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Tuesday, 1 July 2008


I used to work at Random House Children's Books where part of my job was to read the Unsoliciteds, a massive, heaving, living, breathing pile of desperation and hope. Very occasionally a story would leap out and smack me in the face, like good writing does. And equally occasionally, I would get The Card. This was when a hopeful author, rather than just sending the bloody manuscript, would try to stand out, by sending an announcement of the impending arrival of the manuscript. Watch out for Stunty the Organic Apple and his trials and tribulations as he tries to find acceptance among the genetically modified apples! Or Caspar Carrot and his Carroty Friends. (We went through a phase of receiving stories about vegetables in existential crisis). Alas, far from warming the cockles of my heart, I would usually swear loudly and make a mental note to puree Stunty the Apple when he arrived on my desk. Oh and you know how comedy writers are always told never to try and make their covering letter funny? It's the same with children's books. When you write a covering letter, don't put teddies in the margin, or pictures of your cat. And do try not to enclose pictures of yourself stark naked along with your heart warming tale of a lonely woodlouse.

The Card would be followed the next day by a leather bound manuscript, (yes, I mean leather bound) beautifully presented, perfectly typed and always always absolutely 100% terrible. Always. These were the children's books with titles like Jesus Bear, Two Boys and a Ferret and Hell and Damnation (Illustrated). It seemed so cruel to reward all this effort with a rejection slip but given that we received 20 - 50 manuscripts per day, it got easier.

My point is that it's terribly easy to get caught up in presentation. I was talking about writing books but it's the same with scripts. There's a really great post here from Jobbing Scriptwriter about the proliferation of EXPERTS who can tell you the 'secrets' of scriptwriting. That you should always use a particular style or font which naturally only THEY can tell you. And when you Google this supposed expert, you can never work out what films they actually wrote, and what their real hands on experience actually is. You do Google them don't you? You don't just accept their word that they are a 'world famous scriptwriter'?

Of course a script needs to be presentable and professional but a great story isn't going to get rejected because the font is wrong. All that matters are the words.

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