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The Playwrights Forum > General > Question & Answer > How Important is "proper" format?

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 Posted: Wed Feb 21st, 2007 12:26 am
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laughlines
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Mana: 
HI again,

Here's my next question. I hope it encourages a lively forum conversation.

Of all my plays only two are written in 'proper' format (character name centered above the dialogue, specific margins, etc).  I gave up on proper format a long time ago because I found that I would spend more time adjusting margins than actually writing. The format I use is pretty straighforward and still very easy on the eyes for reading. I have never been rejected because the format of the play is incorrect...so the question I'm posing for discussion is:

How important is "proper" format? Is it crucial or insignificant to a play's chances for being read and/or chosen for production? Anyone ever get rejected because the format was not the industry standard?

I'm curious to read your answers.

with love, laughlines

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 Posted: Wed Feb 21st, 2007 01:35 am
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nic
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Mana: 
Well here's my two pennyworth. I hate gaudy as a type face, think it's very ugly  and contend that so long as there's sufficient room around the text and any stage directions are carefully deliniated from the dialogue there should be no trouble.

All that said I have had  young inexperienced writers send material to me that is very badly set out  and that does make the task of assessing the work more difficult.

But when push comes to shove he who pays the piper calls the tune so, I'll write it in blood if they promise to produce it.

 The best nic

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 Posted: Wed Feb 21st, 2007 03:38 am
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in media res
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Mana: 
laughlines,

Go to what I wrote under Synposes and Cover Letters under the title "not selling."

In there I state something like, "if you are not going to take the time to be professional, why should someone else take you seriously?"

I am judging a play search right now that could be wonderful for the chosen playwrights. Why put ANY impediment in your way?!!!! Most have conformed. And, yes, it is harder to read if they do not. How would you like to read a novel or history book without paragraphs or sentences or punctuation? (Yes, I know they exist. but not many are read!)

There are inexpensive/free downloadable software programs you can install on your computer.

Screenplays do not get read if not in proper format. The eye is trained to read quickly when one has to read so many submissions. It may not matter as much on the smaller level of theatre. But it does matter (for the most part) on the paying level of theatres.

Always make it the easist way possible is the rule in ANY business. And professional theatre is a business.

Think of it as following the format/discipline of a sonnet's structure.

Do what you want, but this is just a word from long experience.

best,

in media res

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 Posted: Wed Feb 21st, 2007 12:13 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
laugh - I'd be interested to hear how your rate of production changed once you gave up on expected (ie. proper) formatting? 

I'm in the process of reading a lot of one-acts now to pick for our upcoming season. I dare say out of the 150 or so that we received for this submission, no two are exactly the same.  Many are formatted closely to "proper", while some are obviously attempting to be a piece of art themselves. 

And what a playwright must understand is that the script has no life of its own.  It is a vehicle, and a relatively poor one at that, to transfer the playwright's intention into the minds of the actors.  At some point it is discarded in favor of the interpretation.

If you were writing music for an orchestra, you would be expected to use the standard construction of five-lines for each the treble and bass staves, notes of circles (some filled in) with stems and flags, time signatures, measure bars, etc.

Admittedly, there is perhaps more flexibility in the writing of a play, stage or screen, but you do it not for your benefit, but for that of the director and cast.  Why not give them what they want, or at least what they expect?


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 Posted: Wed Feb 21st, 2007 10:54 pm
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laughlines
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Mana: 
Ok,

I'm glad this has created some interesting conversation. That's the main reason I ask the questions.

I'm curious about two things: First, where are the "free" or inexpensive screen/play writing programs? Can anyone suggest some and tell me where to find them?

Secondly---I've been submitting plays recently and most theatres prefer email submission, but they ask that the document be in WORD. So the question is---if you go through the trouble of using one of the screen/play writing programs, what do you do when the theatre you want to submit to only accepts WORD documents? Do you retype the whole thing? Please clarify. I'm curious.

Rey (laughlines)

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 Posted: Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 09:01 am
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Poet
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Mana: 
Hi Laughlines

It's down to what you like, get on with and fits your OS!

Try this one;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart/

Good luck.

Poet.

PS - Have you ever thought of a career as a singing scale?

"Does Rey miss Dalbasa parties though?" ;)

Last edited on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 09:01 am by Poet

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 Posted: Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 01:42 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
Let me be the voice of dissent here. While I always try to keep the scripts as clean and professional as possible, I've had no trouble getting things accepted with it formatted thus:

BOB   So what's up?

GENE   Not much. You?

    Bob moves to the table.

BOB   Killed a man yesterday.



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 Posted: Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 01:48 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
theactordavid wrotAnd what a playwright must understand is that the script has no life of its own.  It is a vehicle, and a relatively poor one at that, to transfer the playwright's intention into the minds of the actors.  At some point it is discarded in favor of the interpretation.

David, could you work just a little more disdain for the playwright's efforts into this comment? If you could maybe suggest that urinating on a script makes it better, that would convey your tone a bit more clearly.

This is, no bones about it, insulting to every playwright on this board.

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 Posted: Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 10:10 pm
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J Brian Long
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Mana: 
Shanahan,

I think I understand what you are feeling in regard to the "insult",

but, in either a grand display of empathy or, perhaps, waffling, I can

also see what theactordavid means.

 

As "artists" we all want to feel what we do is important and original

and about a hundred other adjectives that describe what most of

our work is sometimes sadly, realistically, not. I certainly want to

feel mine is, anyway, and if I ever were thoroughly convinced that

what I write ultimately isn't, I don't think I would bother with it

anymore (this is one way ego serves a purpose to self and, sub-

sequently --when we are lucky-- to the world as well) I think we

must feel that what we write is worth the effort. I believe that to

do that, we need to feel as if we are being understood and that what

we are saying, or perhaps the way in which we relay it, is unique to

us and defines us and is, above all else, our very own.

 

However, I am not certain anything we ever write is truly our very

own. Once it leaves us, it becomes something else. This very post is not going

to be interpreted by you or anyone in the exact way I mean it to be as I

write it. All we can (hope for) expect is that it gets close, I suppose. So,

I can see what theactordavid means when he says that a play is a poor

vehicle. It very well may be. As poor as is all language as a vessel to carry

one over the abyss of misconnection. No one will see a play as a writer has it

in his or her head; we all see things differently, even when see things

exactly alike. It's infuriating, and yes, even insulting, but I am not

certain theactordavid is the originator of the offence; it's just human

nature. It is the inheritance of Eve; our individualities create a space

that only interpretation can bridge. Our "original" art is indeed, I think,

abandoned for that interpretation.

 

I apologize for the somewhat haphazard conveyance of my thoughts,

but I am being assailed from all sides by distraction. Thanks for your

time, though, and correct me if I am wrong (and I very well may be).

 

--J Brian Long

 

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 Posted: Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 04:49 am
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laughlines
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Mana: 
I'm happy this has brought out the passion in some of you.  However, no one has posted an answer to the question I asked in my second post. What do you do if you use screen/play writing programs (such as "final draft") but most theatres ask for WORD documents??? Do you retype the whole thing? Please enlighten me. Really want to know for future reference. Thank you.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 09:29 am
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Poet
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Mana: 
JBL - I agree with you, and I'll (kindly) also hope that this is what David meant!

I had a shortie performed at my local theatre about 6 months ago; it was a 5 minuter, part of a review evening, and I didn't get to the rehearsals. It was a two-hander, and in my head I had one of the characters as a typical UK 'yokel' (think Deliverance residents for our colonial cousins), although that wasn't - quite deliberately - absolutely 100% specified in the dramatis personae or directions.

On the night... he was played as a well-off nerdy Lord! They didn't change so much as a word, not even an intonation, and it worked, and it was funny, and the audience liked it - but deep down I was slightly disappointed!

The ego side of me was chuffed to bits that 200 people had enjoyed it - but I almost felt irritated that the director/actor had found a different way to make it funny other than the way I had 'seen' it! How dare they?!!

After the show the actor asked me if I liked what he'd done with it, I told him how I felt, and he explained that from the first moment he read the script he'd seen it as this nutty member of the Aristocracy - he had never, ever considered that this character could be a backwoodsman! It worried me to the point where I went home and called up the script to see if I'd got the voice so very wrong - no, it just happened that there was more than one interpretation.

Is that a good actor or a bad writer? I don't know. But I'm always very restrained in my directions and suggestions for set/blocking etc, so there's maybe too much leeway in what I write, and (now, having been to this wall once) I think I'd mind less next time.

Laughlines - "What do you do if you use screen/play writing programs (such as "final draft") but most theatres ask for WORD documents?"

Errrmmm... use Word? ;)

Actually, ScriptSmart IS a Word template - so maybe you could consider using that one?

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 Posted: Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 12:33 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
Shanahan, I am not disparaging playwrighting.  I wish I could do it half as well as the worst I have ever read.  And without plays, I'd just be an office grunt with more time on my hands.  I merely meant to say that 1) the audience doesn't read the play, the watch the actors perform it, and 2) as Poet tells us, even your best efforts are often interpreted at 180 degrees by the performers.  This is why, apocryphally speaking, in olden times the playwright was often right there telling the actors what to do because he knew.  In these times, with playwrights not present (if even still alive) and the introduction of the director a bare 100 years ago, we have to take our best guess at what is meant by the writer's words. In the end, the audience remarks on the performance and interpretation, not the source, just as they see not the orchestra's score, but here only the music.

Just the mere fact that you have read my words, lifeless as they are on this forum, without benefit of parenthetical direction, tone and pitch, volume, and of course a well-timed raised eyebrow, and come away with an interpretation different than intended, essentially makes my point.  I apologize to you and all playwrights who find offense in my words, but there is none intended.  


Rey - as for your Word problem, I'd say this: it's a matter of convenience to the receiving party as to the format required, but this may be more suggestion.  I've received them in Word, Adobe PDF, Microsoft Works, and even straight text.  With the ubiquitousness of Microsoft products, it's often impossible for someone to imagine there are still those of us out there using Windows95 and Wordpad.  Which brings me to three suggestions. If you can write it in Wordpad, it is typically saved in Rich-Text Format (RTF files) that Word can read.  If not, you might Google "Free PDF" or something like that, and find a free online PDF conversion site, as most theaters would accept that.  Lastly, ask.  Explain you don't have Word, what other format can they accept.  And if you do find a software package, try to make sure it has some export engines that can create other file types.

Lastly, there is Open Office, a free albeit large download that emulates the entire Microsoft Office suite.  Might take some getting used to, but it could work.  Google Open Office and check it out.

Best to all.

{edit: btw OpenOffice also has the ability to convert it's documents into PDF}

Last edited on Wed Feb 28th, 2007 12:22 pm by theactordavid

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 Posted: Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 02:13 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
I'm well aware that no play comes away unmolested once directors and actors get their hands on it. Directors and actors are filters through which the words--sometimes unfortunately--have to pass before they reach an audience. I've seen the occasional "interesting" (re: what were they thinking?) version of some of my work as well as others', so I'm right at home with that concept, believe me.

But to suggest that a script is a "poor" vehicle for getting the playwright's intent across? That phrasing is what I object to most. Yes, actors will reinterpret the script. It's what they do. But without a solid script in the first place, an actor is a wayward McDonald's employee with a passable memory and an ego.

A solid script will help an actor to understand and identify with the character they're playing, the journey the character takes and the inherent meaning of the play. From there, yes, there's interpretation, inflection, physicality, all the things that, as David suggests, "have no life" before an actor starts to manhandle it and "create" the character.  But the intent of the piece, the meaning, the POINT of it all---if that's so unclear in the script that the words need to be "discarded," then it's a crap script in the first place.

It's not the actors job to ignore the script; it's their job to figure out and understand why each word on the page is coming out of their character's mouth, in keeping with their interpretation of the roadmap they've been given--the script.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 05:32 pm
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theactordavid
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Mana: 
Molested? Manhandled?  Hmmmm...... I think I understand now.

Rey, sorry the thread got hijacked.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 06:25 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
Oh, David, do be all insightful for me. What do you "understand now"?

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 Posted: Sat Feb 24th, 2007 12:45 pm
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Luana Krause
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Mana: 
I'm considering buying scriptwritign software. The ads for Final Draf claim that it's useful for stage plays, but the example only shows how the screenplay element works. Does anyone here use Final Draft for playwriting? If not, do you use other scriptwriting software? What do you recommend?

Or should I save my money and keep writing in M-Word?

Luana

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 Posted: Sun Feb 25th, 2007 04:46 am
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shirleyk
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Mana: 
Luana, I write in Appleworks, mostly because it's easy and it came with my computer. But when I decide to email a play I copy and paste it into an MS Word document, which does a compatibility check. So far, no problem.


I did have a problem initially with the numbering (I wanted the first page to start on the play itself and not on the title and character pages) but I've learned to deal with this and now it seems to work quite well for me.

Shirley

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