When a reader gets a script from the spec pile, they usually don’t have a clue who the writer is, or where the writer comes from. The script is going to be representative of everything the reader’s going to assume about the writer’s personality, talents and abilities.
To this end, some common phrases, mistakes and typos appear to suggest the screenwriter is not quite up to the task of writing a good script. Some of these blemishes are not immediately suggestive of a hack wannabe, but are usually indicative of someone with a poor regard for the basic use of the English language. Here are a few examples:
“Your / You’re”: Your refers to what the person owns (Yours doesn’t have an apostrophe). You’re is a contraction of ‘You are’. Any confusion about the matter should have been cleared up in the Under 10s grammar school.
In a fit of writing momentum, even the best writers may type you’re when they mean your, but that’s why proof reading a script is important.
“They’re / There / Their”: Oh dear, where to begin? They’re=They are. There=adverb denoting that place or position. Their= possessive pronoun (belonging to them). Again, basic stuff, but why oh why do so many aspiring screenwriters get it wrong?
“Its / It’s / It is”: The only form of ‘Its’ that’s correctly used anymore seems to be ‘It is’. The regularity of Its and It’s being misplaced seems to suggest that it’s been universally accepted that its no big deal (sic). Its is a possessive pronoun (of itself), It’s is a contraction of ‘It is’.
Just because they look alike and sound the same doesn’t mean your intention is clearly understood when you disregard their true meaning. “The lion licked it’s paw” doesn’t make any sense because what you are really saying is “The lion licked it is paw”. This might seem pedantic (I know there are those who say ‘jeesh, forgetaboutit’) but you wouldn’t dare omitting the correct apostrophe for a person’s name - Michael’s, not Michaels; or a word where an apostrophe exclusion would just seem odd, and wrong (isnt, theyre, cant - isn’t, they’re, can’t).
“A rye smile”: As in, someone gives a wry smile. I have yet to read someone taking a bite out of a wholemeal sandwich and then giving a rye smile; that would be fine. But rye smiles pop up quite frequently. Maybe the characters have drunk too much whiskey.
“Clearly drunk / clearly smitten / clearly this guy mean’s business”. Oh yeah, why is it so clear? Show it to us, buster, don’t use lazy shortcuts.
Everyone uses ‘clearly’ in their scripts so why not be a bit more vivid and evocative in yours, and command the reader’s attention with a distinctive style?
I’ll have a think about other stock phrases and mistakes, but if other readers out there have their own pet-hates and observations, feel free to share.