Every screenwriter should listen to his or her scripts read out loud. While some might think it’s not worth the effort to do a read-through, there are several advantages. When writing, we often don’t see the fluff and filler, or extra dialogue that can clutter up a script. When a script is read out loud, it’s amazing how quickly we discover where certain elements are not working. Hearing your script read out loud can help you identify the characters and establish the storyline. It becomes much easier to look objectively at your plot, the development of characters, and all of the directives.
Reading out loud is an effective approach for improving your writing.
I teach screenwriting in Santa Barbara, and reading workshops are always a part of the classroom process. It is a crucial part of the process for a screenwriter. Because I live in an area that has a lot of acting professionals, I’ve been privileged to have many actors attend my workshops. When a pro reads your script, it takes the workshop experience to another level.
Workshops have been around for a long time — it’s no secret the importance they play in the writing process. In fact, most universities encourage students to read their work out loud, because they recognize the significance of giving voice to text. When you stare at a piece of writing day after day, week after week, or month after month, there is a tendency to miss sections of the writing that otherwise might be stagnant and un-unified.
And most important, there should be a rhythm to dialogue. It’s a kind of music that travels — a motion that helps drive the plot forward, and without it a script will lag. Screenplays are not meant to remain on paper, and it doesn’t matter how good a line looks. What matters is how it sounds, delivered by an actor giving your character life.
But who is going to read your script out loud?
If you live near Los Angeles or New York City, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding actors. But even then, it’s tough to schedule a read-through, and there are expenses like snacks and printed scripts. If you’re not near an actors’ hub, it gets even more challenging. So what can you do?
I am the community liaison for ReadThrough.com, a completely free script-performing website. Guy Goldstein, a screenwriter and programmer from Santa Barbara, created the site. On ReadThrough.com, you can securely upload a script and select from a list of voice actors (the site automatically recommends a cast). There is even an option to add background music and sound effects, helping create a full audio production.
While ReadThrough.com will never replace having live actors come together, there are a number of advantages. First off, it’s extremely easy and there is no cost. When you’re done, you have a recorded version of your script to listen to from anywhere—even your daily commute. You may share it with your friends and contacts, but the script is kept private except for people you give access to. You can make performance notes, and most actors will gladly revise their recordings. And if you edit your script or want to change actors, only the new parts have to be recorded.
Famed screenwriters like David Trottier have linked to ReadThrough.com, and UCLA’s Richard Walter has tweeted about the program. It’s not only valuable to listen to your script out loud… it can be simple.
Whether you workshop your writing with a screenwriting group, or in the privacy of your home using a site like ReadThrough.com, you will find that hearing your script read out loud makes a world of difference in the writing process. Do it early, do it often, but most importantly… please do it.