Admittedly I’m generalizing but there is something I’ve noticed about writers. Good writers never think they’re stuff is good enough and bad writers are supremely confident you will love what they came up with. It’s maddening how many fall into the latter category. You see, these type of bad writers have no real interest in getting better. They’re all lip service when it comes to feedback because despite their insistence that you “don’t hold back” they don’t want to hear it. They want you to tell them they’re awesome and the script that you just had the honor of reading is going to make them a fortune. Horseshit. I don’t play that game.
When you take the step of asking someone to read your script and give you feedback, make sure you are making the most of that opportunity. Nobody wants to read your shit. Nobody. In the industry, everyone has a backlog of scripts they need or even want to read. I am guessing that most people in the entertainment business read way more than the average American. So when you have your script, which someone agrees to read that is an awesome opportunity for you and your script to get better.
Let me emphasize that YOU GET ONE SHOT with a reader and, yes, that includes your friends, peers and writers group members. So here’s the deal, I know you finished your first draft and you are excited as hell about it, you should be. Celebrate. Go out and drink until you black out. Do whatever you want to mark the occasion but do not give that draft to anyone to read. Not yet. You will gain trust from people when you give them material that is thoughtfully presented. A typo laden first draft with rambling dialogue and 9 page scenes that do nothing to advance the story is going to make a potentially valuable ally less likely to read your next thing. So take the time to work on it a bit more. I am not saying you have to do a complete rewrite, though I tend to take that approach, but I am telling you to be mindful of what you are handing someone.
Giving feedback is important, and I’ll write about that in the future, but receiving it might even be more important. Here are some things I hope you think about the next time someone who has been kind enough to read your material is offering you feedback.
HOW TO RECEIVE FEEDBACK ON YOUR SCRIPT
- LISTEN – If you’re talking then you’re wrong. Really is simple as that. When someone is giving you feedback, unless they ask you a question they want you to answer right that moment, you should be quiet. Do not defend your choices. Do not explain something they are confused about. Do not debate with them or tell them they missed it. Because guess what, even if you’re right you’re wrong. Your words on the page should do all the talking. If something is unclear, boring or not working it is not the readers fault
- TELL PEOPLE WHAT TYPE OF FEEDBACK YOU WANT – Unless you’ve been through this with the reader before, don’t leave it at “I’m open to anything” because people are normally reluctant to be completely honest about their feeling about your work. Guide them through the process by asking specific questions once they have given you their overall feedback. Even be willing to criticize your own work to coax them into being more willing to be honest. An example, “I’m not sure about the way I handled the reveal late in the second act, what did you think?”
- TAKE NOTES – Someone took the time to read your script, even if they wrote their notes down, take the time to scribble down some of the thoughts they tell you verbally as well.
- BE RECEPTIVE – Truly open yourself up to getting feedback from readers because this is part of the process and it is super valuable to shaping your script into something special. Your first realization of just how important it can be will come when someone gives you a game changing note, something so undeniably great that you never thought of which will make your script immeasurably better.
- IT ISN’T PERSONAL – Don’t be so sensitive. You wrote something and they are trying to help you make it better. It isn’t anything personal even if they hate your material. At least they’re honest. Value that above all else and the best way to prove you do is by not taking it personally ever.
- BE GRATEFUL – Always thank people for taking the time to read your script and offer feedback. Nobody wants to read your script so the fact they did is pretty generous on their part. Make sure they know it’s appreciated.
SOME BONUS TIPS FOR RECEIVING FEEDBACK:
- If a reader is quiet, vague or they couldn’t finish reading your script they hated it. Don’t make them say it but encourage them to share the thoughts they have that might be helpful.
- If they offer only positive comments they’re either afraid to tell the truth or they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. No script is devoid of things to improve, not even your masterpiece.
- Not every note should be taken. You have to learn to balance the contradictory notes against each other and make a choice. Sure, when you hear something repeatedly there is likely a problem that needs some fixing but most of the notes you get are going to be of the “well, shit what do I do with that?” variety. You’re the writer so man up and make decisions.
- If someone read your entire script and gave you honest and thoughtful feedback, especially if some of it stung, they are one of your biggest assets as you move forward. Be good to them. They’re on your side and rooting for your success.
Dane Reade is an admitted knucklehead, writer, producer, actor, storyteller and managing editor of The Tiny Protagonist. You can connect with him on twitter @TheUrbanHobo or via @TinyProtagonist