Thoughts from the Non-Pro Screenwriter – Feedback
You’re not a writer, of any sort, unless that writing ends up in front of other people. All art is communication (and screenwriting is an art), and while communicating with yourself is a noble pursuit it’s not likely to pay the rent.
There are three main reasons why people don’t seek feedback on their work:
1) They don’t feel they’re ready for it. It might knock their confidence.
2) They don’t know anyone who might be able to give good feedback. Their opinions – positive or negative – are not to be trusted.
3) Someone will steal their ideas.
These reasons are horseshit.
It’s all well and good to wait until you’ve done a couple of drafts, but after that there’s no reason not to seek feedback.
Having your confidence knocked is one of the most important experiences for a writer – it makes you question your work, your understanding of storytelling, your ability, your day job… And once you’re done with all the questioning, you turn on your computer and start again – armed with the knowledge that you’re not the best writer on the planet (yet) but you’re going to keep cracking at it until you get better. Take the self-doubt and use it to critique your work mercilessly – and as long as you keep writing you’ll keep getting better. And if you can’t write – you’re crippled by the doubt?… Force yourself to do it anyway. It’s the only way to progress.
So, you’re prepared to have your confidence shaken to the core. Great. But who to do the damage? Who knows screenwriting the best, who will understand, who can phrase their feedback the most eloquently, who won’t blow smoke up my ass…???
It doesn’t matter.
Very few people know expert script-editors. Usually the people who do are already professional writers.
It really doesn’t matter.
When your script has reached a certain point – many, many drafts down the line – then you might want to consider getting some professional feedback. There are plenty of places to go for that.
But the real treat with feedback is that it starts immediately. The process begins at the very moment you click ‘send’ or let go of the envelope. Immediately you’ll be filled with embarrassment and self-doubt. Suddenly the veils are lifted and you see your script in a way that you hadn’t seen it before – from an outsider’s perspective. The knowledge that other people are going to be reading this makes you feel like an idiot – ‘Why didn’t I develop X more?’, ‘That whole scene doesn’t make sense!’. You’ve managed to hold the script at arm’s length for the first time and you can see it for what it is. Rubbish. But the next draft will be better.
How do you know who to send it to? Which of your friends, contacts, enemies do you think will have the time to sit down, read a script and actually take the time to give you feedback? Those are the ones you should send it to. You’re asking a lot of them, so be grateful.
When it trickles in, any feedback is good feedback – because as long as you’re a writer you’ll question everything that anyone says:
‘It’s great!’ (why are they saying that?…)
‘I liked the ending’ (what’s the subtext here… they hated the start?)
‘This Dave character, he’s really stood out’ (Oh God, everyone else must be dull as dishwater…)
Whether they’re right or wrong doesn’t really matter as long as you take this as an opportunity to ask questions of your script. You might find some people who give you really useful feedback – the sort that helps you develop better structure, figure out what’s wrong, delete ten pages at a time. Be polite to them, and hopefully in a few drafts time they’ll read it again.
You might find that the harshest criticsm comes from unexpected sources. Great! If you were sending your work off to get feedback like ‘Perfect, don’t change a word’ then you don’t want to be a writer in the first place – ‘writing is re-writing’ (as the elders put it).
The key thing – write another draft, then send it off to a different bunch of people. Get your confidence knocked again. Question the work. Write another draft, send it off to the first bunch of people. Repeat process until perfect.
And don’t worry about people stealing your idea – it’s not going to happen. You can do all you want to try to copyright your script, protect it in some way, send it out on spontaneously combusting paper…. It’s all a distraction from actually sending it out in the first place. Nobody wants to steal your script – It’s crap. You’ve got a long way to go before anyone wants to spend time making it. You’re lucky that they even want to read it.
(As a side note – my most useful bit of feedback recently was ‘Painful. Dull. Boring’ written across the top of three pages of my first feature script.
The feedback was right – I could see that immediately and I re-wrote the pages. An immediate improvement. But the best thing about this feedback? – There were another 96 pages without ‘Painful. Dull. Boring’ written across the top).