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How to Revise the (Bad) First Draft of a Wedding Ceremony

Published Monday, Dec. 14th, 2020

Illustrations by Jessica Levey

Every wedding ceremony starts with a bad first draft… then it gets good. 


The first draft you write for a wedding ceremony is going to suck. It’s just a fact of life, like taxes or puberty. Best to accept it, get over it, and get on with it… on to revising and improving it, that is. 


(If you don’t have a first draft yet, visit our Officiant Training pages and read How to Write a Wedding Ceremony Script in 9 Steps. We also have a Sample Wedding Ceremony Script Library if working from a template is more your style.)


Those awkwardly written transitions, that questionable grammar, and those tongue-twisting phrases won’t stand a chance against these tried-and-true techniques for revision.  

Share your first draft with the couple.


This advice might seem counterintuitive (or downright looney) if you’re an officiant who takes pride in being prepared. It’s nerve-wracking to show someone an unfinished ceremony draft, but some of our most experienced officiants swear by it.


Go through your rough draft line by line with the couple. This is a time for everyone to make suggestions, fill in gaps, and answer additional questions to personalize the ceremony story. Details can be changed, order can be tweaked, and descriptive words can be replaced to match the couple’s own style of speaking.


Read it out loud.


Ceremonies are meant to be spoken. Reading your draft out loud helps you locate cumbersome or abrupt phrases and awkward pronunciation. 


If you notice yourself tripping over a complicated multisyllabic word, or hissing like a snake through a sneaky string of accidentally slippery s-sounds, make a note and replace the worst offenders with other words.



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How long does each part of the ceremony take? What should you change?


Time yourself.


Use your phone (or an egg timer, wall clock, or stopwatch) to time each section of the script while reading it out loud. Pause briefly in between sections. We think the sweet spot for a ceremony is about 15 to 20 minutes.


Natural pauses and resting places don’t always show up on the page, but they will show up while you’re speaking. Take note of these pausing-points and use them to visually space out your written script with line breaks and punctuation, making it easy to reference the day of the wedding.  


If you notice a section takes longer than it should, or an important part feels too brief (like the Declaration of Intent or the Vows), make edits or additions.


Read it to someone else.


Once you’ve made edits on your own, and the couple has commented on content and structure, it’s time to read the draft out loud to a trusted friend.


A fresh set of ears will be invaluable. Have your friend point out anything that drags on too long, feels too fast, or is hard to hear or understand. Ask them if any of the sections sound forced, overly-rehearsed, or robotic. 


Remember, even a formal, traditional ceremony should sound inviting, conversational, and human to the audience.



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A wedding officiant is like a stage director... 



Add stage directions.


Once you’ve polished the transitions and timing, plan the placement and movements of each person involved in the ceremony by using stage directions. These are the same kind of physical directions used in a stage play’s script.


Write down how the couple will enter the ceremony, who stands on the right or left, and any other movements or actions each person will take during each section.


For example: Partner One enters the stage from the left, Partner Two enters from the right. They meet in the middle, on either side of the altar. Each partner does an improvised dance and jump-kick. They turn toward each other and clasp hands in front of the altar.


Plan a rehearsal.


At this point, your ceremony script will be in good shape. The final step is the dress rehearsal: a real-time run through of the script, in person, with the happy couple. This is the last chance to make changes.


Rehearsals are usually performed at the wedding venue the day before, or right before, the ceremony. If the couple will be surprising their partner with personal vows, use something simple in their place during the rehearsal. 


(Read Rehearsals are Important -- Even When Officiating a Friend’s Casual Backyard Wedding Ceremony.)


For more tips on how to officiate and perform a wedding for the first time, check out the rest of our American Weddings Blog. You’ll find articles on planning for your first wedding, ceremony structures, etiquette, working well with couples and other wedding vendors, understanding industry challenges during COVID-19, and anything else you can think of...


And for a thorough, step-by-step workbook approach to wedding officiant training, read Asked to Officiate


Read our Autumn 2020 AMM COVID-19 Wedding Officiant Survey Report to find out what officiants are seeing across the country. 


Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

Lewis King
Lewis King

Staff Writer

Lewis loves exploring the space between power, discourse, and material reality where institutions like marriage are defined. He also wears other hats at AMM, like taking out the recycling and restocking the sparkling water.

Natasha Anakotta
Natasha Anakotta

Guest Contributor

Natasha is passionate about promoting marriage equality, and encouraging couples to celebrate in a way that’s authentic and unique. Aside from weddings, she enjoys Star Wars, true crime podcasts, and eating macarons by the dozen.

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