Monday Prescription – Tighten Your Writing

We’re back, after our Summer Break and ‘Blast from the past’ Monday Prescriptions, and today The Film Doctor Team are getting right to the point.

We’re talking about writing….tight.

FD - editing

Before we tell you WHY you need all this, a brief history….


A Brief History of Words

Words evolved from pictures. Each word is formed of characters (a, b, c, d etc), small pictures which, when combined with others, create a meaning. The purpose of a word is to communicate. Thanks to the proliferation of the internet and mobile phones, many people now write more than they ever would. And why not? Words are in the ‘public domain’.  Everybody speaks them. Everybody hears them. Most people can read or write them. But can they write something lean and meaningful and intriguing that makes you want to read on?

No.  And it is the ‘tight writer’ who can.


Why write tight?

A large percentage of unsold scripts/treatments/articles/ideas are overwritten. You are submitting to somebody who has read thousands of screenplays. Read that again. Thousands. If you’re not being selective with your words and/or editing them, then chances are your screenplay has a far higher page count than any manager, agent, producer or exec desires.

“It’s currently at 172 pages, but I think I can lose at least 10” you cry. It’s a death wish for your screenplay.

Now let’s say your script is 90 pages or 110. That’s great, perhaps you’ll get read, but you haven’t passed the test yet. Are they 90 tight pages? Remember – thousands. The story and dialogue must seamlessly flow from one moment to the next, as if we’re not aware that it has been written!  If the reader is forced to climb the walls of 15 sentence paragraphs and drag his/her eyes through endless speech after endless speech, then that little X, top right of the PDF you sent them, is going to look very attractive, very quick.

Get tight!


How to write tight

This is really very simple. Or, to put it in fewer words, ‘it’s simple’. That’s lesson 1, 2 and 3! Be brief!

Strunk (of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style) coined the saying “Omit needless words” to hammer home this point. Think about what you’re trying to say and condense it into as few words as possible. Take the two sentences below:

John is sitting with bits of rubbish lying all around him.

John sits in piles of rubbish.

Both communicate the same message (or thereabouts) but the latter is half the length. Unless you are deliberately attempting an effect of some sort and feel that a sentence needs to be longer for good reason, then cuts should nearly always be made. The key word there was deliberate. As Martin Scorsese says “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out”. He went on to explain that the shapes and colours and characters and light present on screen should all be there intentionally by the director. Nothing should be an accident.

The same goes for a writer. Every word should be deliberate. Nothing should be there because you’ve lazily persuaded yourself ‘it’s my style’. Because you can’t be bothered to trawl through every page, par and sentence and edit. Trust us. If you haven’t, no one else will.

Make sure that every adjective, verb, adverb and noun is there because it needs to be.



We’ll leave you with this classic image, illustrating perfectly what we mean…

FD - Edit-Ruthlessly

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Have a great week!
The Film Doctor Team
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