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Computer "Feedback" as a Writer

As a writer, I use technology to help me navigate past the gatekeepers of scriptwriting. Few people realize that when you send a script for stage or screen to any production company, the "Readers" (a job title) tend to come from MFA and Ph.D. programs. These aspiring writers earn a living determining what scripts move to the next stage of consideration (pun intended).

The "Coverage Sheet" used by film and some theater companies represents a grading rubric. If a work adheres to the formula, it has a better chance of being advanced in the process. I'm not claiming that the readers know best, but I am admitting that you need to get to the next step or your work is dead.

Based on feedback from producers, I developed Word VBA and AppleScript macros to analyze my scripts and mark potential red flags.

Some of the "rules" my macros mark are mistaken knowledge the readers insist is accurate. We know they are wrong, as writing instructors, but that does not matter to me as a scriptwriter or playwright. Readers repeatedly mark sentences like "The rose has wilted" as a passive sentence, instead of a "perfect" verb tense. My macros mark verbs to avoid, based on such feedback. The complete list of words and phrases I remove totals about 60 strings in the macro.

Other rules they enforce? The 25-word maximum sentence. The 4-line narrative block. The readers insist these "rules" represent the "right" way to compose a script. After running my macros, I know what to "fix" for the overworked readers so my script might move ahead.

Does this method improve my writing? I doubt it. But, with several productions underway, it seems to help me get the desired result. Adhering to the rules, I have plays on stage and royalty agreements signed… however mercenary that is. (Considering the topics I address, I'm fine doing what I must to get social commentary advanced.)

Reading the conversations about assessment, it's curious that as a professional writer, I find that software helps me follow stupid "rules" to earn the "grade" I want on the coverage sheets. While I am arguing to my students that we should be encourage new approaches to writing, I'm embracing the same approach to writing that they learned for the SAT or ACT essays.

Cracking the code of the rubric seems to be lifelong pursuit for some writers.


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