The other day, while providing one of the many FREE first-ten page reviews we provide through “The Script Mentor” (www.thescriptmentor.com), I made note of the over-abundance of black ink, relative to the white of the page. This is commonly referred to in a simple expression (more of a plea) “more white than black”.
I simply call it “wordweight”.
I’ve seen so much wordweight in some screenplays that one could actually use them to anchor a disabled Carnival cruise ship in the Gulf. I swear I’ve seen guys working out at Gold’s Gym lifting a few stacks of these scripts.
The effect of wordweight on a spec script is pretty damaging, even more so than just dropping it on your foot. If and when your script gets to a reader or a producer’s assistant, and piled on top of the other unsolicited or contest-winning screenplays, their job is to eventually read these and provide coverage notes for the producer. It is these notes that the producer uses to decide what he’s going to reading when he spends his Saturday by the pool. Your goal is to make sure your script is the one chosen.
When these readers go to the pile to choose their script(s), they generally make their choice by genre, title and first impression. This first impression is made simply by flipping through the pages to get a feel of the wordweight in the script.
In a normally formatted screenplay, you can have as much as 250-300 words per page, depending on several factors. If you average this many words per page in your screenplay, and the indentation are properly set, and the page has dialogue, it will resemble more of a speech than an actual script. Your goal is to target 150-180 words per page. At this number, you eye relaxes as it relishes the proper balance between the black and the white. A screenplay with this average per page will at least SEEM to be a fast read, and a fast read is usually a more enjoyable read.
Once the reader flips through your scantily clad script and sees that proper balance of black and white, not only will they be delighted in the prospect of the races getting along and intermingling, but they will be doubly thrilled at the fact that someone finally “gets it” and writes with word economy in mind. It’s no different than when a woman sees a man with six pack abs. They smile, as they know he takes the time and makes the effort to appear fit and healthy, and therefore, generally more attractive. Although I never stopped at the six-pack, instead working my way up to the “keg” stage, when it comes to a script, and just like the gym rats and the George Foreman grills, “Lean is Mean”.
I don’t believe Final Draft has yet developed a word count (I could be wrong about this, though), but I will often take either my entire screenplay or a few ten page increment samples from within the screenplay, copy them into a Word document, and use their word counter. You simply divide the total number of words by the number of pages sampled.
With the range of 150-180 words per, you’ll quickly see how using the right word is so important. I have found that more often than not, long sentences that display action can be simplified to far fewer, but more picturesque, forms of expressions, which is what you are ultimately trying to achieve.
While this may not be a hard and fast rule- it is to me- it is a good guide to work with. Soon, you’ll find your scripts losing their wordweight, becoming sleeker and sexier, and getting more attention from those producers in the penthouse suites.
Just like those gym rats.