How to Polish Without Growing Hair On Your Palms

So you've come to terms with the fact that your script sucks rotting dog carcasses. You've rewritten the crap out of it, funded your therapist's kids post-secondary education, allowed your poor personal hygiene to drive away everyone who might ever possibly love you, and maybe - just maybe - you've now come out the other side with pages that suck a little less.

So now what?!

You, my struggling screenwriter friend, are in for a treat.

Baby, it's time to polish that sucker!!

Mmmmmm... The polishing stage where you finally get to spring a mammoth hard on for your story all over again. It's been a long time - worse than most of your bad relationships multiplied by oozing STD's - so enjoy it. You deserve it.

And here's the kicker - a gem of little known wisdom that most people would rather you not know:

Polishing amounts to maybe a 2% change in your pages, but it can elevate your script to mind blowing heights.

And on top of that, it's hot and sexy and exciting and FUN! It's the orgasm you've been working so hard to reach. YEAH!

It may seem a little wrong at this point to spring some wood for your script. After all, you've taken her steel-toed boot to your balls so many times through the rewrite process, but don't let that stop you! Now is the time to nail her good and make damn sure she remembers you.

However, the only thing worse than an impotent screenwriter is one who blows his wad prematurely, so if you're not sure you're quite at the polish stage, go back to my rewriting post and go through the process all over again.

We're assuming here that you're coming into the polishing stage with a solid script. If you're not, all bets are off. You can dress up a donkey in fine lingerie, but it's still going to be a smelly ass. In other words, if the story, structure, characters, dialogue, pacing, subtext, and that partridge in a pear tree aren't solid, it's still gonna stink like cologne covered bad B.O.

You're still here? Okay, let's look at what exactly goes into a polish.

1. Word Choice.

First off, don't be afraid to be a word killer. The red pen is your friend.

Next, you've already taken great pains to make your writing visual. But is it the exact right visual? Is there a better word? (Note: There is always a better word.) Don't just think of word choice as the word with the most accurate meaning. Also consider how the word sounds and feels on your tongue, both alone, and with the other words around it. Does it mean the right thing? Does it sound right? Does it taste right? Reading your script should be like listening to good music, not the cat skinning sounds of your neighbor's kid and his doped up friends playing Rock Band.

And don't forget dialogue here. Each voice should be distinct, even when read out loud by the same reader to someone who can't understand a word of English. Is your dialogue that strong?

Word choice is where most solid scripts go horribly wrong. It's easy to pretend that word choice doesn't really matter because, hell, a script is just a blueprint for a movie. As long as the reader gets your point, language isn't THAT important.

Give me a break. Would you wear a Speedo to a business meeting or expect to get laid after spoiling your date with a Big Mac and fries?

Burnout after rewrites make this tempting, or maybe it's stupidity. Whatever your reason - Don't do it.

This is the fun part, and it deserves more time and energy than most people actually give it. After a few drinks while, word choice will become second nature and the process will be quick, but if you're fairly new to screenwriting, it's worth taking the time to do it right.

There is a danger here though. Because this is more play than work, most of your blood is rushing to your privates you're accessing a different part of your brain, and this is usually when you get hit by wild inspiration. You know, the kind that usually requires a page one rewrite to make work, and a shitload of hours, but will make your script kick major ass. It's very tempting to ignore these flashes of inspiration, mostly because you're so close to being done and you just wanna get it the hell over with and roll over and go to sleep already.

When you hit this point, ask yourself this - Is your script worth it? You've already invested more hours into it than all your real life relationships combined, so are you really going to treat your script like a cheap hooker now? If you do, you may get off but the reader sure won't.

Hitting this point sucks, especially if you have a looming deadline, but it always come down to one thing: It sucks to be you Is the script the best it can be? If you answer no, you have to go back.

Once you've orgasmed onto the page a few times, and taken the mess through the rewriting process, it's time to move onto the next polishing steps.

2. Spelling.

Spellcheckers don't work! Tattoo this to your forehead. They don't pick up silly typos like 'had' instead of 'bad', and if you rely on them, you deserve to look like an idiot for homophone screw-ups. If you have a 'too carrot' diamond ring in your script, you don't deserve to be taken seriously.

3. Formatting.

If you have no idea what correct industry formatting is, you're not at the polishing stage. Hell, you're not even at the first draft stage. But assuming you do, what you need to do in a polish is to make sure that you don't have any funky format stuff happening at page breaks. If you have a slug line at the bottom of the page, force it to the top of the next. Same goes for a dialogue header. Apply common sense.

4 - Final Read.

This usually translates to three or four final reads as you pick up stuff you missed the other times through.

That's it.

You're done. Congrats. Time to light up that stogie, get fall down drunk, whack off to thoughts of your 80 year old neighbor, or whatever it is you do to celebrate. But hurry up. There are more scripts to be written.

awesome image by Bronx 
Originally published March 3, 2010