So you spend all that time dreaming up a complex web of engaging characters, writing audacious but credible dialogue which shimmers within the incredible world of the play with its astonishing, gripping plot – and then you type it all up without a moment’s thought of layout or presentation, bung it in the post and then wonder why the phone doesn’t ring….
Despite the above, I do actually believe that quality will out. There is always some story doing the rounds about the one script which found its way to the right desk and the significant reader, despite all the odds.
And they are huge odds – which is why I’m perpetually amazed at writers’ nonchalance about the appearance of their work as they send it out into the world. Maybe it’s like personal grooming – we don’t want to appear to be trying too hard, and deep down we believe it’s what’s inside that counts, not the shiny wrapper. This may work for nice boys and girls in literary novels, but in the (now fabled and close to extinction) literary manager’s office, where in-coming scripts stand in swaying piles ear high – spare a thought for the over-worked and committed readers.
Scripts pass through a plethora of hands before they reach someone who may be in the position to make real decisions about the script and therefore your career. Most theatres which accept unsolicited scripts have a series of rounds that the scripts pass through – an outer circle (usually made of volunteers or minimum waged enthusiasts who are writers themselves or working their way up the rungs of the ladder) who read and make comments on the scripts, passing them on to the next round if they feel they merit a second read. Few make it all the way to the artistic director’s hands, but this is one way promising writers are identified and perhaps invited in for that perplexing but important ‘coffee and a chat’. Building a relationship with a dramaturg or director is the way, eventually, work gets made or commissioned, and having your script recommended is one of the routes in. So, bearing in mind that initial passionate but over-worked reader, what kind of script do you think s/he will light up at and pick first to read off the pile?
- the one clearly printed on clean paper, not photocopied to hell, dog-eared and beaten up from doing the rounds.
- the one which has lots of white space on the pages – double-spaced and not (as was once my misfortune) handwritten in purple ink on yellow paper.
- the one which is in at least 12 font (arial is my favourite) and not (which was also once my misfortune) font 8 single spaced in lucida Blackletter.
- the one that is in loose leaf form, but page numbered, and not held together with a rusting bulldog clip/vicious paperclip, which will stab you when you you try to remove it so you can turn the pages and read the bloody script, then require you to get a tetanus jab (thankfully not my misfortune, but a true story from a friend who was first reader (‘the sieve’) for a large and prestigious short story competition). Also not bound, or tied with ribbon/string/an old shoe lace/plastic grips from bread wrappers/knicker elastic.
- the one which has been checked for spelling and grammar and sense, not the one full of typos and errors, crossings out, inserted words in blue felt tip with little arrows put in the wrong places.
- the one which suggested professionalism and pride in the work, not something that seemed spawned from a long sleepless night and thrown together without any care for it or those who might be asked to read it.
Try not to be one of the writers who seem consistently happy – eager, even – to sabotage their work by the carelessness of their presentation.
Enjoy. Take pleasure and pride in your work.
And good luck.
(c) kaite o’reilly November 2011.