I’ve found myself over the last few years editing quite a few scripts, enough of them to need to pull together a process for doing so. And as there is no Audio Drama without a script, I thought I would share my process with everyone else. I would also love to hear how the rest of you go about the difficult job of script editing, so leave a comment and spread your experience.
Step 1. Will I edit it?
Well if I wrote it then I guess I had better edit it, such is the art of writing. But before I will edit a script for anyone else I need to know a few things.
- Do you actually want it edited, or do you just want it read?
- Are you capable of accepting critique, or do you just want it read?
- Will we still be friends after this is over?
Step 2. Check for simple errors.
We all make them, in spite of the fantastic technologies that make us not even need to open a dictionary anymore – if you’re old enough to even remember what a dictionary is.
- Common misspellings or misuse of words. Their, They’re or There?
- And other grammar and structure errors that we were all taught in elementary school and then quickly forgot.
Step 3. Look for redundancies, passive voice, unnecessary adverbs and vagaries.
Unfortunately, common parlance doesn’t make very good writing. It makes good characters, but not good writing. Why? Because if you actually listen to a conversation (not participate in one) you will notice that we speak in passive voice, or clip words, we have different dialects, we have pet phrases or make up hyperbolic adjectives, we interrupt each other, we don’t finish our sentences or use punctuation and the majority of what we are communicating is not even verbal. While all of that makes for a decent conversation, it doesn’t play out well in a script…unless you’re Anthony Burgess.
Step 4. Dig into the plot and structure of the story.
Here are the things I look for as an editor, in no particular order.
1. How strong is the opening, does it capture my attention?
The beginning of the needs to grab my attention, I need to know where and when I am, what’s going on and who I am going on this journey with.
2. Does it start with a dream sequence, flashback or other abstract scenario?
This may be a personal aversion, but starting your listeners out in some murky abstract world is tiresome and breaks more than one of Kurt Vonnegut’s “8 Basics of Creative Writing”.
3. What’s the hook?
I need to know pretty quickly what choices the protagonist is presented with and what decisions will propel us through the story arc.
4. Do I care about the protagonist?
If I don’t care about your main character, I won’t really care about your story.
5. Is there enough of a reason for the characters to proceed? What is at stake?
No hero does anything just because the writer told them to. No villain does things just because they’re “evil”. Is it clear why the characters are doing the things necessary to sustain your plot; are they motivated?
6. When does the inciting incident occur? Is it too soon or too late?
This is all about pace, in order for your listeners to root for your protagonist we need to know who they were and what happened to them to form the basic structure of your story. If you take too long introducing the incident, you risk losing your audience. But don’t forget to introduce us to your setting, so we can identify where and when we are and what is going on. There are at least two dynamics – who the protagonist was before the inciting incident and who they are becoming as a result.
This is a common mistake that we audio drama writers tend to make, usually because we didn’t start out as audio drama writers. Every writer has their own quirks and common errors; it’s the job of the editor to catch them and save the writer from potential embarrassment and rejection.
8. Is there unnecessary voice over or narration?
Now I’m not saying that there can be NO voice overs, inner monologues, narration or disembodied voice-type exposition.
What I am saying is go easy with it. If you’re stopping the action in the middle of a nicely tense scene to have someone suddenly pop in and tell me what’s going on, it kind of annoys me. It’s too distracting. Let your characters do the explaining through dialog whenever possible. Please.
9. What is the point of view? Is it consistent?
Many shows have multiple points of view; a well-crafted story has multiple subplots and therefore multiple points of view. Just make sure it’s clear who is guiding us through the scene and from what perspective. This is especially important for the future sound designer of your script.
10. Do the characters grow over the span of the story? Do they have depth? Are they necessary?
The main character has to discover, learn, adapt and grow. If they don’t you may as well be playing with action figures. The green army man with the bazooka can only do two things; shoot a bazooka and/or die. Don’t let your main character be a green army man. And if you have characters whose main purpose in your story is to shoot a bazooka and/or die, then you may want to consider whether you actually need them. If you have walk-on characters don’t give them names. Just kill them and get on with the story.
11. Is the dialogue natural or is it stiff and awkward?
Give some consideration to the background of your characters, how do they speak? No two characters should sound alike. And unless your character actually is an Eastern European-aristocratic-fiend-of- the-night, don’t make them sound like one.
12. Is there any conflict outside of the main conflict? How do the characters interact?
As the reader, can I follow the subplots and tensions? A story has a plot. A good story has subplots. Are they clear and do they follow the main arc of the story? To be a good editor you first have to make sure that the writer believes in doing what is best for the story, and then you must be merciless – to the story, not the writer. It is a difficult balance to maintain.
As a writer, I have spent so much time working on a particular scene, character or subplot. I can be very clever, and be in love with my creations. But if they ultimately don’t work – don’t progress the plot, don’t move your characters towards their goals – then they have to be cut. My advice is to save them somewhere where they can grow into their own stories.