11 Tips for a More Readable Script


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

As Seen On
by Naomi Write + Co. in rewriting, screenwriting

How you convey it in the pages of your screenplay is just as important as what happens in the story.

As you know, writing a great screenplay actually involves mastering a collection of skills. One of those skills is the on-the-page craft, which boils down to how you communicate your ideas to the reader.

Polished screenplay pages enhance the power of your story, and act as a sales tool for your screenplay and yourself as a writer.

But with so much to think about as you’re writing a screenplay, the more superficial aspects sometimes get overlooked.

Writing a screenplay is a marathon

By the time you reach the final leg, it’s pretty common to feel like you’re running on fumes. With your last dregs of energy, sometimes it’s all you can do to just complete the latest story changes. But you end up leaving a lot of other stuff on the table — including the tweaks and polishes that may feel unimportant, but can really make a difference to someone reading your screenplay for the first time.

My best advice for finishing strong? Remember that you don’t have to push through the whole process continuously. Allow yourself to take a break before the last (or next) leg. Refuel, regroup, and get some perspective. Then come back with a goal in mind.

When you come back to polish, don’t try to polish as you’re making big story changes or completely rewriting the content of scenes. If those are things you still need to do, address them first and then do your polish (when you’re not so tired you just want it all to be over).

And when you are ready to polish, here are 11 things that will make your screenplay more readable.

Tweak + Polish tips, the quick guide

You may have seen these tips before, so consider this a recap and a way to collect them all together for quick reference. (With links to the original articles, in case you want to read more about any of the tips.)

11 ways to improve the read:

    1. Cut redundant dialogue. Repeating a point can lessen or alter the impact of a character’s dialogue, as well as bore the reader. Determine what the dialogue needs to accomplish. Accomplish that purpose in the most powerful way possible. Cut the rest.
    2. Don’t summarize, dramatize. In a summarized scene, what’s happening is summed up in broad statements. It’s more ideas than action. Instead, we want to see it play out cinematically. Dramatizing a moment puts us in the scene and brings us closer to the characters and the emotions that are playing out.
    3. Write for continuity. When someone reads a scene, they should be able to follow what’s happening continuously and without confusion. This includes description of physical space, choreography of the scene, who’s in the scene, who’s speaking, what they’re referring to, etc.
    4. Digestible sentences. Long, unwieldy sentences are difficult to consume. Digestible sentences, on the other hand, are easy to take in and grasp the meaning of. And they make for a smoother, faster read. Two common versions of un-digestible sentences:
      – Sentences that contain more descriptive words than you need to make your point; this dilutes the picture rather than adding to its potency.
      – Sentences that go on too long or include too many separate pieces of information. This overwhelms the reader, and the various points you’re trying to make can end up obscuring each other; no point is made with any impact.
    5. The dialogue pass. A dedicated dialogue pass is a good way to:
      – Revisit and refine dialogue that may be “first pass” quality – maybe it gets the point across, but it’s cliché, obvious, boring, or too on the nose.
      – Smooth and streamline dialogue so it’s not stilted and unnecessarily verbose.
      – Distinguish between characters so they don’t all sound alike. Give the characters a bit more character and perhaps make the roles more interesting or appealing.
    6. Filmic word order. Conveying the order of action through the order of words. That way, we can seamlessly “watch” what’s happening in our minds. We don’t have to backtrack, re-read, figure out what we’re meant to see, etc.
    7. Laughter with purpose. If you’re including laughter (or any other action) in a scene, make sure it has meaning and a purpose that adds something to the story. Beware using descriptions of laughter as filler, or as a substitute for dramatizing a situation meant for humor.
    8. Weak, wasted, or redundant? Unnecessary words dilute the power of the effective ones. Redundant words say the same thing twice, wasted ones don’t serve a purpose, and weak ones lack meaning.
    9. Start scenes in motion. We don’t want to come into scenes feeling like the characters are waiting for us to get there before starting the scene. We want to drop into scenes with things already in motion. Instead of thinking, “where does the scene start?” think, “where do we come in on the action?”
    10. Make pauses and beats pull their weight. If you’ve written a pause into your scene, consider whether the pause itself is enough. Helpful questions to ask:
      – Is the pause showing us something or dramatizing the moment, or is it telling us what’s happening in a less effective way?
      – Could the pause be more informative and clarifying about its purpose or what’s going on in the moment?
    11. How to end a screenplay scene. Sometimes writers shortchange their scenes by not really landing the scene anywhere. An effective “scene out” both wraps up the mini-story of that scene, and invites us to keep reading what comes next.

The tips in action

I’ve pulled a couple of pages from professional screenplays, and highlighted a few standout examples of the tips in action. And I’m sure you can find even more! Download the pages here.

BRIDE HARD, written by Shaina Steinberg, story by Shaina Steinberg & Cece Pleasants

1. “Small houses. Old cars.” That’s a solid example of digestible sentences (tip #4)! Of course, digestible sentences don’t have to be fragments. The idea is more about providing information in small enough pieces that each bit is easy to consume. These details tell us what we need to know, and we’re not left trying to chew through too much at once.

2. “Her attention is caught by a flashing light outside the window.” This sentence might seem counter-intuitive, but if you look closely it’s a nice example of filmic word order (tip #6) The sentence plays out in a way that directs our mind’s eye first to the change in her attention, then to revealing the flashing light outside the window. It conveys the specific order the events would play out on screen.

3. An example of writing for continuity (tip #3). The sound of crashing plates leads into the next line of dialogue, so we know exactly what it’s referring to. And then when we return to the Sam/Betsy conversation, we know what that’s referring to as well. Zero confusion, which is the point of writing with continuity in mind.

4. The Sam/Betsy dialogue in choppy morse code adds humor and specificity to the characters. Something that could be honed in a dialogue pass (tip #5).

LITTLE WOMEN, written by Greta Gerwig, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott

1. “JO MARCH, our heroine, hesitates.” As the first line in the first scene of a script, this is both a great hook-y line, and also a unique example of starting a scene in motion (tip #9).

2. The next paragraph is a good example of dramatizing rather than summarizing (tip #2). This description shows us what we’re watching on screen. And the images convey what we need to know – that Jo is nervous, girding herself for what she’s about to do.

3. In that same paragraph we see a pause that pulls its weight (tip #10). It’s used deliberately, not just filler, and increases the weight of the quiet, tense moment Jo’s having before she walks into the room full of men.

4. Even though this paragraph isn’t made of up of short sentences or fragments, it is another good example of digestible sentences (tip #4). The longer sentences are each conveying a limited, easy-to-consume amount of information or images.

5. The dialogue here cleverly uses silence to create tension, define the Mr. Dashwood character, and make the scene more interesting. Something that could be achieved in a dialogue pass (tip #5).

REPTILE, written by Grant Singer & Ben Brewer (9/24/19 draft)

1. The description dramatizes why this table stands out from the rest, exactly who these guys are, and what their vibe is at the moment. (tip #2)

2. This section uses good continuity (tip #3) to keep things clear in our minds, which makes it easy to consume. (No bumpy moments that we have to slow down to understand.) Wally looks at Paul before asking him a question. Then Wally directs a question at Vic, and we’re shown Vic in action before his side of dialogue. Our attention always knows where to go.

3. In this scene we get quite a bit of information about Detective Tom Nichols, the protagonist, but the dialogue feels casual, not exposition-heavy – a goal you can aim for with a dialogue pass (tip #5). We learn Tom is different from the other detectives – he’s from Boston, a cosmopolitan, big city guy where the others are not. Tom chose a fancy French restaurant, while the others are stumped by the menu. We also learn Chief Allen is Tom’s uncle, and that Tom is in line to take over his position in the near future.

4. This “scene out” invites us to keep reading (tip #11). We know something serious has happened – but what? We need to find out. But note the second-to-last paragraph, too. This paragraph makes sure we’re tracking on Tom. That’s important because he’s the protagonist. Without this paragraph we would still have the information that something has happened, and we’d still have that question leading us to find out what it is. But the Tom paragraph makes sure we’re experiencing the story through the protagonist.

Action steps

This week I offer a friendly challenge: even if you’re not at the polishing phase, try to apply just one of these 11 tips to your writing. Perhaps choose one scene you’ve written and give it a tweak + polish. It’s a great way to practice one of these skills in a manageable way and while it’s fresh in your mind.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.