Screenwriting is a lot like the guitar: easy to pick up, but incredibly hard to master. Anyone can play a campfire version, but becoming Steve Vai takes a mystical, quasi-Herculean combination of raw talent, practice, and discipline.

Writing for the screen, in theory, is simple: 1 page is 1 minute, ergo, 120 pages is 120 minutes. Act I (the setup) runs from pages 1–30, Act II(chaos) goes from pages 30–90, and Act III (the crescendo), generally from pages 90–120. Ish. When you introduce widely-spaced “action” paragraphs (i.e. description), the target is usually 105–110 pages, roughly.

So again, in theory, anyone can do it. Watch a movie scene-by-scene, pausing each time, and write a structured description for what you see on screen. The encouraging fact the barrier to entry is so low (i.e. anyone can write and submit) means a Pareto distribution is inevitable. Estimates vary, but 0.3–1% of all scripts are produced into a movie; that’s a lot of noise to not very much signal. Even less make money.

And the trouble with a skill that has a low barrier to entry, which anyone can theoretically do, is few, if any screenwriters, majored in Literature, Drama Theory, or Literary Theory — and were never taught how to write. It’s like starting with a golf handicap of 500 as you enter an international tournament.

Sadly, no, it’s not enough to switch on your spellcheck or use a software grammar aid. You have to be able to write good.

The Unsung Hero of Limited Space: Compression

What that tends to mean is the secondary talent of screenwriting (after creativity) ends up being about linguistic economy and compression. You have to use the least amount of words to achieve the most evocative and punchy effect. Writing is about communicating a message after all, but in the screen domain, it needs the payload of scriptural proportions.

Screenwriting doesn’t have the luxury of space for flowery or poetic prose. It’s a suckerpunch system per line, and there’s no room for any extraneous words. It requires a next-level scale of discipline.

Firstly though, you need to know how to write, and what distinguishes good writing from bad. There are enormous examples of good writing, but particularly those with a melodramatic flair are important to study.

Studying The Masters Who Defined The Basics

Shakespeare, obviously, is considered the modern father of the dramatic arts. Just one way he describes attraction:

“Hear my soul speak: The very instant that I saw you did My heart fly to your service, there resides to make me slave to it…” (The Tempest)

Inversely, Niccolo Machiavelli’s communicated his scorn of rigid determinism through a lens of brutal masculine violence and domination:

“For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.” (The Prince, Chapter XXV)

Writers of the Enlightenment Era took great pride in their wordsmithery. The classic example of poetic writing is Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which coincidentally breaks all the rules.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

And of course, Winston Churchill, who spent his life evoking the power of words to inspire a nation and shape history, and whose “fight on the beaches” speech was described by a BBC radio listener as having a “whole massive backing of power and resolve behind them, like a great fortress: they are never words for words’ sake”.

“The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned upon us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

Churchill’s words are almost embedded in British DNA. The re-reading of them causes shivers down spines, upon straightened backs.

A dark age. Our duties. A thousand years. Their finest hour. It still smacks of brave dignity and nobility, penetrating right to the core of the audience’s inner being.

The fundamental rule: good writing is impactful, evocative, structured, and memorable.

Sorkin is excellent at this idea. Within 5 minutes of any of his works, — and admittedly due to the influence of Chayefsky’s “meltdown” formula in “Network” — you know exactly who the central character is, and why, due to their sharp introduction being a stage and means for them to state their values.

Every Sorkin character, ever.
  • In the West Wing pilot, Jeb Bartlett’s intellectual authority is expressed in his “meltdown” over right-wing hate mail to his granddaughter;
  • In the Studio 60 pilot, Matt Albie’s drug addiction is confronted as he receives an award before he has to replace the “Network” anchor;
  • In the Newsroom pilot, Will McAvoy’s prosecutorial skill explodes as he abandons his neutrality in favour of moderate Republicanism;
  • In The Social Network, Zuckerberg’s outrage at being romantically sidelined drives him to social imperialism behind his monitor.

It’s simple every time: the protagonist’s identity is framed and defined, at an introductory “meltdown” event, in terms of what they turn against, whereupon they meet the obstacle that inhibits them from succeeding in the direction they’ve decided to go. Boom.

(Where Sorkin arguably falls short, however, is in subsequently taking the story past what’s in the room.)

The rhythmic sound of the dialogue makes the words dance to a beat, but the context delivers the sharpness of the impact. In a rather interesting variation of the original premise, the ideological context is what is compressed.

And just for fun, you couldn’t fail to include the most badass monologue of all time — the real intro given by US General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to Iraqi tribal leaders:

“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Mattis is also responsible for some of the best-sounding movie lines that never made it into a film (YET!):

  • “There are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.”
  • “I feel sorry for every son of a bitch that doesn’t get to serve with you.”
  • “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
  • “There is only one ‘retirement plan’ for terrorists.”
  • ‘There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.’

Love him or hate him, Mattis is a legendary real-life badass, like Leo Major. More importantly, it’s clear who he is. A badass.

Communication: The Rules Of Good Writing

The purpose of language is to communicate. It sounds trite, but its purposes have become suspect: to impress/intimidate others, to manipulate thinking, or, soften reality, for instance.

The word “No”, as they say, is a complete sentence. It’s one of the most powerful lines a character can have.

We can start with the English lit basics taught in most colleges. 75% of the world’s languages follow the Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) pattern: the subject comes before a verb, which refers to an object.

The first set of rules was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers’ digest. The second set of rules is derived from William Safire’s Rules for Writers.

1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
12. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
13. Profanity sucks.
14. Be more or less specific.
15. Understatement is always best.
16. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
17. One word sentences? Eliminate.
18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
19. The passive voice is to be avoided.
20. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
21. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
22. Who needs rhetorical questions?
23. Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.
24. It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
25. Avoid archaeic spellings too.
26. Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
27. Don’t use commas, that, are not, necessary.
28. Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.
29. Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.
30. Subject and verb always has to agree.
31. Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
32. Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers.
33. Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
34. Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
35. Don’t never use no double negatives.
36. Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.
37. Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
38. No sentence fragments.
39. Don’t indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
40. A writer must not shift your point of view.
41. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
42. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
43. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
44. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
45. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
46. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
47. Always pick on the correct idiom.
48. The adverb always follows the verb.
49. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
50. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
51. And always be sure to finish what
More: https://mseffie.com/handouts/writegood.html
http://www.math.rug.nl/~ernst/linguistics/william-safire-rules.htm

In “Politics and the English Language” (1946), — annoyed by euphemism and linguistic corruption by politicians in the press — literary critic de jour George Orwell lay out his 6 Rules for Writing:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

Over in Trinidad, the same ideas were expressed more verbosely by Indian-born Sir V. S. Naipaul and his 7 “Rules for Beginners”:

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than 10 or 12 words.
2, Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.
3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.
4. Never use words whose meanings you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.
5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of color, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.
6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.
7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.
More: http://www.indiauncut.com/iublog/article/vs-naipauls-advice-to-writers-rules-for-beginners/

Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing”

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

More: https://www.amazon.com/Elmore-Leonards-10-Rules-Writing/dp/0061451460

Then there comes the flow, which is the easiest way to spot untrained, amateur, or plain linguistic barbarians: endless paragraphs, often without punctuation.

One of the archetypal, and most illuminating, examples of creating interest is from Gary Provost’s “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing”

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

More: https://www.amazon.com/100-Ways-Improve-Your-Writing/dp/0451627210

Advanced Stylistic Barbarism & Pretentious Garbage

Then there is the pornography of linguistics: the really fancily-named horrors which make no sense, yet only experienced editors will recoil at. You might call them “professional word salad”. Private Eye Magazine has an entire section named “Pseud’s Corner” to capture the worst examples.

The Hegelian philosophical principle that out of a thesis and its opposed antithesis comes the hardy alloy of a synthesis has a seductive power.
MICHAEL GOVE
The Times

YUCK. Pass the sick bag.

The most subtle syntactical horror is arguably the split infinitive, which forms the Star Trek slogan (which should, of course, read, “to go boldly”):

to boldly go where no man has gone before

The professional bain of every editor’s life is the hated and feared passive voice. It’s generally misunderstood, because of the technical nature of how it works linguistically. If you wanted to use a revoltingly crude analogy, it’s the difference between pitching and catching, sending and receiving, or in C.S Lewis’s metaphysical terms, masculine initiation vs. feminine responding.

WISC puts it nicely:

“In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of sentence performs the action. In a sentence written in the passive voice the subject receives the action.”

In the active voice, the protagonist kicks their ass. They’re doing something.

In the passive voice, they had their ass kicked by the protagonist. They’re having something done to them.

This tends to manifest extensively in screenplays through the use of “is”. This sentence is enough to make anyone in film burn your lovely PDF immediately after they’ve spent $10 printing it out:

“Lucy was bitten by the dog.”

DIE.

DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE.

You’re a narrating historian describing what happened on screen 70 years ago. We want to put the reader into the story, as it’s happening NOW, while they read it. We need action in the present moment.

At least, we could re-word a sentence this nauseatingly dull to:

“The dog TEARS Lucy’s throat right out of her neck.”

The dog is finally doing something. A not very pleasant something, but at least it’s not the Canadian on the sidewalk repeating what’s already happened. The “Canadian Syntax” is actually a descriptive way of framing it, as it’s largely how Canadians tend to talk, and how their “dramas” tend to proceed.

The worst of the blasphemy, however, are dangling and non-participial modifiers. Why? Because of their ambiguity. Trust Wikipedia uses the example “Turning the corner, a handsome school building appeared”:

The modifying clause “Turning the corner” is clearly supposed to describe the behavior of the narrator (or other observer), but grammatically it appears to apply either to nothing in particular, or to the “handsome school building”.

Why are these sins often the worst? Because the writer is trying to impress the reader with their writing, rather than communicatingsomething to them, i.e. form over function. Words are like truth or weapons: the sharper they are, the more powerful impact they have.

Screenwriting: Flowery Doesn’t Cut It

Yes, yes, show, don’t tell. Blah, blah, blah. It still doesn’t make bad or boring writing good or interesting.

All of these ideas are great when it comes to long-form novels and/or newspaper articles. Screenwriting has a different challenge: word count, has to count. We don’t have space for flowery description. It needs to punch.

A screenwriter has to sell the person (reader, or other triage personnel) on their 8th script of the day, cooped up in a closet overflowing with bundles of paper. It’s the director’s job to sell the actual photographed movie. We’re actually writing for an audience of about… a hundred tired/numb people, give or take.

Often that can lead to some creatively irreverent ways of putting things. Shane Black’s “Lethal Weapon” screenplay has a unique snippet describing an impressive house.EXT. POSH BEVERLY HILLS HOME - TWILIGHTThe kind of house that i'll buy if this movie is a huge hit. Chrome. Glass. Carved wood. Plus an outdoor solarium. A glass structure, like a greenhouse, only there's a big swimming pool inside. This is a really great place to have sex.

It’s not technical or flowery, but it communicates the message simply and evocatively, whilst showing off the author’s playful “voice”. You know what he’s talking about.

Edgar Wright, author the “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz etc) is renowned for his economy. From Hot Fuzz’s rocket of an opening montage:INSERT: ANGEL talking with elderly people, a Chinese family
in their native tongue, young offenders in a hall.MALE VOICE (V.0.}
-Furthering his skills with elective training courses in advanced driving-INSERT: ANGEL doing an elaborate skid in a police car.MALE VOICE (V.O.)
-as well as pioneering the use of the mountain bicycleINSERT:ANGEL doing an elaborate skid on a police bike.MALE VOICE (V.O.) (cont’d)
-and raising of morale with an inventive use of desktop publishingINSERT: ANGEL pinning up various notices in bright colours;
they read ’BIKE SHED’, ’CANTEEN’, ’HATE CRIMES’.MALE VOICE (V.O.) (cont’d)
-Also became heavily involved in many extra curricular activities and to this day holds the Met record for the 100 metre dash.

The sheer amount of camera footage, character introduction, and film styling crammed into just those lines is breathtaking — but still a great read.

Another example is Terry Rossio’s description of the ferry explosion in “Deja Vu”, once the highest-selling screenplay of all time:Weirder. He glances in through the back window --FOUR ORANGE BARRELS inside. He ponders that for a moment.Because a moment is all he has...THE BEACH BOYS (V.O)
But she looks in my eyes... and makes me re--a-lize when she says--THE EXPLOSION tears through him so fast we don't even see pieces, just WHITE DEATH BLASTING OUT IN ALL DIRECTIONS --

Hitchcock, the Master, describes this crucial aspect of a great read — like the Deja Vu bombing scene — in classical terms: of using dramatic irony to lure the reader into pressure and suspense:

“We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock, and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!”

It’s no use economically describing the explosion in bloodless terms. You need to know how to describe the bomb (“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”). Hitchcock earned his reputation well, as he used film to treat his own personal fears:

  • “The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.”
  • “If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.”
  • “Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table.”
  • “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.”
  • “In films murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man.”
  • “I have a perfect cure for a sore throat: cut it.”
  • “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”
  • “Give them pleasure — the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”

Example worst sentence of all time, according to The Writer’s Circle (https://writerscircle.com/very-and-other-useless-words-to-erase-forever/) :

“And then the meeting was suddenly interrupted by a very loud amazing noise that startled the board members.”

Re-written by suggestion (which to be honest, is crap, but better):

“A deafening noise crashed through the otherwise quiet meeting, agitating the typically lethargic board members.”

Why?

  • “Very” or “really” are the most useless words in the English language.
  • “Suddenly” interrupts the action (ironically) of interrupting.
  • “Amazing” etc are over-used, trite words which convey emotion, not action.
  • “That” is almost always redundant, and should be removed wherever possible.
  • “Started” is passive. Every action has a start, and its description is pointless.

Author Diana Urban, recommends a list of 43 words to just get rid of immediately (https://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately):

really, very, that, just, then, totally, completely, absolutely, literally, definitely, certainly, probably, actually, basically, virtually, start, begin, began, begun, rather, quite, somewhat, somehow, said, replied, asked, and any other dialogue tag, down, up, wonder, ponder, think, thought, feel, felt, understand, realize, breath, breathe, inhale, exhale, shrug, nod, reach.

William Akers, author of “Your Screenplay Sucks” expands this with a rant about “to be”, concluding with a fantastic “Seven Deadly Sins of Screenwriting”:+---------------+--------------------------------------------+
|  FIND/REMOVE  |                BAD WRITING                |
+---------------+--------------------------------------------+
| IS            | He is grinning.                            |
| ARE           | The converts are singing opera.            |
| THE           | Nacho hightails it out of the town.        |
| THAT          | Ralph can't tell that she's French.        |
| THEN          | She laughs. Then looks at Alice.           |
| WALK          | Tika walks down the hall.                  |
| SIT           | Sitting at the poker table, Doc deals.     |
| STAND         | The Surgeon stands at the operating table. |
| LOOK          | Cheryl is looking at Stephanie.            |
| JUST          | I am just totally exhausted.               |
| OF THE        | Tom sits by the entrance of the mall.      |
| BEGIN         | The tape begins playing.                   |
| START         | She starts moving toward the den.          |
| REALLY        | Betty is really pretty.                    |
| VERY          | The kids sing a very old song.             |
| TURN          | She turns and looks at him.                |
| THE PHONE     | Bonnie hangs up the phone.                 |
| SOME          | He pours some coffee.                      |
| STILL         | Kevin, still in paint-covered overalls...  |
| THE ROOM      | He puts on a tie before leaving the room.  |
| HIS/HER FACE  | Nora has an amused expression on her face. |
| SEEMS/APPEARS | Tony seems upset. Tony appears upset.      |
| HIS/HER WAY   | Carol pushes her way inside.               |
| BOTH          | They both stare at the comet.              |
| -LY           | All adverbs                                |
+---------------+--------------------------------------------+

The tighter, concise replacements are subtle to the layperson, but highly effective:+---------------+-----------------------------------------------+
|  FIND/REMOVE |                BETTER WRITING                |
+---------------+-----------------------------------------------+
| IS            | He grins.                                     |
| ARE           | The convicts sing opera.                      |
| THE           | Nacho hightails it out of town.               |
| THAT          | Ralph can't tell she's French.                |
| THEN          | She laughs. She looks at Alice.               |
| WALK          | Tika prisses down the hall.                   |
| SIT           | At the Poker table, Doc deals.                |
| STAND         | At the operating table, the Surgeon works.    |
| LOOK          | Cheryl studies Stephanie.                     |
| JUST          | I am totally exhausted.                       |
| OF THE        | Tom sits by the mall entrance.                |
| BEGIN         | The tape plays.                               |
| START         | She moves toward the den.                     |
| REALLY        | Betty, hot as a two-dollar pistol, struts in. |
| VERY          | The kids sing a traditional song.             |
| TURN          | She looks at him.                             |
| THE PHONE     | Bonnie hangs up.                              |
| SOME          | He pours coffee.                              |
| STILL         | Kevin, in paint-covered overalls...           |
| THE ROOM      | He puts on a tie before leaving.              |
| HIS/HER FACE  | Nora is amused.                               |
| SEEMS/APPEARS | Tony is upset.                                |
| HIS/HER WAY   | Carol pushes inside.                          |
| BOTH          | They stare at the comet.                      |
| -LY           |                                               |
+---------------+-----------------------------------------------+

The screenplay needs to be interpreted by God knows how many people: producer, director, DP, casting agent, actors, lighting, wardrobe, SFX — everyone. They need to know what the actors are doing, and what action is happening — not be passive bystanders as the writer narrates.

Creative Augmentation: Better Art Through Qualification

As soon as you mention software automation to writers, you’ll notice the atmosphere gets to a level of hysteria you never thought possible, in a disturbingly short amount of time. Panic sets in.

That’s simply because they believe you are trying to judge their magnificently personal work of genius with a faceless computer, and/or subsequently replace them. And of course, ripping them off financially somehow in the process.

None are broadly true in reality. The worse truth is if most of us were better writers, filtering software wouldn’t be required, and we wouldn’t have a problem with it making us better at what we do. Software touches fragile egos: humans are far more forgiving with shitty prose because they understand context, and what you are trying to say.

If writers had their way, the entire process would be arbitrary for rest of all time.

Screenplays will always require human review and support in order to decide whether it is producable and/or commercially viable. However, we need to get those documents to those humans from the haystack, and provide a common, transparent rulebook on how they ascend the pile. Linguistic quality is just one metric.

Imagine, for example, a rookie screenwriter gets this after sending into the Black List:

Your document has been rejected from the submission pipeline, as it contains an unacceptably high number of linguistic and/or grammatical problems. A report is attached to help you correct these, and send it again.

And imagine, on the other end at the studio, the poor reader department is able to breathe a sigh of relief when they see:

This document has passed all initial automated linguistic and grammatical integrity checks, and meets the specified quality threshold. It’s ready for human artistic review.

The content of the script is not in question: the literary basics are. If it’s riddled with passive tense, cliche, bad grammar, and over 200 pages — it’s not going anywhere. Everyone’s time is just wasted. Not everyone has an editor nearby like a publishing house, or even afford one.

The formula is simple: maximum pool of potential talent and material as input, highest quality filtered selection as output. We have to get the maximum amount of submissions possible into the pipe, but only get the best flagged for creative review. That also gives us more time to look through the rest.

None of this requires AI or machine learning. It’s an issue of Natural Language Processing, which is essentially advanced pattern-matching.

In technical terms, it’s trivial to add macros to wordprocessors like FadeIn, or plugins to Chrome. You can even start creating regular expression matchers as you go. However, at some point, these rules need chaining together as filters, and the results have to be aggregated for threshold scoring.

Stanford CoreNLP. Better than Apache, but don’t make any plans if you need it to be dynamic.

In that case, there are a few choices:

Art is subjective, but it’s not exempt from rules, patterns, or discipline.

Spelling mistakes and bad grammar disqualify literary work, as white noise is disqualified from being categorised as music. A computer cannot judge the quality of your characters or story, but it can judge if you’re submitting garbage too early on into your career — before a human does.