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Your fastest draft ever

Did you know there’s a Secret Weapon to improve your script immediately, in a matter of minutes?

Final Draft has it, Microsoft Word has it. Every single word processor has it.

It’s the “Find/Replace” function.

Okay, perhaps it’s more like a ‘pass’ rather than a ‘draft’. Still, you can have a notably slicker draft in a day.

Another disclaimer: it’s powerful but also slightly dangerous if you’re reckless – or inexperienced.

One keyboard click and your entire screenplay can be changed. So before we start, remember to make backups regularly. I make a copy – with a new file/version name – each time I change anything significant in the script.

To limit the extent of the changes, it is good to make the search case sensitive. So for instance, if you’re looking for text in scene headings, the result should return UPPERCASE text only.

If the Find/Replace operation hasn’t done what you want – or if it has changed MORE than you wanted – in most word processors you can use Ctr-Z/Apple-Z  to undo.

Easy to find – Easy to fix

This feature is equally useful to the novice who is preparing the draft to be read by an editor as it is to the experienced writer going towards Final Draft. Nobody is perfect; everyone overlooks certain issues that may distract from a smooth read.

What follows is a random selection of script issues that can be fixed using this option.  When you look carefully at some of the stylistic weaknesses in your script, you’ll almost certainly find a dozen more examples that apply to your specific screenplay.

If you own a copy of our Screenplay Checklist(*), you will find that some of the issues listed there can be quickly found and fixed using Find/Replace.

For any explanation on WHY to make the recommended changes, please consult the Checklist. This article is not about that.

Scene Headings – Slug Lines

Make sure these are absolutely immaculate.

There is usually only one simple, correct format for each slug. Use it.

– If you have used “INT, MAIL ROOM, DAY” (same for ‘EXT’):

Find: “INT, ”
Replace with: “INT. “

Then:

Find: “, DAY”
Replace with: ” – DAY”

– If you have used DAWN, MORNING, AFTERNOON, DUSK, EVENING etc., you’ll almost certainly need to replace this with DAY or NIGHT only.

Find: “- MORNING”
Replace with: “- DAY”

Etcetera.

The hyphen is included in the search string to avoid changing anything outside the slug lines.

The result: INT. MAIL ROOM – DAY

Here’s an advantage for users of Final Draft: in the ‘More’ options under the Search function, you can specify individual or groups of elements only. In the above example, you will only tick ‘Scene Heading’.

Punctuation

– Remove excessive dots and reduce to triple dots:

Find: “….”
Replace with: “…”

Repeat this action until no more instances are found.

– Excessive white space / too many paragraph marks.

Some screenwriting packages don’t check the amount of line breaks and you may end up with too much white space between scenes or paragraphs. This is easily resolved. The maximum number of line breaks is THREE. So wherever you have four or more, you need to reduce it to three – at the most.

Find: “^p^p^p^p”
Replace with: “^p^p^p”

Repeat this action until no more instances are found.

– Correct use of interruptions and pauses.

Find: “–” (double dash)

Check if each instance is only used for INTERRUPTED sentences that are NOT continued afterwards. Wherever they are continued, you need to use “…”. (Check David Trottier for details)

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– Multiple exclamation marks

Usually there is no reason to differentiate between intensity of shouting.

In a script, loud is loud and too much is messy.

So leave it up to director and cast and for now replace “!!” with “!” until no more instances can be found.

Dialogue

Numbers

You can use the find/replace function to correct numbers in dialogue, where you need to spell them out: “seven hundred and three” in stead of “703”, “twenty to six” in stead of “17.40h” etc.

So wherever you have used numbers in dialogue, replace them with the complete words.

Abbreviations

The same goes for abbreviations: in dialogue, replace “km” with “kilometer” etc.

Repetitions

If you find that a character uses the same lame word(s) or sentence all the time, do a search and fix it.

Style

You can really jazz up your style by removing bland words and replace them with more colourful alternatives.

Be specific:

Find: “goes”, “makes” etc.
Replace with: [more specific verbs]

Next,

Find: “begins to”, “starts to” etc.

Then remove each instance and replace it with the more specific, active verb.

Manipulation of time:

If you’re using words like “slowly”, “cautiously”, “hesitantly” a lot, be aware of the following:

– it may seem as if this movie moves slowly.
– the movie is longer than the page count suggests.

The same goes for: “quickly”.  If you’re using this or similar words often,

– action may seem to move more quickly than it really does.
– the movie may become longer than the page count suggests.

Neither may be a big issue, but it’s good to be aware of it.

Manipulation of feelings:

Quite a lot of beginners’ scripts frequently use phrases such as “he smiles at her”, “she looks away, sad“.

This is easy to diagnose, not so easy to fix.

Forcing the actors into facial expressions is the worst way of conveying emotions.  The emotions need to be felt by the audience, whether or not the actors express them. Emotions are the result of actions that precede a scene or situation. They should not be forced upon an audience/the reader by describing a character’s body language.

Perform a search on these words to see how you’re scoring.

There may be some more work to be done before you send out that script…

Time passing:

You cannot describe the passing of time without giving us specific actions – or a cut/dissolve to the next shot/scene.

– for a while
– he keeps walking back until she finally gives in
– moments pass in silence

All the above suggest that more time passes on the screen than is suggested by the page count in the script.

Keep the 1p./min. rule in mind. More importantly: make sure that what happens on the screen holds our attention.

We see – We hear

Some people don’t mind; others hate it. If you can rephrase without using “we”, do it.

Typos / Grammar / Spelling

There really is no excuse for leaving typos in the script.  Spell checkers are free and they are everywhere.

Here’s the first one to look for:

Find: “its”

Then check for each instance if you don’t mean “it is”. If you do,

Replace with: “it’s”

Next,

Find: “it’s”

Check if you don’t mean the possessive pronoun.  If you do,

Replace with “its”.

Do it all again.

Finally, read the first five pages of your screenplay with the utmost scrutiny and make notes about the nature of each error you find. Then, for each error, use the FIND option to check the rest of your script against the same issue.

You see, there virtually are no limits to the use of this function. If you use it cleverly, it will save you heaps of time.

Set aside half a day or a day to play around with the Find/Replace function. Make backup copies every 5 mins.

I have seen examples where screenplays looked infinitely more professional after little more than a few hours.

Now, go forth and unleash the power of F/R on your script!

(*)If you don’t yet own a copy of the Screenplay Checklist, you can still request the Beta version by emailing us with “ScreenplayChecklist” in the subject.

About the Author

Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

Comments 2

  1. Great article, Karel, pointing out ways to edit/wordsmith your script. One issue I’d like to comment on is the one on manipulation of feelings. I don’t consider myself a novice but I continually add those sorts of phrases. The way I look at it, such phrases are descriptions, not for the actor but instead for the reader (my possible financial backer) to understand the reaction to preceding action or dialogue. I think it totally within the boundaries of good writing to describe a reaction to an action, for instance “Steve hands her the beautifully wrapped present. Janice opens it, ravenously tearing away the paper, looks inside then instantly smiles”. Surely something like this is acceptable?

  2. All screen writers should really use a screen writing program from the start. A word processor is a horrible way to edit into script format.

    As you’ve mentioned, Final Draft is a good program. But there are also free ones available. I use CELTX. These programs allow the right format and it also autofill scenes and characters.

    I use the REPLACE command a lot, especially when I want to change character names. It’s much harder to use it to correct punctuation and style and may probably make things slower. I prefer the old fashion way, print it out and get a red pen 🙂

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