You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty laid back guy. Not so big on the whole ‘rule’ thing. Yep, just an old hippie at heart.

EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO SPELLING!!!

That’s when I turn into your 5th grade teacher. You know, that mean sourpuss Mrs. Hauck who had a glare that made your insides quiver. Voted “Miss Strychnine, 1932.” Triple chin. Smelled of castor oil.

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That’s the state of my mood when I read a script full of misspellings.

There’s one message I take from a writer who turns in a final draft that has several misspelled words: They don’t really care about the craft of screenwriting.

I’m serious. If you genuinely care about becoming a screenwriter, you need to demonstrate your professionalism at all levels — even the picayune ones.

[See, I spelled “picayune” correctly just to rub it in!]

Now I hear you out there. “The last thing I do before I hit Print is I run the spellcheck function.”

Good for you. Except for one small thing. Spellcheck doesn’t know the difference between “there” and “their,” “stationary” and “stationery,” and “its” and “it’s.”

So if you hand in the final draft of script and you’ve got a side of dialogue like this —

BLARNEYGIGGLE
Halt their! If thou doesn’t, its going to
mean death! And when I smite thee,
thou shalt be stationery for ever.

— then you’re likely to have one rankled script reader.

So let’s go beyond spellcheck to review some basics of spelling and grammar:

It’s: This is the contraction of “it is” as in “It’s time to get your freaking act together regarding spelling.”
Its: This is the possessive form of “it” as in “That script reader’s dog is going to blow its top if it’s forced to hear its owner swear about poor spelling one more time.”

There: Can be used as an adverb, pronoun, or adjective to signify a location as in “Put that script with all the misspellings in the recycling bin over there.”
Their: The possessive case for “they” as in “Gawd, those writers… they’re totally wasting their time because they’re such poor spellers.”
They’re: The contraction of “they are” as in “They’re going to get a ‘pass’ every time if they keep spelling as badly as they do.”

Your: The possessive case for “you” as in “Your spelling skills suck.”
You’re: The contraction of “you are” as in “You’re in deep doodoo with that script reader because of your lame spelling.”

Our: The possessive case of “we” as in “Our damn spellcheck didn’t catch some spelling errors!”
Hour: A period of time equal to 60 minutes as in “Okay, I’ll take one hour to proofread my script one last time before sending it off to that agent.”

Unless Final Draft has invented HAL the Spellchecker, it won’t catch those boo-boos. You have to be responsible enough to proofread the script yourself. Every last word of it.

Now onto some little spelling tricks I’ve learned through the years:

* There are two “ss’s” in dessert and only one “s” in desert because you want to get through the hot desert as fast as you can, but you want to slow down enjoy your ice cream dessert (i.e., dessert is a longer word than desert).

* Stationery has an “e” because it’s the first letter in the word “envelope” (you know, stationery goes into an envelope) while stationary has an “a” because when you are stationary, your ass isn’t going anywhere.

* You know to spell separate — with an “a” in the middle, not an “e” — because there’s “a rat” in it.

* Lightning does not have an “e” in it because it gave it to its friend electricity.

Now I’ll be the first to confess that I still struggle with spelling. For instance, no matter how many times I use the word entrepreneur, I have to check it in the dictionary. And in a first draft or when I’m in a hurry, I’ll occasionally screw up “its” and “it’s,” “there” and “their,” etc.

But not in the final draft.

BTW this is where significant others can come in handy: Ask them to proofread your final draft. Sometimes a writer’s eyes pass right over misspellings, so a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes can help.

What spelling tips do you have for the GITS community?

Let’s use this post to go beyond spellcheck, all the way to spelling purrfection… er, perfection.

UPDATE: Lots of good suggestions in comments including the practice of printing out your script and doing a final read-thru that way, as opposed to a computer monitor-read. Agreed, typos tend to stand out more on paper. However please print double-sided to minimize eco-impact.

Also got this Tweet from @os1019:

Please add… who’s/whose, to/too/two & an/and into the discussion :P

Oh, heavens yes! C’mon, let’s create a master list of misspelling no-nos! Together we can improve the lives of screenwriters and script readers everywhere!

[Originally posted April 20, 2010]

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