5 Tips To Better Spelling and Grammar
March 29, 2023
When I was in junior high I started writing short stories, but I wasn’t academically inclined and not a particularly good speller. My grammar was also less than stellar. This didn’t stop me; however, and I kept writing my short stories anyway (usually in a notebook with extremely bad handwriting). By the time I was in high school, my uncle who was a writer and journalist read one of my stories and said, I had potential but my spelling and grammar was woeful. He gifted me a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, which taught me more than any teacher ever did.
The important thing is not to let spelling and grammar get in the way of your creativity. You can teach anyone the technical aspects of writing, but imagination is a unique commodity. That said, good spelling and grammar are a surefire way to have your screenplay look professional, especially when you're entering a contest like Final Draft's Big Break (which is now open for submissions!). There are plenty of tools and workarounds (a few of which I reveal below) that’ll assist you in spelling better when writing.
Below are 5 tips to better spelling and grammar:
Read and Write Frequently
When you’re a novelist, it’s expected you’re likewise a big reader. The screenwriter, however, is a different animal. Many screenwriters get into writing because they love movies; oftentimes they’re more “movie people” than “book people.” Now this doesn’t mean screenwriters never read — they probably read the trades, entertainment websites and screenwriting books on a regular basis — but the more varied your reading becomes, the more words you’ll come across. This is why it’s good to throw some autobiographies, biographies and novels into the mix. And unlike on a website, the only thing demanding your attention in a book are the words and sentences.
For similar reasons, it’s also good for a screenwriter to write as much as possible and not just screenplays. Whether you’re writing an online review, commenting on social media, or composing an email, the more you write, the better your spelling and grammar will get. Not just because you’ll be encountering different platforms’ spelling and grammar checks — red and green squiggly lines galore! — but you’ll become more familiar with your own spelling and grammatical blind spots. After a while you’ll figure out when to go with “its” instead of “it’s” and know the difference between “their” and “they’re.”
Think and Sound Things Out
While we’re on the subject of contractions (two or more words combined to form one word), I’ve noticed that a lot of people get thrown by them. Usually the telltale is the apostrophe, which is the little symbol (‘) used to link these abbreviated words. For example, “they’re” is a combination of “they” and “are.” To distinguish a contraction from a similar sounding word, let the apostrophe be your guide. Apostrophes are also used for possessive nouns. But they are not used for possessive pronouns, which is the reason for the frequent confusion between “its” and “it’s.” One is possessive. Example: The dog wags its tail. And the other is a contraction of it and is. Example: It’s the dog’s bone.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing the reason behind certain spellings and thinking things out. Then again, some words don’t need to be contractions or sound like other words to trip you up. For years the word “cower” — as in to crouch down in fear — used to throw me off for some reason. Usually, I was overthinking and not simply sounding it out: “cow” + “er” = “cower”. This is an especially good technique for bigger words with three or more syllables. In most cases, sounding out the word does the trick.
Auto Spelling Checks
In addition to the above methods, beginner writers can simply utilize technology to assist them. I know I often did in my earlier days of screenwriting (and still do on occasion).
Like most word processing programs, screenwriting software like Final Draft have spell check features that assist with a writer’s spelling. If you’re working with a Final Draft document, go to Tools and click on Spelling, which will open the Spelling window. You’ll see two tabs: one marked Spell Check, the other marked Options. The Spell Check will locate every misspelled word, designate it with a red squiggly line underneath and give you the correct spelling and five options: Replace, Replace All, Ignore All, Learn and Ignore. While running the Spell Check, you’ll go through the entire document and choose the five options given to you until you reach your last misspelled word.
The Options tab in the Spelling window gives you language options and three boxes you can check or uncheck: Check capitalization, Check repeated words, and Automatic spell checking. If you check Automatic spell checking, you won’t have to run the Spell Check and go through the entire document to find misspellings; instead, the program will simply designate every misspelled word as you write it with the red squiggly line and you can simply right-click on the word to open up a window of options.
Work That Search Engine
There might be a rare occasion in which a word can’t be found in a spell check (e.g., it’s a slang term). If this occurs, I type the word into a search engine like Google Search and if the word is misspelled, Google usually comes back with the correct spelling. And in the rare occasion when Google’s auto-correct doesn’t do the trick, I type in various spellings until the right one emerges. Also, when you’re using the search engine, you can double check the spelling by doing a quick scroll through the word’s search results.
Use Grammarly via Final Draft 12
Final Draft 12 now offers integration with Grammarly, which is a desktop app that helps writers edit and proofread their work. Grammarly reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement, and delivery mistakes in English texts, detects plagiarism and suggests replacements for the identified errors.
If you have the free or premium version of Grammarly installed and running on your computer, it can be used in conjunction with Final Draft (you need Final Draft 12.0.7 or later installed to use Grammarly). You’ll see the Grammarly icon within Final Draft — like you would in any other program — and it’ll automatically underline spelling and grammatical errors. You simply click on the Grammarly icon and a window opens with corrections you can accept or dismiss. Clicking on the underlined word or phrase will also show options for corrections in a popup menu.
With the above tools and tips, proper spelling and grammar shouldn’t be a concern for a writer.
You can just let your imagination run wild and deal with the squiggly lines afterwards…!!
Written by: Edwin CannistraciEdwin Cannistraci is a professional screenwriter. His comedy specs PIERRE PIERRE and O’GUNN both sold with more than one A-list actor and director attached. In addition, he’s successfully pitched feature scripts, TV pilots and has landed various assignment jobs for Universal, Warner Bros, Paramount and Disney.