You’ve meticulously crafted your BS2 outline. You’ve fleshed it out into 40 beats, then, with great care, expanded each one of your beats, tracking each beat as it propels into the next. You’ve honed your story, you’ve massaged it. You’ve nurtured it. You’ve loved on it.
Then, you bang out that first draft.
As you are in possession of excellent work ethic, you distance yourself for a day from that draft, then read it. Then, you read it again. And again… and you realize that it’s not a script. Not yet.
You go back to your board. You edit cards. You rearrange them. You make bold decisions, and kill off some of your darlings. You rewrite. You rewrite it again. And again, and again, and again….
“FADE OUT” you type, for the very last time. But, before you press “Send,” directing your masterpiece to your favorite screenwriting competition, or production company currently-seeking-scripts-in-your-genre, consider this: it’s not a script. Not yet.
One word. Feedback.
Everyone seeks feedback. Even professionals. Especially professionals, for feedback is the writers secret weapon, plain and simple.
“What do you mean by feedback?” you ask. It’s simple. Feedback is no more than trained eyes upon your script, attached to a mind and a voice that will give you positive, critical response. By positive, I do not mean “Oh, it’s the best thing I’ve ever read you’re the greatest writer on the planet and you’re going to sell it for a kazillion bucks!” That, dearest ladies and lords, is not feedback. That is validation. If you are in need of validation, consider one of two options:
- Send the script to your mother, or
- Drive to your local Coffee Bean. Park. Get your parking ticket. Saunter inside. Order a latte, pay for it, and present your ticket to the cashier. Bam.
You have just been validated.
The above is a little tongue-in-cheek, but the point is thus: what you need is clear and concise criticism, that is pointed and absent of overly subjective emotional response (not to be confused with “sour grapes” feedback – the polar opposite of the aforementioned validation).
There are many resources for this criticism. Call your friends – those who write and/or are in the industry. Check for local writers groups. Network. Sometimes, the answer will be “No,” but, eventually, you’ll find eyes for your work. Please be polite and return the favor when you are asked. You’ll learn a great deal from reading what is most likely not a script – not yet – of another.
*Note – Please do not ask strangers, especially those that cover for a living. Doing so will run the risk of raising Josh Olsen’s wrath. Your punishment will be having to listen to Harlan Ellison’s rendition of Olsen’s rant for eternity. On loop.
There are coverage firms who will read your script and provide you with minimal or comprehensive notes, depending upon how much you are willing to pay, but let the buyer beware. These firms can be outfitted with interns or assistants from various agencies or management firms, needing to earn some quick extra cash… and your script will most likely be entered into the notorious book as a “Pass.” Which is a real pity, because, while it’s not a script yet, if you’re willing to open your mind and your ears to notes and put in twice as much work as you did in the first hundred rewrites, it probably will be – but that “Pass” might kill your desire to put in the work.
There are, of course, excellent resources – professionals who will work with you on a one-on-one basis to help you with your story, but if there is the hook of a “Pass,” “Consider,” or “Recommend,” or the promise of “Access,” you might consider tempering your submission enthusiasm before a negative mark gets put next to your name.
(I’m happy to refer to some individuals and companies that I give a “Recommend” to… and no, I don’t get a kickback. Unless coffee is a kickback, which, for writers, I suppose it is.)
I know that when I’ve lived with a story, and those that people it, for as long as it takes me to knock it out, and rewrite again, and again, and again, that, eventually, I can’t see the forest for the trees. Literary authors hire editors to help them craft, shape and edit their tale from the standpoint of serving the story. Playwrights work with actors as a tool of development. Screenwriters should take note – feedback is essential to the process.
These eyes are going to be worth gold for you. They’re going to pick up on the flaws in your story, the wrong arc or lack of one, on-the-nose dialog, style or lack of it, authenticity in voice, twists that aren’t…. and a hundred other things for you to absorb and address.
Personally, when I ask for feedback, I find that I apply about 99% of what I am told, in one form or another. I might not make the precise change that was suggested…. but eventually, I’ll sit back on my heels and grin when I realize that this ridiculous note given to me two years ago just found its way into my story – and it fits like a glove.
So, gentle readers, before you fling hard-earned cash at competitions, or spend three days crafting a query letter, go out, take a long walk, drink a tall glass of cool water, and ask yourself “Is it a script?”
If you have not had feedback, then I can assure you that the answer will be “No.”
HRH – Princess Scribe
What I’m Reading: Blake Snyder’s brilliant troubleshooting manifesto, Save the Cat! Strikes Back – More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get Into…. and Out of. Read it. Now. I’m also delighting in a shooting draft referenced in last week’s blog: Alien, title page credit to Walter Hill and David Giler. Passages of single lines of poetry, written with startling economy and precision, followed by bursts of short dialog. Screenwriting at its best.
What I’m Watching: My dvr runneth over. Catching up with TCM’s fascinating Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, as well as viewing the restoration cut of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. TCM is kicking it these days.
A Royal Shout-Out: To the fine people at ScriptChat. They’ll be hosting HRH this Sunday evening at 5 p.m. PST. To participate in the chat, you’ll need a Twitter account. At the designated time, go to TWEETCHAT(www.tweetchat.com/room/scriptchat) or search the hashtag #scriptchat on the web, Tweetdeck or Seesmic and jump in!