National Proofreading Day: Common Proofreading Mistakes with Terra Joy

National Proofreading Day: Common Proofreading Mistakes with Terra Joy
It's National Proofreading Day and International Women's Day! We took the opportunity to do a check-in on our proofreading skills with our resident proofreading expert who happens to be a woman, Director of Consultations Terra Joy. 
(Since March is also Women's Herstory Month, we are highlighting women and resources for women+ in the entertainment industry throughout the month. Follow our socials for more and check back here!)
It's easy to get so wrapped up in story that everything else goes out the window, but once it's time to make it presentable, how do you know which Twitter user is right about the entire industry? Thankfully, you don't have to resort to that because Terra's got her finger on the pulse of standards executives like to see. We'll let her take it from here: 

Hey Roadies!

So I am the first to admit that I am a big ole nerd – about the craft we call screenwriting, about proofreading and formatting, and about chai tea lattes. And I’ve been lucky enough to apply my realm of nerdery to a job where I get to hear about all the pet peeves development execs, staff writers, story editors, and line producers have, and review scripts accordingly – fueled, of course, by chai.

I can’t tell you how many scripts get read where the genuine excitement for the great concept and dialogue quickly dissipates with each misuse. For the most part, gatekeepers and decision makers have some amount of grace when it comes to typos (as long as there aren’t many and they don’t start early in the script!). But whenever there’s more than one type of formatting mistake or inconsistency in a script, it points to a bad habit that’s formed, and can be incredibly grating to read. Remember that formatting is meant to be standardized so that it goes unnoticed. If someone notices your formatting, then they’re not staying immersed in your story.

So I wanted to share with you the most common formatting mistakes I see in scripts, and a couple of tips for how to catch more of these pesky errors before sending your story baby, who you love very much, to be judged by strangers. Trust me, embracing your inner nit-picky nerd will help you be the best dance mom for your project you can possibly be!    

Continuous Is About The Camera

Probably the #1 most common mistake that I see in scripts is misuse of CONTINUOUS. Sluglines (aka scene headings) are for production, and since scenes are hardly ever shot in story order, CONTINUOUS actually only applies when a character moves from one location to a connected location (ie the kitchen to the living room, the front yard to the front door) without the camera shot having to end. It signals that these two scenes have to be shot back to back because of the way the camera is going to move. This, however, is the only exception to the “no camera direction in a spec script unless you are attached to also direct” rule, minus the introductory Fade In and closing Fade Out.    

Dashing Through The Prose vs. Scripts

In other writing mediums, em and double dashes can be used to indicate pause in place of a comma. But in screenplays, using dashes too often becomes visually distracting to read, so in action description and dialogue they are only meant to be used to signal interruption. The em or double dash must also touch the word that is being interrupted; meaning, no space inbetween.    

Timestamp Imposters 

Since sluglines are for production and all terminology is meant to be standardized, your go-to timestamp should be DAY or NIGHT. Don’t use variations like Afternoon, Morning, Evening. And if a very specific time within one of those is absolutely crucial to that particular scene, then it should instead be described in the first action line of the scene. It’s also not technically proper to use Later or Moments Later as the timestamp, because a) it is always assumed that scenes unfold in chronological order unless told otherwise via flashback or flashforward, and b) the timestamp isn’t meant to note the passage of time between scenes, only the timing of that particular scene so that production knows if the sun needs to be up or down for the shoot. Another reason not to rely on forms of Later: you don’t want your reader having to stop the read to scroll back up through pages in order to remember where we are in space and time. Keep your reader well oriented, and your future writers’ room or line producer will thank you, too!      

Emphasize Economically

While stylizing text with bold, italics, or underlining can be helpful to make certain key pieces of information stick out to readers, only one stylization can be used for one type of information. For example, if you decide to bold your sluglines, then you can’t also use bold for your significant character introductions. And if you italicize text message exchanges, then you can’t also italicize dialogue that’s spoken in a different language. Also, it’s important to be aware that if you do decide to use one or multiple text stylizing tools, be careful not to have them apply too frequently in the script (such as with an important action or reveal), otherwise the emphasis will lose its desired meaning and become distracting in the read.  

Parentheticals: Ye Be Brief But Mighty

Lord, I see sooooo many parentheticals that are overly stuffed, overly frequent, and with the wrong kinds of information. Technically, parentheticals under a character’s name right before their dialogue starts should be no more than three words, and they should not go beyond one line of text. They are also only intended to reference how something is said or whom it is said to, if it is not already reasonably clear from context. So parentheticals should be used when essential to understanding (without creating redundant information), and if your instinct is to use them to describe something a character does, then it should instead be an action line.  

To All Caps, Or Not To All Caps, That Is The Question

Similarly to dashes in action and dialogue, and the text stylizing tools for emphasis, using all caps too frequently in a spec script can quickly become annoying to read and lose its intended significance. The more a visual “look here” arrow is used on the page, the less importance it carries. So when it comes to all caps in a spec script, save them for sluglines, character introductions, sounds that would need to be produced outside the live shooting of the scene by an audio engineer, and truly narratively significant objects that come back around later. Examples would be a family heirloom, a clue in a crime case, or something that everyone is chasing such as the Aztec gold necklace from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.  

So as you comb through your scripts to avoid these common pitfalls, here are a few tips to help you catch more of these slippery suckers:

Print It Out! 

I know, feel free to roll your eyes. Like, who has a home printer anymore? Smart people who think about rainy day “what if” scenarios, that’s who. And if you yourself don’t have a printer, then pretend it’s the golden age of Netflix and borrow your friend’s. There’s also of course FedEx print centers and the like. While it may seem annoying, marking up hard copies is actually a tried and true method us journalists still use to make sure we catch more mistakes before publishing. It also helps reduce your hours of blue-light eye strain. Bonus!  

One Step At a Time

It also really helps to review your script for only one type of edit at a time, such as sluglines, then character names, then parentheticals, then action lines for typos, then dialogue for typos. If you take the time to focus on just one category per read, your brain is less likely to auto-fill what you intended. Reading the dialogue out loud is also a great way to flag any stiffness, redundancy, or similarities across different characters’ voices.  

Sharing is Caring 

Lastly, if you feel like a hopeless romantic stuck inside a post-apocalyptic zombie attack universe when you even just think about editing, know that there are professional proofreading services available. You can also ask a very detail-oriented fellow writer you trust to see if you two can do a swap – they clean up, you give story notes, everybody wins.      

Here’s to the super attentive dance moms inside all of us! 
– Terra Joy  

Still need a hand on the proofreading front? 

We get it! We all have our strengths, and a second set of seasoned eyes never hurts. We have a couple of ways to help.

Our Script Services does have traditional Script Coverage, but for those wanting the formatting and proofreading comb-throughs, check out our: 

Full Script Professional Proofreading

Submit a full pilot or feature script as a PDF file, and in 2-3 weeks, you'll receive it back with mark-ups and comments to make the changes needed to avoid technical errors and prevent making the same mistakes in the future. Rush delivery in 48 hours is available for an extra fee for those times you need someone to take a look NOW! Standard editing involves the reader making a change the first few times, but then assumes you'll make the change throughout the rest of the script. 

Line Editing

This is for writers who want to make sure that their work is reading well on a sentence and paragraph level. For line editing, you'll submit your Final Draft FDX file and within 3 weeks your reader will make annotated changes within your script so you can see what changes were made. The editor will only change what is needed to make sure your story and voice shine through. If English isn't your first/primary language, or if you don't have Final Draft as your writing software but would like to use our Line Editing services, please e-mail Terra at 

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