Today I’m offering another post in the Steps to Publication Series. It’s re-blogged from Bang2Write, a fabulous site with practical writing insights for both screenwriters and novelists.
Remember, this ongoing blog series isn’t necessarily linear. See it as a mobius loop where you find your own starting point. Jump in where it’s relevant to you.
The tips below might already be mastered, well and truly part of your writerly toolbox. If so, excellent. If not, learn them! They’ll help you on your road to publication!
10 Common Errors In Your Writing You Need To Fix Right Now
By On May 27, 2015
Professional formatting = Professional layout = Professional grammar, spelling & punctuation = Professional writing. It’s not rocket science.
Yet as anyone who spends any time reading writers’ submissions knows, this too often so NOT the case! Look, the odd mistake or typo will always slip through. NO reader, agent, producer or assistant worth their salt will ever care about that. What we’re talking about are the CONSISTENT CLANGERS that can get you marked down, or worse, thrown in the dreaded OUT tray!
So here’s a list of those little, niggly things that can mean so much to your spec screenplay or unpublished novel when you’re sending it out. . .
Let’s start with the first 5 tips from Bang2Write
Believe it or not, screenwriters STILL submit spec scripts in fonts other than courier. Make no mistake: this is a non-negotiable. This includes short films, feature screenplays and YES, spec TV Pilots as well! No one cares if there’s a template for whatever *type* of show you’ve written, just write it in courier. By the way, Courier New is a horrible version, it’s much lighter than Courier Final Draft or Courier Prime and will give manual formatting via MS Word away in seconds. Download software!!!
MORE: The B2W Format One Stop Shop – A complete rundown of all the format issues I see most often in spec screenplays, plus what to do about them.
If you’re making submissions to agents, or even if you’re not and publishing straight to the Kindle, the preferred font is Times New Roman.
MORE: 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent by Carole Blake from the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. Read these horror stories and weep!
Remember, scene description is scene ACTION. Make sure you revitalise your scene description, avoiding camera angles and other niggly things, like “widows” (aka “orphans”), which are single words that occupy a line all by themselves. Too many of these little blighters and you can end up with a false reading re: your script’s page count, plus it just looks scrappy.
As it says below, novels need to be double-spaced. That’s just the way it’s done. So do it.
MORE: Struggling with your prose? Then check out 8 Ways To Jump Start Your Novel’s Description.
3) Apostrophe Confusion
This error is probably Numero Uno in the spec pile, whether I’m reading screenplays, pitch material or novels. This is a real shame, because it’s actually easy to get a handle on this, if you’re disciplined (that’s the bad news). The good news is, there are plenty of strategies to deal with apostrophe confusion and even cure yourself altogether.
It’s NOT difficult to see why apostrophes cause so much confusion. There are three main ways these slippery little sods can cause headaches for writers: contractions, plurals and possessives.
Contractions are basically two words squished together, as below.
Contractions are easy to check, because all you need to do is think about what you’re REALLY writing, such as the below:
“You are the one for me”:
MORE: 5 Killer Grammar & Punctuation Errors That Will Sink Your Reputation … And Ways You Can Fix Them! By Michelle Goode AKA @SoFluid
ii) Apostrophes vs. Plurals and Contractions
Sometimes people will put an apostrophe in a word that’s actually a plural. It’s rare you need to do this. Other times, people will think it’s a word is a contraction, when it isn’t. Check these out:
Other times, you need an apostrophe to indicate something belongs to someone / something else. This is admittedly quite weird and theories abound for how it happened, but my favourite is the one that stuck in my mind and helped me remember:The notion behind the above is that the English Language is SEXIST as the apostrophe formation is always derived from the word “his”, whether the subject is male OR female. Who knows if it’s true and frankly who cares (How’d we even say, “Lucy‘r writing”, rather than “Lucy‘s writing”??), but it is a handy way of remembering the possessive!!
There are obviously loads of ways of expressing yourself with language and if you’re a non-native speaker or an EFL/ESL teacher, you’ll know there’s loads of tense formations in English. But for the sake of clarity, let’s go with these ones:
Screenwriters should write in the PRESENT SIMPLE. Lots of scribes write in present continuous, which can be very “flabby” at worst and at best, take up extra space. Present simple, that all-important /s/ format is the tense of choice. That’s not to say you can’t EVER use the continuous (aka “progressive”), just use it in addition to, NOT instead of, present simple. It’s rare screenwriters ever need to use the perfective aspect. MORE: Improve Your Writing
Novelists and non fiction writers, bloggers etc can obviously use whatever they want, include the PAST versions of the above tenses. However, it’s really important to remember CONSISTENCY IS KEY. I see a lot of seemingly random mixing and it rarely works. MORE: Exercises on tense consistency
5) Mixed Tenses
The ones below are probably variations of those I read most often. In screenplays, in scene description, it’s nearly always a massive error to include them (not so much in dialogue though, as it could be argued it’s the character, not the writer, using the mixed tenses!).
In terms of novels, I think it depends on HOW you’re writing your book. If writing in the first person or using a narrator, it could be argued mixed tenses are okay because it’s *how* “normal” people speak. I’d venture using mixed tenses in the third person however looks like a mistake, rather than a deliberate style choice.
So you know: mixed tenses *can* be a massive pet peeve of script readers, though the tide of public opinion appears to be turning in their favour. That said, if you are going to use them, I think it’s wise to ensure readers KNOW it’s a considered choice and not just a mistake!
The next 5 tips are on the Bang2Write page. Head over there to tick off what you know and where, if anywhere, you can improve.
Thanks Lucy for the insights!
More Steps to Publication Series HERE.