The Importance of Being Earnest as an Editor

I have also edited plays for other playwrights, along with movie scripts and books.  The thing that disturbs me most is the number of spelling and grammatical errors I find.  Why do these errors happen?  Because playwrights take the time to craft a play, but often fail to properly edit their works.  I pride myself on my plays being error-free, done by reading and rereading each play before sending it out.

Why is this so important?  Well, what do you plan to do with your plays after you finish writing them?  Let them sit in a drawer gathering dust?  Or try to get them performed?  Hopefully, you have loftier ambitions than filling a file cabinet with your plays.  So we agree your goal will be to look for opportunities to share your works with the theater-going public.  You could look for playwriting contests, collaborate with other playwrights to polish your plays and do staged readings or performances, or identify theaters that read plays and present them.

So you have a completed play you think is wonderful and have identified an opportunity to get that play read or even performed.  You send out your play and it is received by the contest organizer or theater.  How do you think they will react to a play full of errors?  If I read a play submitted with errors, errors everywhere, I would think the playwright didn’t care much about their work.

If you have chosen to be a playwright, you have accepted a position that requires you to become quite adept with the English language.  You can convey so much with those 26 letters and the available punctuation marks.  Learn them well.  And after you finish your play, edit carefully to make sure you have conveyed the message you want to others, including any future Directors and casts of your play.

For example, Bob asks:  “Who wants tickets to see Romeo and Juliet tonight?”  Sally replies:  “We two.”  Sally and her friend Susie want tickets.  Susie next responds:  “We!  Two.”  Susie is a more excited about those tickets and specifies how many she would like.  Finally, Sandra said:  “We, too.”  This indicates she and her friend also want tickets.  With minor spelling changes in two words that sound alike, and by using different punctuation marks, you convey different messages.  What an exciting challenge.  But you need to ensure that what you write conveys the message you want.  Suppose you wanted to show Sandra was giddy with excitement over getting two of those tickets.  You meant for her to yell out:  “WHEE!  TWO!”  But you forgot to edit, and omitted Sandra’s glee over getting those tickets.  That could change the tone of the entire play.   

So have fun writing your play.  But remember to edit it to ensure your play delivers the message you want.

Lenny Levy


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