7 Effective Proofreading Tips for TV Writers

silhouette of alcoholic drunk man drinking whiskey bottle feeling depressed falling into addiction problem
Not the kind of proof reading we’re talking about here!

by Joan Selby

If you are a TV writer, you probably don’t need to worry about getting the grammar perfectly right, because most often than not, you will be required to write dialogue spoken by people using jargon or street lingo, which needs to be more believable and close to the way we speak in real life. You think David Simon obsessed over grammar when he wrote Homicide: Life on the Streets or The Wire? Surely not.

But still, you will have your work cut out for you, because you need to get all the nuances, punctuation, spelling, and the style just right, especially if your TV show is dialogue-oriented, otherwise it’s just going to sound wrong. This also means that using grammar-checking apps is out of the question, because they still aren’t on the level where they are able to emulate actual human speech.

Hiring an editor is great, but expensive, which means the only viable option is for you to all the proofreading and editing yourself. For that reason, we suggest you try out the following 7 tips.

1. Give Yourself and Your Writing Some Breathing Room

As a writer, you probably hate this stage where you have to edit your work, which is why most of us are tempted to get it over with as soon as possible. Sure, you can do that, but it might not be the best solution in terms of quality. It is not about getting it done faster, it is about winding up with a better script. You shouldn’t rush these things, especially if you have time. Now, we’re not suggesting that you start acting like Hank Moody from Californication, but you should step away from your work for a while, and then come back to it later, when your mind is fresh and full of new ideas.

2. Read Your Script Out Loud

TV writers should rely on this more than other writers, because their work will actually be read out loud on television by professional actors. Yes, those dialogs might look great on paper, but you can’t know for sure how they will sound until you can actually hear them. When you are going over your script, read it out loud, or better yet, get some of your actor friends to do a rehearsal. That way, you will be able to actually hear what you’ve written, and determine if there is anything that needs to be removed, fixed, expanded, or added to your script. Some of the witty and quirky dialogues on Boston Legal or Scrubs only start to make sense when they are acted out.

3. Start with the Ending

When you start to edit and proofread any kind of work, you will lose focus and concentration over time, which means you will dedicate more time and effort to the beginning and the middle of your script, and gloss over the ending, which would be a huge mistake, because in the land of TV, the ending is often the most crucial bit of the script, because it might contain numerous twists or cliffhangers, which needs to be logical, and you can’t afford to simply rush through them. Editing your work backwards is a great way of making sure that every single section of your script is top-notch.

4. Double-Check Your Script

Now that you’ve gone over your script and done your initial proofreading and editing, it’s time to do it all over again. Yes, it sounds like a nightmare, but the worst thing any writer can do is to fall in love with their own work, thinking it’s pretty much perfect the way it is. It’s one of the ways we flatter ourselves as writers. If we get it right the first time around, we are better writers. Wrong. It’s about getting it right, period. It doesn’t matter how many drafts you need to go through, because nobody is going to know, except you.

5. Read Only What’s There

Since you are the one writing your script, you will probably have the whole thing worked out in your head already, but you need to focus on what’s on the page, because that’s what will be read by the actors, and you can’t afford to make any mistakes there. Forget about what should be there, forget about what’s inside your head, and just read what’s written down, word for word. That way, you will be able to spot more errors, and prevent your mind from convincing that something is there, when it actually isn’t.

6. Check for the Mistakes You Make Regularly

Every TV writer has a few of those. Some writers tend to be sloppy with their punctuation, or they misspell certain words, or they forget to write them altogether. Whatever the case, it pays to be aware of them, and double-check your script in order to see if any of the common mistakes you are known to make have found their way into your writing.

7. Get Help

Two heads are better than one, so if you know a fellow writer whose opinion you value, have them go over your script and spot potential mistakes, as well as provide suggestions on how you can make your script even better. Just by reading your writing in front of someone can help you realize which elements work and which don’t, and which lines of dialogue you need to change, because they don’t sound natural, or appropriate for the universe which your characters inhabit. You wouldn’t want the lead character of your new legal drama to speak as if he is on Game of Thrones, would you now?


Getting your script filmed is fantastic, and if it proves to be a hit with the viewers and the critics, that’s even better, but in order to get there, you need to put in lots of time and hard work, and that includes endless edits and proofreading. We have these tips will help focus your efforts and make your proofreading process a lot more efficient. Good luck!

Joan Selby is a blogger  and a content marketer at Edugeeksclub.com which provides online assistance to students and supports them. Former CalArts graduate and fancy shoelover. A writer by day and reader by night. Giving creative touch to everything. Find her on Twitter and Facebook

Writers, Front-Load Your Work and Get Read!


by Diana Black

Actors know it, savvy TV and screenwriters doing the rounds of the marketing circuit know it and ‘newbies and aspirants’ better know it too. Lead with your most compelling material. The first time – any time – you send out material is not the time to leave your best until last.

Because unless they fall in love with your first, it will be your last.

Actors, you’ve got 10 seconds of your first reading. Writers,You have the top half of the first page and that’s being magnanimous. The ‘slow burn’ in either profession just doesn’t impress – unless you’re already successful and the producers and executives in charge know you and your style. Otherwise, you absolutely mustput under a bomb under their butts from the get-go or they’ll pass.

Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s try it…

Actors, put your CD hat on and take a look at a popular monologue on YouTube. Can’t think of one? Google ‘famous/popular audition monologues’ and a plethora will come up. Work your way down the list of actors brave or naive enough to put their butts on the YouTube video line – coz once it’s out there, it’s out there for good – I can just about guarantee. Even if you’re only a quasi-professional actor, if you’ve half a brain and an aptitude for the craft, you’ll spot the difference in probably… less than 10 seconds.

Acting newbies, check out the eyes of each performer. Do they really believe what they’re saying? Are they listening with more than their ears for the the response from the character they’re talking to (even if no one’s actually there but the generous person acting as camera operator)? How’s their body language – does it match the scene? And so on.

Because of those things aren’t there, the only response to this particular audition is going to be, “Thank you… next”.

Writing newbies, Google around for professional screenplays andTV pilot and episode scripts that have been posted online. (TVWriter™ has several articles on where to find them.) Drafts marked ‘final’ or ‘shooting’ are best. Take a look at least 10, preferably in the same genre. Were they able to set up the world, hook you and have you ‘in’ the narrative in the first paragraph/half page? Because that’s what you are looking for. The immediate sensation of the page lighting up like a Christmas tree, with the hint of gorgeous gift packages underneath…as in the pages to come…just begging to be unwrapped…as in read.

Sure you’ll find some stinkers. Totally unconvincing actors who were cast anyway. Lifeless opening for scripts that were bought and paid nevertheless, but odds are those successes occurred because those involved had something other than talent speaking for them – friends, connections, amazing agents, who knows? – and right now you and I don’t have any of that. We have to succeed on our merits. And by displaying those merits immediately!


Here’s the bottom line: Showbiz is a front-loaded industry these days. You’ve got to shine from the first moment you or your work are seen. If, as writers, we discover that the most powerful pages in our script are in the middle of the draft, or even more dangerous at this stage, at the end, or that the best aspect of our pilot script doesn’t show up until the middle of our projected series arc, we have to do everything we can to create the same impact at the front.

What? Sounds tough? It is tough. Showbiz success is a battle, and a hard-fought one all the way.

Or as the Klingons, who certainly aren’t strangers to hard-fought battle, might put it: “Qapla!”

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer currently taking Larry Brody’s Master Class.

Want to Write the Bingeyest Genres?

Our job as TV writers is to ruin relationships by getting everybody to watch, watch, watch, yeah? (Oh, the power!)

Of course you do.

But who in the world wants to add the drudgery of genre research to the already all-to-difficult task of actually, you know, writing our spec masterpieces? (Especially spec pilots.)

Fortunately for all of us, Netflix has already looked into the matter. and quite deeply and helpfully. They know which types of shows are watched the most quickly (Thrillers! Horror stories!) and which just kind of creep from the To Watch to the Watched…Whew… (Political dramas! Historical dramas!).

But don’t take our word for it. Check out this wonderful Netflix chart:



choose me

by Troy DeVolld

Survival isn’t something I’ve addressed often in this blog before, but with many of reality television’s best (in my opinion, anyway) behind-the-scenes players going through slumps more often than usual these days, I think it’s a good time to bring it up.

In 2010, there were just over 760 reality shows in production, according to the results of a Kansas City Star study on the industry.  Anecdotally, different sources claim that that number’s dropped slightly, but is still well above 700 shows.  Tastes change, and the amount of available work in dramas, sitcoms and reality shows naturally ebbs and flows based on what viewers are in the mood for.

I find myself working less often than maybe five or ten years ago when I’d wrap a project on Friday and start a new one Monday.  I’d been able to work as much as I wanted to whenever I wanted to, and with a decade or so of credits on a string of well-received shows, there was no reason for me to think there’d be an end to that kind of possibility.

In 2013, just after a management change at the company I’d been working for for three years, I exited a show I’d worked on for five seasons in the midst of what an exec at network called a “freshening up” of the franchise.  He left the network less than 30 days later for a new opportunity somewhere else, but the damage was done and I was out.  I chose to frame the end of my time on the show positively, as I’d had a fun run with it and had a normal, not-so-crazy time finding other positions.

The Truth: You simply cannot rely on a project-based career for any kind of stable, predictable income, no matter how good you are or how in-demand you may be for an extended period of time.

So, how do you plan?

Don’t build your life around “good times” money

If you scale your life to a place where you treat every paycheck like half or two-thirds of a paycheck, you can’t go wrong.  Save money.  Cultivate a profitable (even mildly profitable) hobby.  For me, it’s books, lectures and consulting.  For you, it could be an ebay store, house flipping, or any one of a thousand other things.

Pay cash if you want to treat yourself to anything rather then adding to your monthly overhead.  Probably the dumbest thing I ever did was move into a luxurious new pad and buy a Mercedes at the height of my time on one series.  Car payments and exorbitant rents live on, even when you’re suddenly out of work for five months.  Ouch.

Make good use of your downtime 

I’m one of those guys who sort of doesn’t know who he is if he’s not working.  I don’t have a wife or kids, and live on the outside edge of LA now (in the name of peace and quiet as I can get it) and there’s not much occupying my time outside of work except finding new ways to get work.  If you’re married and have any kids, use the downtime to reconnect with them and make sure you have something to live for outside of production or post.

Don’t rely on your agent or manager, if you have them, to find work for you.  It’s a slippery slope, having a little time for yourself.  I’ve accidentally wasted a lot of time by not making one step every day, no matter how small, to finding my next gig.

Know how to make money when you’re in a slump

I know plenty of guys and gals with Emmys and Peabodys who strike out during a staffing season or two and either fall out of the game completely or use the downtime to build an inventory of specs that they can go out with next season.  Some have some great side businesses they can fall back on when they’re not on a show.  An editor I recently worked with flips houses between shows and on weekends.

Sticking around is important

Half the battle in any creative profession is simply sticking around. If you’re new to the business, taking a “day job” to pay the bills between gigs might be necessary just to keep you accessible to employers.  As I tell film students, the important thing is to be in town when the calls finally come.  In reality television, most jobs I’ve had start within a week of getting an interview (as many as half starting within days of the call), so I’d be in deep trouble if I was in Florida when the phone rang.

Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy and one of the masters of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

Dan Harmon Brings Us…”HarmonQuest”

Dan Harmon does it again. We aren’t sure what it is, but, what can we say but “Found on YouTube.”

Check it out:

Oh, wait, now we’ve got it. (Maybe.) This is a public table read for a special by Dan Harmon of COMMUNITY and RICK & MORTY. The finished animated video is scheduled to be seen “only on Seeso” July 14th.

Now if somebody would tell us what the hell Seeso is….