The Final Edit

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The Final Edit

Congratulations! You started with the big picture. You worked your way through story and character problems, you elevated your dialogue, and you got rid of clichés. Now, finally, is the moment you've been waiting for: agonizing over every single word. A few tricks of the trade:

Choose the most descriptive verb. John sees his girlfriend flirting with another man at the bar. Does he simply walk over? Or does he march, sidle, or sneak up?

Eliminate adverbs. Adverbs modify a verb and they usually end in "ly." Some examples are "answers quietly," "sits heavily," and "runs quickly." Adverbs tell how someone did something. If your scene is well written, if you've shown rather than told, adverbs become superfluous. Show us "sitting heavily" with a more descriptive verb—plop, collapse. Ditto for "answers quietly" (whispers) and "runs quickly" (races).

Use specific nouns. Replace say-nothing, generic nouns with more descriptive ones. Is it a house? Or is it a mansion, a hut, or a dump? Does your hero drive a car? Or does he drive a station wagon, a pick-up, or a convertible? Descriptive nouns imply different things. A character who lives in a house and drives a car tells us nothing, but put him in a mansion and give him a pick-up truck, and you paint a specific picture.

Cut down on adjectives. Adjectives describe nouns: a big man, a comfortable chair. Like adverbs, most adjectives are superfluous and can be eliminated. For example, an expensive Rolex is redundant, since all Rolexes are expensive. Sometimes you can bypass an adjective by choosing a more descriptive noun. Thus a big man becomes a colossus, and a comfortable chair becomes a recliner. There are times, however, to use adjectives, and that's when they add something new or unexpected. If you write about a melancholy bride, for example, we perk up. Why? Brides are supposed to be happy, so we wonder why this one is not. Choose your adjectives carefully. Only use them if they're necessary and add something to your script.

End with a punch. Create forward momentum by leaving the punch line for the end. Suppose your teenaged hero says: "I'm going to save my Mom. Because I'll have to live with it forever if I don't." Now flip it: "I'm going to save my Mom. Because if I don't, I'll have to live with it forever." Saving the most important word (forever) for last stops you from giving the joke away too soon and keeps the reader involved until the end.

Check spelling, grammar, and formatting when everything else is done. Run a spellchecker, but don't rely on it. It won't catch commonly confused words, like its and it's, to and too, and their and they're. If you've written trial but meant trail, the spellchecker won't save you. Have someone else proofread your script. Their eyes will be fresher than yours.



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