Script reading is a lot like screenwriting, you can’t just sit down at a desk and expect great results. It’s like taking stepping stones across a river. If you try to skip some, you might make things a lot harder for yourself. Mindset and comfort are factors of reading and writing that are often taken for granted.
With these seven tips, hopefully, you can improve your time script reading and the writers will thank you.
1. Read O’Clock
Are you an early bird or a night owl? When do you feel the most energized and prepared to write? For me, it’s the early morning, refreshed from sleep with a nice hot cup of tea. For some, it’s when everyone else is going to sleep and the world finally feels quiet or during the bustle of the day, feeding off the energy of everyone around them. Whatever works for you and makes you feel the most present, will give your writer’s work the attention it needs.
If you’re busy and only have a specific time to work, really break down your schedule to make sure it’s optimal for you. If you have a day job and can negotiate going to work earlier or staying later to facilitate your reading, you may find it could improve your attitude toward reading the scripts. If you find yourself to be ambidextrous with your time, that’s fantastic! The world is your oyster.
Sometimes, you may find that you were a morning person, but it’s no longer doing the trick for you anymore. There’s no harm in trading off different times or experimenting with reading on different days. Maybe you like early mornings Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, but the other days of the week you are a night owl. Find your schedule and you’ll find unknown energy reserves that will make reading more fun and enjoyable.
2. Pillow Time
It can be hard to get the right amount of sleep when inspiration comes knocking on your door in the middle of the night or when you go on that exciting night out you’ve been waiting for. Don’t sacrifice your social life so you get ten hours of sleep every day, but if you know you have to read five days of the week, make sure you get a good seven to eight hours before then. Minimum.
Being tired can affect every aspect of script reading. It could make it harder to understand what the writer said or remember what you’ve already read, words could get jumbled, it’s a recipe for disaster. The worst part is when the writer receives the feedback and it raises more confusion rather than clarity. This is, of course, description of an extreme case, but even little trickles of sleepiness can cause problems when giving clear and concise feedback.
Script reading, especially if you’re working from home, can feel like you’ve got all the time in the world. Schedule. This goes for writing too. Even if you work from home and you set a word or page count to complete in a day, block off the time. If you have time scheduled that you know that you’ll be sitting at a desk, treating your work like – well – work, it will show in your feedback. It’s a job, so treating it like one will give professional results.
It won’t just show in your feedback, you’ll find yourself less rushed when you do get around to reading. When you make it a habit to sit down and read scripts, you’ll notice that you become more prepared to get work done. Blocking time out for reading can also help when planning social events and other gatherings. Without a schedule, there isn’t a clear time when you’ll be available. If you’re scheduling your reading around other events, you’ll find reading to be less like a fun job and more like a chore you keep pushing off.
4. Be Open
Not everyone likes horror or science fiction, but you never can be sure what script might be given to you. Keep an open mind and a healthy curiosity for different topics. Branch out a bit and watch some films you never would. At the heart of all stories is the same purpose: to entertain. Try to find what entertains you about a script, even if it’s not your favorite genre, and focus on that with your feedback. Never make something up just to fill out the pages.
One of the best approaches to learning more about a genre is to find someone who loves it and watch some with them. Whether its a romantic comedy or a spy thriller, you can learn from them what these stories need and what works in them. With this insight applied to the scripts your reading, you can properly give feedback based on these points. The more variety you try in a genre, there are more opportunities to find what you might actually like. It’s never too late to get into a children’s cartoon or to find a subgenre you like that can inform you of the rest of the genre.
5. Comfort is Key
Work is sometimes something you have to tough though and sometimes script reading is work, but comfort can make the difference of a two-hour script struggle and an hour script experience. Find a place to do your reading that makes you feel comfortable and secure. An aromatic coffee shop, a quiet garden, a stocked kitchen, you name it. No matter how weird it may look, working on the floor in the living room or taking round trips on a local train, if it makes you the most productive, use it.
The hardest part of script reading and writing is focus. If it’s too quiet or too busy, these can make hours of difference when the rubber meets the road. Figure out what works for you and don’t forget to budget the time it takes to set up and get to optimal comfiness. Scheduling your reading time can also help remove the distractions of other plans if that becomes an issue. When you sit down at your workspace, you should be comfortable for the whole block of time set aside. It may take some tweaking in the beginning, finding the right location and keeping it stocked with the items you need, but as you stick with the routine, you’ll start to enjoy sitting down for work and the writers will thank you.
6. Read, Read, Read.
You read scripts all day, why should you read even more scripts? It’s good to keep up with script writing trends. Storytelling evolves and not as slowly as you may think. If you watch some of the old movies, you’ll notice pacing and exposition issues that wouldn’t fly in this day and age, even with Alfred Hitchcock movies.
That’s just scratching the surface of formatting and writing differences, the trends in films like big-budget action films with huge battles are on the rise. Knowing these statistics and reading the scripts that do it well can help when you receive scripts trying to emulate the same thing. You’ll also have examples to point the writers toward to help them improve faster.
This should go without saying, but you need to know script formatting, proper spelling, and grammar in order to read. This may sound like the obvious for writers and readers, but everyone makes mistakes. The reader’s job is to make sure they aren’t sent in a final draft. The best way to learn the basics of formatting is to read well-written scripts. Sometimes good writers will break rules, but they first had to start following the fine print. With story credits to your name, one can afford to bend the rules a bit. Readers should be able to gauge just how much is too much and offer simple solutions.
Spelling and grammar are a lot harder to master if it was a difficult topic growing up or even if the language you’re reading is your second language. A great way to get a quick jump ahead is to look at a list of commonly misspelled words. You can bet you’ll see a lot of those. Things as simple as which form of “there/their/they’re”, “your/you’re”, or “it’s/its” are incredibly common to mess up, especially for writers trying to meet a deadline. If you keep a regular pace while reading, catching these mistakes should be no problem.
Finally, remember that the writer is human, just like you. They’ll make stupid mistakes or forget to put something in they edited out three drafts ago or write a storyline that has been overdone. As a reader, you have to set personal judgment aside and work together with the writer to help them create a story that they can be proud to show an audience. A win for the writer is a win for the reader, so helping them is in everyone’s best interest from the audiences who will enjoy it to the agents who get a nicely scrubbed and polished script to approve.
Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. World building is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.