“Just because you’re sick of your script doesn’t mean it’s finished.”
- William M. Akers
I’ve recently put the finishing touches on a sci-fi comedy script. It took a while, but it’s finally done. How did I know it was done? Here’s the criteria I use:
10 ways to know your script is finished
- You believe every scene is excellent
Even if there’s only one scene that isn’t popping, you still have work to do.
- You can read through your entire script without picking at it
How do you know you’re full? You can pass a buffet table without picking at something to eat. The same is true with your script.
- You believe it’s as good as some of your favorite scripts
If you don’t think it’s as good as some of your favorite scripts, you need to keep working on it. You’re not competing with other amateurs, you’re competing with the pros.
- You’re really proud of it
In order for your script to sell, someone has to fall in love with it. If you don’t love it, it’s unlikely anyone else will either. If you believe something’s still not working with your script — you’re right.
- The readers you respect and believe tell you it’s great
Has anyone (other than a loved one) told you your script was great? If not, it’s a good idea to get some validation from someone who’s read a ton of scripts in your genre.
- It’s the right length for the genre you’re writing
If your comedy spec is 129 pages — and your last name isn’t Apatow — you should probably make some cuts. And no — fudging the line spacing isn’t a viable alternative. A seasoned reader can tell something is off, a quarter of a second after looking at your first page.
- It bears little resemblance to the first draft
I’m not sure all first drafts are shit — but they should undoubtedly pale in comparison to the final draft. No one can write a 110 flawless pages in a row. Take the time to make your script the best it can be.
- When you go to rewrite, you instead find yourself getting wrapped up in your story
After several drafts, do you ever find yourself reading through your script and simply enjoying the ride? Do you have to remind yourself that you’re supposed to be reading through your script with a view to editing it? If so, your script might be ready to go.
- Every time you try to improve it, it gets longer
If there are parts of your script that you think are great, but maybe could be improved by adding to the page count, that’s a good sign you’re done… unless your script is only 60 pages long.
- You start to make changes that make the script different — not better
At some point after the 73rd draft, you’ll read through your screenplay with bleary eyes and just start changing things because you’re sick of the same joke, or you no longer find a scene to be surprising, etc. That’s normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re making your script any better by changing it. It may just mean that your script is finished and you need to back away from the keyboard.
Bonus Answer: You’re watching your movie in the theatre!
In reality, your script is never finished. If it’s good enough to get an agent or manager, maybe it needs some work before sending to a producer. If a producer is interested, maybe it needs some work before they’ll send it to their studio contacts. If a studio likes it, maybe it needs some work before they’ll greenlight it. If the movie is greenlighted, maybe it needs some work before the director and stars are happy with it. If everyone’s happy with it, maybe it needs some work because there’s nothing else for the execs to tinker with until production begins. Once production begins, maybe it needs some work because the realities of the shooting location require scene changes… and on it goes.
What did I leave off this list? How do YOU know when your screenplay is finished (other than someone handing you a check for it)?
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