBS shows). It's as if the CBS Prop Department bought them by the cases and made their way into TV penciling lore.

And hey, it's a great pencil to write with.

cadavra said...

I've read a number of Tarantino's scripts and there are, on average, 8-10 spelling and grammatical errors per page, and occasionally a stage direction that is borderline incomprehensible. When someone finally asked him about this, he snapped, "As long as the actors know what I meant, what difference does it make?" I suppose that's true on one level, but it's still a piss-poor excuse.

Johnny Walker said...

It would be fantastic to hear the uncensored thoughts of a real Hollywood script reader. I bet they're bursting with useful information on things like this. I bet there's a ton of really basic things that damage a script without the beginner writer even being aware. Plus, thinking about it, why don't studios just advertise what they're looking for? If they're going to work in that ridiculous way of deciding what they want before they've read it, why don't they just help everyone by saying, "we're looking for a sitcom in the vein of How I Met Your Mother with a hint of Breaking Bad but with a gay female Republican lead, who is also the President" or whatever they feel they need to complete their fall lineup? Wouldn't that help everyone?

Also, I think I just fell in love with a pencil.

Charles H. Bryan said...

This reminds me of tweets where somebody gets called out for misspelling some snarky dig and they snap back with "Excuse me, Grammer Cop!" Yep, with that -er included. Always confirms my faith in humanity.

Donald Benson said...

I have a love/hate relationship with software that checks spelling. They're handy, but sometimes I have to put up a fight for words like "Ruritanian" (Word insisted I meant "Puritanical").

Donald Benson said...

On court documents, isn't it possible that sufficiently bad mistakes can be used to invalidate it?

Anonymous said...

I would also add that if you or your agent are submitting hard copies, be sure they are good clean copies. When I was reading scripts, I had to send some tenth generation copies back to the agents, and I would get in return a fourth generation copy. These were scripts from well-known writers with well-known agents. Maybe they thought it didn't matter. It did.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Matt: yes, of course there are professional proofreaders and copy editors who will do that sort of job. In Ken's case, I imagine his and David's assistant, when they eventually had one, did that job for them.

wg

Steven Marshall said...

As a member of the Writer's Guild, I receive numerous published scripts for awards consideration at the end of each year. Frequently I will find ones that are riddled through and through with typos. And these are scripts that have made it all the way through the production process. It seems no one cared along the way to correct them. Appalling.

cadavra said...

My friend singer/lyricist Lorraine Feather and I consider ourselves "grammandos," a portmanteau of "grammar" and "commando." So much nicer than "grammar Nazi."

Covarr said...

I know I'm a bit late to the party but... if you want to get good at proofreading, try proofreading someone else's work. I once proofread a massive project for a friend, one that ended up eating months of my lunch breaks. By the end, I was much more aware of these things even in my own writing. It really builds your eye for details like typos, grammar, etc. and will help improve your own writing, in that respect.

I also had long heated debates about commas because of this project, but that's another story.