Wikipedia:WikiProject Film/Style guidelines/Copy-editing essentials

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The articles that come under the film project's scope have the potential to be the finest resources available anywhere on film production, from those that cover individual films to those that speak of filmmaking technology and history. As well as pursuing high standards of accuracy, verification and neutrality, the quality of prose and formatting of our film articles should aim to be of a professional standard. Good prose is important to maintaining and increasing the authority and reputation of these articles, and their contribution to our understanding of the filmmaking process and the significance of cinema as one of the foremost cultural products of the modern age.

The writing does not need to be beautiful: the challenge is that it be engaging as well as plain and easy to read. Here are general tips on what to aim for in copy-editing film articles.

Organisational tipsEdit

Teamwork can be essential to producing good film articles. Unless you have a lot of experience and the right range of skills, you'll need to be a team-player, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and matching them up with those of others.

Try to network with the membership of WikiProject Films. There are three important factors in how you prioritise your social/professional networking with other editors:

  1. What film topics are they interested in?
  2. What skills do they have? (There are many possibilities, among them copy-editing, researching secondary sources and verification, as well as filmmaking disciplines such as cinematography, visual effects and music.)
  3. How amenable are they to collaborating with you on your chosen topics?

Building fresh collaborations or finding your way into an existing network of editors is very much a social experience. The benefits need to be reciprocal, at least over time, and are partly based on whether people like interacting with you and partly on the fit of your skills and knowledge with theirs. It should be an enjoyable experience.

You may also have opportunities to attract into Wikiproject Films non-member Wikipedians (and even people who are not yet Wikipedians), either to work on a single project or on a longer-term basis. Naturally, this is strongly encouraged by the WikiProject.

Copy-editors are in short supply at Wikipedia, so if copy-editing is not your strength, you'll need to do two things:

  1. Locate those who are good at it; more information on how to do this can be found here.
  2. Be prepared to do the aspects of copy-editing that are easier to learn and perform beforehand.

Often, copy-editors and those with the substantive knowledge of the topic and its sources will need to interact to produce the professional product. This can occur both on the talk page and in invisible comments to other editors, which can be inserted into the body of the article text. Take care to use the latter method judiciously and without mistakenly changing the appearance of the text.

Ways to improve your copy-editingEdit

Style guidesEdit

  • Be familiar with the Wikiproject Films content guide, which gives tips on article structure and aspects of style.
  • Probably the best place to start after this is the concise Manual of Style, which is only 40% of the size of the main style guide (see below), but covers almost all of the scope.
  • Ease yourself into at least a passing knowledge of the main Wikipedia style guides:

These documents contain much detailed information (English is that kind of language—big and baggy and needing lots of reining in). Don't be daunted by their size: they are there to assist you, and gradually you'll become familiar with the issues and know where to access them quickly and easily if you need to.

Observe the FAC, FLC and GA processesEdit

It can be instructive to see what reviewers say about the prose of other articles, and to observe the diffs of nominations as they improve in this respect. Look at other film articles that have become featured articles; it may be useful to concentrate on recently-promoted articles rather than older ones, as the overall standard of Wikipedia's featured articles has increased year-on-year.

Strategic distanceEdit

Strategic distance is an important tool for getting the most out of your writing and editing. Ironically, being too close to the text you're working on can be a disadvantage. There are several ways of temporarily distancing yourself from it, including the following:

  • Regularly press the "Show preview" button to peruse the text in a different visual display from that of the edit window.
  • Print out the text and mark it up with a pen, preferably in a different environment from where you normally edit (cafes are good for that).
  • Take time out from it: come back refreshed.
  • Get someone else to go through it.
  • Read it in reverse, section-by-section, or even sentence-by-sentence.
  • Read it aloud.

In terms of your workflow organisation, it is often helpful to copy-edit more than one article or section at a time, and to alternate between them regularly to freshen up your mind. One might require a more high-level copy-edit; the other a more clerical copy-edit.

Language tipsEdit

Generally write for non-expertsEdit

Aim to bring all readers into your topic. It's easy to assume expert or semi-expert knowledge when you're close to a topic; try to read it as though you're an interested, intelligent non-expert. There may be occasional exceptions; for example, where a topic or section is highly technical, such as on film equipment, technology, practice, and terminology, it may be appropriate to pitch the material at readers with specialised knowledge. Even so, try to speak to as wide a readership as possible through the judicious use of focused wikilinking and brief definitions (often within parentheses, dashes or commas); however, you'll know you're trying too hard to explain things if the text becomes cluttered. Editorial judgement and feedback from your collaborators is important in this respect.

Plain EnglishEdit

Our language is one of the few in which elegance and plainness are intertwined.

Simple vocabulary. Choose basic rather than elaborate words (filming began, not lensing commenced; the scene was completed in an hour, not within an hour, unless you want to imply that an hour was some kind of deadline). There are more suggestions for plain word-choice here.

Simple grammar. Like vocabulary, simple grammatical structures are preferred. Here's an example:

How you can make this sentence crisper?
"It was decided by Alan Smithee, the director of the film, that another attempt to shoot the scene was to be carried out."
Hint
It's indirect, over-elaborate and wordy. The problem lies in the unnecessary passive voice ("was decided by" and again, "to be carried out"); this can be a turn-off for readers. Use active voice and you can place the important bits earlier.
Solution

"Alan Smithee, the film's director, decided to shoot the scene again."

Or "attempted to shoot the scene again", depending on the context.


Long snakes. Avoid long, winding sentences; they're too taxing on your readers' working memory. They can typically be split in two using a semicolon or a period (full-stop):

Where can you split this snake?
"Smithee was an actor for most of the 1980s, and was involved in several successful productions during the decade, taking leading parts in several action films, as well as smaller roles in period dramas, where his method style upset many of his fellow cast members."
Split here?

"Smithee was an actor for most of the 1980s, and was involved in several successful productions during the decade, taking leading parts in several action films, as well as smaller roles in period dramas, where his method style impressed many of his fellow cast members."

But how will you make the split?
Solution
"Smithee was an actor for most of the 1980s, and was involved in several successful productions during the decade. He took leading parts in several action films, as well as smaller roles in period dramas, where his method style impressed many of his fellow cast members."


Similarly, gigantic paragraphs are daunting for the readers. Identify where you might break them to allow readers to "start afresh" and download the previous information, as it were, into their long-term memory.

RedundancyEdit

Redundancy, rather than poor grammar and spelling, is the biggest source of problems in prose. A smooth read requires no wasted words: simple as that. All good writing is lean; it's an acquired skill—an attitude that, with practice, you can switch on easily. Here's an example.

Identify two redundant phrases
"The budget restrictions imposed by the cost-cutting studio meant that the director was unable to follow a filming schedule that would allow him to shoot the battle scenes in the film."
Hint
What information are you given twice in the first eight words? Near the end, what information is likely to be implicit, given the context of the article?
Solution

"The budget restrictions imposed by the cost-cutting studio meant that the director was unable to follow a filming schedule that would allow him to shoot the battle scenes in the film."

But wait: there's more you can do. You'll find that a lot of fat can be cut without selling its ideas short. By swapping the subject order and considering what might be implicit given the wider context of the article, twelve more words could be lost without losing the intended meaning or introducing ambiguities.
Where to look for savings
"The studio's budget restrictions imposed by the studio meant that the director was unable to follow a filming schedule that would allow him to shoot the battle scenes."
Even better?

"The studio's budget restrictions meant that the director was unable to shoot the battle scenes."

Alternatively, "schedule the battle scenes", "prevented the director from shooting the battle scenes" or simply "Budget restrictions prevented the filming of battle scenes", depending on the context.


Consider trying out your skills on more "weeding" exercises, here.

PrecisionEdit

Be precise where possible. Principal photography took place on several of the studio's Los Angeles backlots.. If it's not mentioned elsewhere in the article, ask the content-writers how many backlots there were. Could be interesting: Principal photography took place on three of the studio's Los Angeles backlots (filming at a fourth was abandoned after it burned down in 2008)..

Unnecessary sequence wordsEdit

Many of our articles tell the story of a film's development, writing, filming, release and reception. Stories are strings of actions and facts, and once the reader knows it's a narrative description of a film's journey to the screen, you can usually strengthen the flow by removing such sequence items as "then", "in addition", "also", "next", and "after this" (ironic, isn't it).

RepetitionEdit

English is more particular than most languages about the close repetition of words. By this, we don't mean common grammatical words—such as "the" and "to"—but lexical items. The less frequently used the word normally is, the more the reader will notice its close repetition.

Problem text: identify the repeated word.
"The scene required two simultaneous explosions, one in the foreground and another in the background. Smithee was to supervise the foreground explosion; the second unit director was to supervise the latter explosion. After both explosions, squibs were to be detonated to simulate shrapnel impacts on the actors' bodies."
Hint: identify a simple substitution of one of the underlined words.
"The scene required two simultaneous explosions, one in the foreground and another in the background. Smithee was to supervise the foreground explosion; the second unit director was to supervise the latter explosion. After both explosions, squibs were to be detonated to simulate shrapnel impacts on the actors' bodies."
A solution
"The scene required two simultaneous explosions, one in the foreground and another in the background. Smithee was to supervise the foreground explosion; the second unit director was to supervise the latter background explosion. After both blasts, squibs were to be detonated to simulate shrapnel impacts on the actors' bodies."
Comments
  • Four occurrences of "explosion(s)" were too many in this short space.
  • In addition, we thought "latter explosion" was pretty ugly, and thought of a more direct back-reference.


However, repetition isn't quite as simple as this. There's bad repetition, such as we've just looked at, and there's good repetition. Too much elegant variation can introduce ambiguity and "set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none." (Fowler, 1926) In a well-written article, a common word such as "said" will not draw attention to itself, so don't be scared of some repetition, as using increasingly unusual synonyms to avoid repeating yourself can become ridiculous (stated, noted, claimed, uttered, expressed, verbalized, gave tongue to!).

Explicitly "back-referring" to an important word by repeating it can make the text more cohesive and sometimes avoids ambiguity:

Where would repeating words be more precise?
"After seeing Cabaret, Jinks and Cohen arranged a meeting with Mendes. He said he 'pitched himself' to DreamWorks executives, finding the support of the producers and Ball; the latter had also seen Cabaret and was impressed with Mendes' 'keen visual sense' and the way in which he did not make obvious directorial choices."
Solution

"After seeing Cabaret, Jinks and Cohen arranged a meeting with Mendes. He said he 'pitched himself' to DreamWorks executives, finding the support of the producers Jinks, Cohen and Ball; the latter the writer had also seen Cabaret and was impressed with Mendes' 'keen visual sense' and the way in which he did not make obvious directorial choices."

Repeating "Jinks" and "Cohen" makes it clear; in addition, using "the writer" is a useful variation here, as it is less clumsy than "the latter" and its close proximity to "Ball" renders it unambiguous.

ConsistencyEdit

Inconsistency in naming and formatting throughout an article makes the text subtly more difficult to read. Sifting through an article, using your memory of what has come before to pick up glitches, is a good exercise for editors who are relatively inexperienced at copy-editing. Here are just a few examples of common inconsistencies in the same article:

  • A spaced en dash like this and then an unspaced em dashlike thisin an article.
  • 6 January and then February 14.
  • Film-making and later Filmmaking.
  • 2nd unit director and then second unit director.

Don't lose the plotEdit

In many articles about individual films, the first section will be one that describes the plot. These are usually appropriate for complementing the wider coverage that follows about the film's production, reception, themes, and other real-world aspects. However, be wary of including too much fine detail, and analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims about the story; the plot section, usually being the first that your readers will encounter, will be a major turn-off if it is too large or difficult to read. Typically, 400–700 words will be enough to describe the plot of a feature-length film, even ones that have an unusually complex structure.

Some of the lessons learned so far can be adapted to help you craft a concise plot section that nevertheless leaves out nothing necessary for a full understanding of the article. Here's an example from an old version of our article on Changeling (2008), a film that runs to 121 minutes:

Problem text: identify the extraneous plot information
"In 1928 Los Angeles, Christine Collins is a telephone company worker and single mother to nine-year-old Walter. Returning home from work one day, she finds that Walter is missing. Two weeks pass with no sign of the boy. Reverend Gustav Briegleb gives sermons at his church and on the radio publicizing Christine's plight and railing against the Los Angeles Police Department for its incompetence, corruption and the extrajudicial punishment meted out to criminals by the department's 'Gun Squad', led by Police Chief Davis. Several months later ..."
Hint: What can be left out while allowing an understanding of the broad strokes?
"In 1928 Los Angeles, Christine Collins is a telephone company worker and single mother to nine-year-old Walter. Returning home from work one day, she finds that Walter is missing. Two weeks pass with no sign of the boy. Reverend Gustav Briegleb gives sermons at his church and on the radio publicizing Christine's plight and railing against the Los Angeles Police Department for its incompetence, corruption and the extrajudicial punishment meted out to criminals by the department's 'Gun Squad', led by Police Chief Davis. Several months later ..."
A solution
"In 1928 Los Angeles, single mother Christine Collins returns home to discover her nine-year-old son, Walter, is missing. Reverend Gustav Briegleb (Malkovich) publicizes Christine's plight and rails against the Los Angeles Police Department for its incompetence, corruption and the extrajudicial punishment meted out by its 'Gun Squad', led by Chief James E. Davis. Several months later ..."
Comments
  • Is it necessary for the reader to know where Christine works, or that she was coming back from work when she discovered her son was missing? Everything the reader needs to know about why she might not be home with her son is conveyed by calling her a "single mother".
  • That the boy is still missing after two weeks is fine detail; the line that follows tells us the boy is still missing, as does "Several months later ..."
  • Does it confuse the reader not to know where the Reverend is sermonising from? No.
  • It need not be said to whom the LAPD is meting out the "extrajudicial punishment"; the implication is clear.


It might not seem that a lot has been removed from the example above, but the paragraph has been reduced from 88 words to 56; over the course of the section, this will add up to a significant saving. The current version is 628 words, almost 300 shorter than the original and just as comprehensive. Here's one last exercise taken from an old version of Psycho (1960):

Problem text: identify the extraneous plot information

"In Phoenix, Arizona, lovers Marion Crane and Sam Loomis want to marry, but cannot, for Sam is in debt and must also pay heavy alimony to his ex-wife. One day, her boss asks Marion to deposit $40,000 in cash from a rich real estate client at the bank for safekeeping. Unhappy and desperate to improve her situation, Marion seizes the opportunity and steals the money. She goes home early and decides to drive to California, where Sam lives. All the while, Marion is nervous and apprehensive, and drives well into the night, eventually parking alongside the road to sleep. She is awakened by a concerned highway police officer, who warns her that it is dangerous to sleep in a car on a busy highway and tells her that there are many motels that she can use in the future. However, Marion's agitation and desperation to leave arouses his suspicions. He allows her to go on, but follows her, which agitates Marion further. Realizing that he now knows her plate number and can track her when the money is reported missing, she stops at a used car dealership and trades her 1956 Ford Mainline plus $700 of the money for a 1957 Ford Custom 300 before continuing to California. However, the same officer has been watching the exchange from across the street and gets her new plate number. Marion leaves, worrying that the car trader will express suspicions of his own to the officer.

"Marion becomes fatigued from stress and driving in heavy rain and decides to find a proper place to stay for the night, fearing a reprise of the incident with the patrolman. She turns off the main road without realizing it, and arrives at the Bates Motel, a 12-cabin lodging, rather out-of-the-way with no other guests at present. The owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), explains to her that business has decreased dramatically since a new road bypassed the motel. Norman says that he does what little work is left, and that he also looks after his mother, who he indicates lives in the sinister-looking house on top of a hill beside the motel. Marion checks in under an assumed name, though she accidentally gives her real name to him later."
Comments (1)
That's 372 words before even getting to the action at the Bates Motel! Speed it up a little; we don't need a blow-by-blow account or too many interpretative claims about how characters are feeling.
Hint: what doesn't the reader need to know?

"In Phoenix, Arizona, lovers Marion Crane and Sam Loomis want to marry, but cannot, for Sam is in debt and must also pay heavy alimony to his ex-wife. One day, her boss asks Marion to deposit $40,000 in cash from a rich real estate client at the bank for safekeeping. Unhappy and desperate to improve her situation, Marion seizes the opportunity and steals the money. She goes home early and decides to drive to California, where Sam lives. All the while, Marion is nervous and apprehensive, and drives well into the night, eventually parking alongside the road to sleep. She is awakened by a concerned highway police officer, who warns her that it is dangerous to sleep in a car on a busy highway and tells her that there are many motels that she can use in the future. However, Marion's agitation and desperation to leave arouses his suspicions. He allows her to go on, but follows her, which agitates Marion further. Realizing that he now knows her plate number and can track her when the money is reported missing, she stops at a used car dealership and trades her 1956 Ford Mainline plus $700 of the money for a 1957 Ford Custom 300 before continuing to California. However, the same officer has been watching the exchange from across the street and gets her new plate number. Marion leaves, worrying that the car trader will express suspicions of his own to the officer.

"Marion becomes fatigued from stress and driving in heavy rain and decides to find a proper place to stay for the night, fearing a reprise of the incident with the patrolman. She turns off the main road without realizing it, and arrives at the Bates Motel, a 12-cabin lodging, rather out-of-the-way with no other guests at present. The owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), explains to her that business has decreased dramatically since a new road bypassed the motel. Norman says that he does what little work is left, and that he also looks after his mother, who he indicates lives in the sinister-looking house on top of a hill beside the motel. Marion checks in under an assumed name, though she accidentally gives her real name to him later."
A solution
"In need of money to marry her boyfriend, Sam, Marion Crane steals $40,000 from her employer and flees Phoenix, Arizona by car. While en route to Sam's California home, she parks alongside the road to sleep. The next morning, a highway patrol officer wakes her and, suspicious of Marion's agitation, follows her. When she trades her car for another at a dealership, the officer notes the new vehicle's details. Marion returns to the road but, rather than drive in a heavy storm, decides to spend the night at the Bates Motel. Norman Bates, who lives with his mother in a sinister-looking house on a hill overlooking the motel, tells Marion he rarely has customers because of the motel's disconnection from a new interstate. Marion uses an assumed name, but later unwittingly gives Norman her real one."
Comments (2)
  • It isn't necessary to say for whom Marion works or why Sam is short of cash; the former isn't important and the latter isn't mentioned again in the film.
  • The fine detail about the patrol officer's trailing of Marion is replaced by a much shorter version that tells the reader exactly the same information.
  • Leave interpretive claims about why characters are doing things, and what they're thinking, to the secondary sources.
  • What possible relevance can the makes and models of Marion's two cars have?
  • With some rewording to accommodate the removals, the new version is shorter by nearly 250 words, yet gives the reader all they need to know to understand the rest of the plot and the article.


Provide only what is necessary to set the rest of the article in its appropriate context. For example, if the Changeling article were to later discuss production information about the Reverend's radio addresses, it may be appropriate to place that detail in the plot section to avoid confusing the reader ["what radio address?"]. Alternatively, if discussion of such is limited to one part of the article, mention it there to keep the plot section short. Use your own knowledge of the film to decide what's important. If you haven't seen it, ask those that have.

The straight lineEdit

Make the flow of consciousness simple. Often, our articles will describe the long, complex process of a film's development; it can be hard to present such a narrative logically to readers, especially when you know the story well yourself. Here's an example from the lead of a non-existent article, summarising the production. Remember that the non-expert readers know nothing yet—this is their first taste of the subject. Make a mental note of the queries many readers would have. Don't expect them to divert to the links right now.

Problem text: read this carefully, think about it, then proceed.
"Cleaver is a American crime drama film, written and directed by Alan Smithee. It won several Academy Awards and went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year. Set just before the Depression and based on the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, the film tells of the conflict between two powerful criminal gangs in Chicago, Illinois. Smithee wrote the film in hospital in 2004, and intended it to be a much darker affair than the previous film. Production began in February 2005 and was completed by December 2006. Filming for the Chicago locations took place in Chicago, and on studio backlots and soundstages. Cleaver was released on July 4, 2007."
Where will readers get confused or feel there's a gap?
"Cleaver is a American crime drama film, written and directed by Alan Smithee. It won several Academy Awards [which Awards; prestige, or technical?] and went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year. [which year?] Set just before the Depression [which depression?] and based on the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, [real?] the film tells of the conflict between two powerful criminal gangs in Chicago, Illinois. Smithee wrote the film in hospital in 2004,[why?] and intended it to be a much darker affair than the previous film. [what previous film?] Production began in February 2005 [what's meant by "production"—development or filming?] and was completed by December 2006. Filming for the Chicago locations took place in Chicago,[Chicago ... Chicago? Ah, read on.] and on studio backlots and soundstages. Cleaver was released on July 4, 2007.[ah, there's the year!]"
Possible solution

Here's one possible solution, with replacements marked and underlined:

"Cleaver is a 2007 American crime drama film, written and directed by Alan Smithee. It won Academy Awards for its visual effects and editing and went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year. Set just before the Depression A sequel to Smithee's 2002 epic, Capone, and based on real life events in Chicago, Illinois in 1929, the film tells of the aftermath of the Saint Valentine's Day massacre and the conflict between two powerful criminal gangs. Smithee wrote the film while recovering from a broken leg in hospital in 2004, and intended it to be a much darker affair than the previous film. Production Pre-production began in February 2005; filming started in September that year and was completed by December 2006. Filming for the Chicago locations took place in Chicago The production recreated Depression-era Chicago on studio backlots and soundstages, and on-location in the city. Cleaver was released on July 4, 2007."
Explanations
  • Knowing that the film won awards for its visual effects and editing, rather than for Best Picture or any of the other prestige awards, puts the wins in a different context, and we may as well be precise.
  • Don't assume the reader will be familiar with the film and its relationship to other films or real life events; this way, the reader doesn't necessarily have to follow the link to Saint Valentine's Day massacre. Giving the year, 1929, is better for the reader than having them follow the link to Great Depression to discover the setting. That can come later.
  • "Production" could mean development, pre-production, principal photography or post-production. Be precise.

Other resourcesEdit