There’s no greater sense of accomplishment than, after months or perhaps even years of toiling over your script, you get to type those magical words: “FADE OUT.” Your characters have said what they have to say. Your plot has reached its inevitable conclusion. Your story has reached its end.
[Insert maniacal laugh here.] Sadly, more work is needed — but you don’t know that because you’ve yet to hear your words spoken by actors. Among the problems you’ve yet to discover:
- Your characters have said more than they need to say;
- Their dialogue is more dull than interesting; and,
- Your characters all probably sound alike.
But it’s okay; it happens to all writers, and it can be fixed.
For a “finished” script, the best thing to do is hear what you’ve written read aloud by actors. Final Draft, for example, has a feature that allows you to listen to male and female voices read through your script, but the software can’t provide the valued feedback an actor can, such as, “I don’t understand why my character would react this way.”
In short: there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Tips for a successful and insightful script read-through:
- Tell your actor friend(s) you need actors to read through your script, and within hours your cast will be magically assembled because actors live to practice their craft. If you don’t know any actors, search online for local theatre message boards and post what you need, for example: “One male, aged 50;” “two females, aged 20,” etc.
- In addition to assembling the cast, be sure to assign one person to read the scene headings and action.
- Give the actors the script in advance — not for memorizing their parts, but to get familiar with the dialogue, character and action descriptions you’ve written.
- Hold the read-through in a place where you won’t be interrupted. You can rent a small theatre space for a few hours quite cheaply or perhaps even get it for free.
- Do not read anything yourself; you need to listen.
- Avoid the urge to take notes, because you may miss “hearing” something critical. Listen! You can take notes later when you listen to the recording (continue reading for details about recording).
- No interruptions; the script must be experienced as if you were sitting in a theatre watching the story unfold.
- Do not let the actors improvise; the purpose of this exercise is to identify ways to improve upon what you have written, and to do that successfully you must be able to hear what you have written so you can precisely identify what needs to be improved. This is a critical learning process for you, the writer, so treat it as such.
- Record the read-through with a tape recorder or your laptop or whatever, and make sure the microphone is close to the actors to minimize the ambient noise.
- After the read-through, let the actors comment on character, dialogue, story. Ask open-ended questions as well as specific questions. The actors most likely will have more questions for you and, better yet, suggestions that will improve your dialogue.
- If you have time after the read-through, select one or two pivotal scenes and allow the actors to get on their feet and move within the imaginary world of your story; this will unleash new opportunities for the actors and provide more insight into what has been overwritten.
- Compensate the actors in some way for their time and professional insights. Provide food and drink, gift cards, etc.
A read-through typically is a private event — exclusive to the writers and actors — but a public reading can add the audience perspective, which can be unnerving, so prepare yourself. TheFilmSchool in Seattle holds public readings several times a year in a theatre, which is as entertaining as attending a play or watching a film.
The important thing to remember is writing is a process that requires a lot of rewriting, and the read-through will help you improve the way you communicate your story to the audience.