I went to a fancy dress party at the weekend, which, at first glance may not seem like it has anything to do with writing.

To be honest, at second, third and fourth glances and a final lingering stare it still has very little to do with writing; but bear with me.

The theme was 1968, since it was a friend’s 40th birthday party and ’68 t’was the year he was born.

Money’s a bit tight at the moment, so the costumes needed to be cheap and easy to make and after much deliberation I realised this was my one and only chance to dress as Captain Kirk without feeling the need to kick my own geek-boy arse.

So I bought a red mini-dress for Mandy and a long-sleeved T-shirt and some gold dye for me. We already had the necessary boots, tights and trousers so we were all set – but the costumes weren’t quite right. Some gold ric-rac braiding for the sleeves and hey, look! There’s a site which sells the badges – cool. That really sets them off.

So there we are: two Star Trek costumes for under a tenner each …


Except … no. The more observant among you (or at least, among the few of you who are still paying attention – there is some writing stuff coming up, promise) may have noticed a communicator and tricorder in the above photo. Because suddenly, the urge to ‘do it properly’ gripped me.

We needed all the toys.

Needed, you understand?


So I was halfway through buying two phasers, two communicators and a tricorder when Mandy wanders in and asks:

‘What are those for?”

Ah, right. Mandy has zero interest in sci-fi and has no idea what accessories should or shouldn’t go with the costume. Not only that, but no one at the party is going to know what a tricorder is or what it does beyond a vague understanding that it’s something they once saw on the telly.

No, all they care about is the costumes are roughly the right colour and shape. As long as it’s recognisable as a Star Trek uniform from a distance – they’ll be happy.

So I cancelled the order … sort of.

Obviously I still bought myself a communicator and phaser – I’ve wanted them since I was six.

For Mandy, I figured any black handbag which was taller than it is wide would do as a tricorder … before my anal retentiveness kicked in and I decided to just build a mock up out of card. A simple box covered in the black sticky-backed plastic I bought to hide the shame of my gay laptop should do. I just needed a reference photo …

Which plunged me into the world of prop making and detailed schematics. Okay, so I didn’t go as far as building my own vacuum forming machine – but I wanted it to look as accurate as I can make it without actually spending any money.

Because, well, I’m a little on the anal side.


Which brings us, eventually, to the point.

I’ve noticed with screenplays that format is nowhere near as prescriptive as various gurus, teachers and general know-it-alls would have you believe. Like the fancy dress costumes, as long as your script looks roughly like a script, no one cares.

Except people who’ve been on these courses which tell you otherwise.

You know, the people who don’t actually make a living in film or TV and have no ability or experience. Those type of people.

There’s a great analogy for sticking to standard screenplay format about wearing a suit to an interview. You know the one: presenting your script properly is the equivalent of presenting yourself properly – and this is true. It’s always nice to read a script which looks the part – but no-one’s actually looking at the colour of your screenplay’s socks or the width of its tie knot.

No one cares as long as it’s vaguely right – the content is what’s important.

However, once again, my anal-ness kicks in and I feel the need to iron out all the little creases. In fact, there are a list of things which really piss me off if I leave them in my screenplay. If I see them in anyone else’s, they merely nark me. However, the more items from the list – the more pissed off I get. There is a tipping point where I spiral off the edge from reading a screenplay fairly, to looking for all its faults. Once I’ve crossed that line, I’m less likely to give it a fair chance.

I don’t want that happening when my script is read by anyone else, so I go out of my way to avoid it. These aren’t gospel rules and possibly no one else in the world except me cares about them, but I thought I’d post them anyway:

Single word on the next action line.

You know, when you have a line of action description and the last word spreads onto the next line? I hate this, it looks messy. I will spend literally minutes staring at a line to try and stop this happening. There is always a word or two you can delete which will condense it. Every time I see this, I think the writer’s just lazy and isn’t trying hard enough.

Although, possibly, they just have more of a life than me.

To me this is an exercise is being concise. Part of the art of screenplay writing is to say as much as possible with the least amount of words.

Unlike this post, which is kind of the other way around.

(CONT’D) after character names.

Weird one this – some people think it’s gone out of fashion, some people think it’s essential. Personally I find it a complete waste of time and ink. It just clutters up the page without adding any useful information.

‘Oh, the same person is still speaking, are they? I thought there were two people in the room with the same name.’

Someone once told me at a table read that the actors were struggling because I didn’t use (CONT’D) on every bit of dialogue. Possibly that’s true at a table read where no one had learnt the script – but it’s not going to be true by the time you get to production and personally I think the solution is just to hire cleverer actors rather than clutter up my beautiful script with pointless contractions.

More than four lines of action in one block.

I firmly believe this is just a guideline rather than a definite be all and end all – who the fuck decided on four? Why not three or five? Will someone really bin your script because it has a …. gasp … five line block of action?

Of course not.

It’s a guideline to stop you filling the page with a single block of action. Every time I see big blocks of text, my mind just slides to he last word and carries on.

But … once you know some people might be counting, more than four lines just looks weird. Especially when the fifth line just has one word. You lazy bastard! ONE WORD? Sort it out!

Starting each block of action with the same word.

John opens the door.

John combs his hair.

John punches the old woman in the face.

Enough about John already I’m sick to fucking death of hearing about his age-biased violence. I think it looks really weird when every action line starts with the same word. It’s like a list of bullet points. This is a relatively new one for me, one I didn’t realise I was doing it  until Danny pointed it out on his blog. Now it drives me mad and I avoid it at all costs.

Thanks Danny, ’cause I really needed another thing to be obsessive about.

Which and that.

You just don’t need these words.

Except when you do.

But generally, they just take up space. Apart from this blog, which I tend not to spend too much time editing, I look carefully at every instance of ‘which’ or ‘that’ to see if I really need them. Most of the time they can be removed without anyone noticing.

So I do.


Not all capitals, obviously – it would be a pretty odd world without them; but I hate SEEING every OTHER word CAPITALISED. It MAKES me FEEL like I’M stuck IN a ROOM with BRIAN Blessed.


Again, this is a matter of taste, but it doesn’t half piss me off to see every ACTOR and every SOUND and every PROP in capitals. It’s just fucking annoying to read. Capital letters make me mentally raise my voice, which inexplicably  makes my eyebrows raise. A line full of capitals gives me a very tired forehead – it’s not fun.

Okay, so maybe a production company might insist on this because it makes it easier for a certain department or an actor who can’t read his character’s name unless it’s in capitalised; but unless someone specifically asks me to do it – I won’t. I hate the way it looks.

Double space after a full stop.

Taste again. I think there was a reason for this when type was handset – but it’s no longer valid. Some people may prefer the way it looks or consider it proper English or something; but for me it’s just irritating. It wastes space and when they all line up it looks like someone’s spilt Tippex on the page. Maybe some people think it looks neater – I don’t know. It just reminds me of when I used to work in a cinema and people would leave a seat between them and the next couple. The end result being an auditorium which looks full but actually has a third of its seats effectively rendered useless.

Interestingly, Germans don’t do this. A coachload of Germans will fill up the auditorium from front to back (or back to front). Very orderly and civilised race the Germans.

Having the same word directly underneath itself.

I don’t know how to explain that properly – it’s when you’re writing action or dialogue and the same word (or group of words) reoccurs directly underneath the last occurrence. It just looks wrong and I try to avoid it – hard to do on a blog where the width of the published post is different to the draft version; but inexcusable in a screenplay. I think my bug bear with this is my eyes slide off the top line onto the second line and everything stops making sense.

And other shit.

Which covers the things I can’t remember right now.

Like I say, none of these things seem to be standard format – but they all make a script look messy. I work hard not to have them in my scripts and am a little disappointed when I see them in others’.

So there you go, a post about me dressing up as Captain Kirk which turned into a rant about spaces after full stops. It’s like an episode of The Simpsons, only with less pictures and nowhere near as funny.

The party was great by the way, and our costumes went down well. I’m quite proud of Mandy’s tricorder – okay, so it’s not an amazingly accurate reproduction; but it looks okay from a distance and it cost nothing but an afternoon to make:


I even put a photo of our baby scan on the screen so it looks like it’s ‘scanning’ Mandy’s bump. I thought that was a nice touch.

For any Trekkies reading this – yes I know the buttons, the lights, the moiré disc, the dimensions and the general construction are completely wrong; and yes I know how pissed off that will make you … but that’s exactly my argument about scripts. It’s okay for me not to care about Tricorder accuracy because I’m not a massive fan – it’s not okay for me to ignore the minor details of script presentation because that’s what I do.

Okay, rant over. Feel free to ignore, add to or dispute anything you want.

Categories: Rants, Sad Bastard | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “Messy

  1. So your laptop is gay and you’re anal? Sounds like a match made in heaven.

    BTW, the word you’re describing that falls off the line and looks messy is called a widow. EVERYONE knows that.

    And the word “that” is evil and must be killed at all costs.

    That is all. You may go about your biz now.

  2. Widow – don’t get all technical with me missy.

  3. Ha! I shall dispute with you, sir!

    Double space after a full stop

    Back when we only had monospaced fonts on typewriters, it was difficult to read the breaks in sentences. Putting a double space after a full stop cued the reader that yes, this is a new sentence, and made whatever-you’re-writing easier to read.

    Then they invented desktop publishing, which allows proportional fonts. Now that each letter no longer takes up the same amount of space as a space, the sentence cues can be told adequately with a single space after the full stop. So double-spaces have fallen out of fashion, as they’re not needed any more.

    Unless, of course, you’re a screenwriter, in which case you’re stuck with a monospaced font. So in order to make it easier to read, you should put a double-space after a full stop.

    CONT’D’s for the same actor speaking again

    You’ve already nailed this one – it makes it easier to read for the actor. It’s not something I’d worry about if I didn’t use screenwriting software – but given that the computer will put them in for me without me having to think about it, I figure I might as well make the actor’s life easier. No skin off my nose.

  4. Nice, I love a bit of dispute me.

    Double space after a full stop

    Easier is a subjective term – personally, I find it harder since I keep wondering where the fuck all these extra spaces come from. I don’t like ’em and I won’t use them.

    So there.

    CONT’D’s for the same actor speaking again

    It makes it easier for them the first time they read it, which would hopefully be done in the privacy of their own heads and not live. By the time they get to read it in front of anyone it should be obvious. On the other hand it looks cluttered and pointless for ever.

    I’d rather have a pretty script than a happy actor.

  5. Good anal post Piers. Here’s mine:

    Lucy, what you’ve described is not a widow but an ORPHAN.

    The dialogue on page 1 has lost part of it’s speech so it’s a widow. The little bit that flows all on it’s lonesome onto page 2 is parentless and therefore an orphan; hence widows and orphans.

    Not that I want to be anal, it’ just that I . . .not gonna finish that.

    P.S. Ooh look I finished on ‘that’ without trying. I bags this week’s anal award.

  6. Ah – I think Lucy’s actually right.

    An orphan is when the first line of the next paragraph appears at the bottom of the page.

    A widow is when the last line appears over the page. Or, as we’re discussing, when the last word falls on the next line.

  7. Aww bugger. I think I meant a divorcee and foster-child instead.

  8. Yes, divorcee’s get their own page and foster-children are stuck in the appendix and forgotten about.

  9. Hah! I’ve just realised … Lucy said everyone knows what a widow is. EVERYONE! She even said it in capitals to annoy me.

    And Danny K jumps in with a beautiful rescue.

    Thank you. Point to me, I think.

  10. You are not alone: having the same word directly underneath itself drives me crazy, and it always has.

  11. crustynomad

    I’m with Phil here – all annoyances shared down my way.

    I’m SOOOOOOOOO glad [deliberate caps] you mention double spaces after full stops as it irrates me beyond belief and like you, refuse to use them.

  12. Is anyone going to comment on the Star Trek costumes?

    Just to haul the post back to its original topic, I think the uniforms look ace Phill. I also think your good lady wife needs some serious educating about the benefits — nay, necessity — of commemorative plastic tat. She who has no communicator and phaser is lost! (You did a great job with the homemade tricorder, so at least she can scan stuff while she’s lost.)

  13. CONT’D’s for the same actor speaking again

    I have to agree with Piers but for a different reason. If you’re writing for a production then that’s fair enough but most scripts are going to have a script reader or producer reading it way before an actor gets hold of it. Making the script reader’s job easier seems worth doing.

    Double space after a full stop

    You’ve clearly made up your mind and nothing I say is going to change that. But just imagine me shaking my head, with a very disappointed look on my face. Maybe actions will speak louder than words.

  14. CONT’D’s

    Do they actually make reading easier? Is it not blindingly obvious who is speaking by the fact it has the speaker’s name in capital letters directly above the dialogue? Why does an extra word after the speaker’s name make it easier? Why should reading two words be easier than one? Do you still use CONT’D at the bottom of one page and the top of the next when a scene spills over? If not, why not? Does that not make it easier in the same way?

    Oh, so many questions.

    I think it’s primarily a question of taste. I find it difficult to believe it actually makes any difference to the ease of reading for anyone – it’s up to you or the company/show you’re writing for to decide.

    Double spacing

    I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed by your public disappointment – but I will continue my horrific single-spacing ways on the grounds it looks nicer to me and I’m more important than you in my head.

  15. Nine times out of 10, I find that condensing a sentence to destroy a widow improves the sentence.

    See, that first sentence, above, used to read ‘Nine times out of 10, I really honestly find that condensing a sentence to eliminate all trace of a widow improves that self-same sentence’. And I just chopped it down a bit.

    Bet there’s still a widow when I press Submit Comment.

  16. I have the urge to monkey with your comment until there are widows all over the shop … but I won’t because I’m having quite a good day.

  17. Oh, and Christine – thank you.

    I like making stuff.

  18. One thanks Baron Barron for his clemency.

  19. One is welcome.

  20. I’m with Christine, how stupid does Robin think script readers are???

    Don’t answer that.

    And as for the point to you Phill ‘cos Danny K thought a widow is an orphan, I still win. Because I do. You know this makes sense.

  21. You’re with Christine? Where are you with Christine? Are you guys talking about my blog behind my back?

    And I admit no knowledge of any sense what-so-ever. I am a sense free Phill.

  22. My subtle point about script readers’ lack of intelligence was obviously not subtle enough – if even script readers realise I’m taking the piss out of them. 😉

    I’m now torn about the double space thing. I might do 1 and a half spaces instead.

  23. NO!

    God damn it, Robin – stick to your double spacing guns.

    Be proud, stare down those who would scorn you and refuse to bow to their filthy peer pressure.

    I, of course, will be evading the issue from now on by starting each sentence on a new line.

    Or perhaps avoiding punctuation altogether

  24. This is so true! When I used to work at Random House Children’s Books, I always knew that a spectacularly shit manuscript was on its way when a card announcing the imminent arrival of said book landed on my desk. Not the book itself you understand, but a card telling me that Jesus Bear (true title) or Three Boys and a Ferret (another true title) was on its way and I should Look Out for this Masterpiece.

    I’d roll my eyes and dump the card. Two days later a LEATHER BOUND (I kid you not) manuscript would arrive, beautifully bound, painstakingly typed and carefully edited. But the actual content would always always always be Grade A Shit.

  25. Damn it, now I feel really stupid. I must confess I once sent a load of agents Christmas cards with my business card inside and the promise of an exciting new script in the new year.

    One actually sent the business card back – a very definitive statement I thought.

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