Steps to Finding the Right Script Editor

two way arrows on street at night

Scriptwriters need script editors. But there are editors and there are editors. If you’re not exactly sure what you want, finding an excellent script editor versus finding an ordinary one can be a frustrating and expensive process. The following suggestions raise some issues to be aware of when hiring an expert to help you improve your story.

One. Talk to the prospective script editor. Try to learn their philosophy and sensibility. Every writer/editor has a conscious or subconscious philosophy about life and this includes his cinematic ideals and sensibilities. If, for example, you the writer have a positive view of life and your editor has a fatalistic one, it can be problematic if he edits your story. Similarly, if he likes Farrelly Brothers gross-out comedies and you prefer the Coen Brothers more literary kind, or if he writes special-FX driven horror and you write character-driven social dramas, these potential conflicts in sensibilities may restrict how much the editor will be able to help you. One way to learn a script editor’s philosophical bent and literary tastes is to ask him about his favourite writers and movies. Forty Shades of Grey and Franz Kafka do not mix well. American Beauty does not meet American Pie. There are, of course, great script editors who can work across many genres and styles. Such editors respect a writer’s personal values and are objective about the scripts they edit, and are not biased by their own personal tastes.

Two. Often editors have genres they are more expert in or prefer to work in. While some editors can be generalists able to edit many genres, you don’t always want a romantic comedy expert to edit your gripping action thriller. So, ask your prospective editor if she has any specialties in the stories she edits or has genres she prefers not to edit. It helps if you’re both ‘in the same movie’.

Three. Before working with an editor try to know what you need. Do you feel your script’s structure is off, that its conflicts are one-note, or its characters are one-dimensional? That your plot is clichéd or your characters unlikable? Knowing what is working and not working in your script will help you determine if your editor is the guy you need. It helps if you’re both ‘on the same page’. If you want a long-term relationship with a script editor, ask yourself what you need to learn as a writer. If, for example, you are weak at creating deep characters ask your expert how to deepen characters. If he’s good, he will clearly tell you what deep characters are. If he’s great, he’ll show you how to create complex and captivating characters. 

Four. Listen to what the expert focuses on during your preliminary conversation with them. Look for a broad knowledge of genre, story, structure and characters. Be wary of talk about what the market is looking for, that your script will never sell, that you should write this genre or that type of character to sell, and so on. After all, who really knows what will sell or end up getting produced? Always remember, your story is a dramatization of your values and ideals, not those of your editor. Do keep in mind, however, that a story with a Nazi, Communist or ISIS hero is gonna be a hard sell. When vetting an editor also notice if he relies on script guru jargon and speaks in vague clichés, or focuses too much on formatting. Reading a book on scriptwriting does not an editor make.

Five. As with hiring any expert, whether a dentist, lawyer or computer technician, do your research. Ask for references or testimonials. Check out her experience and qualifications. Read her script samples, or her writing about writing. She may have articles, blog posts or film reviews for you to read. Check out fiction she’s written. The findings of such research can be revealing but are also tricky to judge. A good writer does not always make a good script editor or communicator. And a bad writer might have an excellent understanding of how story works and be a skilled communicator. But generally speaking, it is better if your expert understands writing from the perspective of a writer, ie, from inside the writer’s head and not as some professor analysing writing from the outside. A high-level expert can not only tell you something needs fixing, they can show you how to do it, for instance how to create deeper characters, or stronger structure or individualized dialogue. 

Six. When you meet with the editor, does he listen, or does he know everything and like to listen to his own genius? Can he answer your questions with simple explanations and without resorting to jargon? Can he explain writing issues using the principles of good writing? The more conscious an editor is of the principles of good writing, the better he can spot them, or their lack, in your writing and explain them to you. Is this someone you can spend a lot of time with? Is he professional? You shouldn’t expect any expert to know everything but some will amaze you with the depth of their experience, knowledge and insights.

These are some good points to raise, however please don’t ask any prospective editor all the above questions especially if the editor is a seasoned player with acknowledged skill. But I hope these notes will help you in your search to find the best script editor for you and your project. If the editor reveals themselves as highly knowledgeable, objective and skilled, they are worth every hard-earned dollar you’ll pay them, and your story and writing knowledge will greatly improve.

Scott McConnell