Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Screenwriting Tip of the Day - Sept 18th

"Give and receive feedback."

Writers fall in love with their story ideas, characters, dialogue, or scenes. But the best way to test these elements is with an independent reader; that is, someone who isn't familiar with your script beyond a logline and, if possible, the scope of your work. Naturally if you reach out to another writer and ask for their time to invest into reading and reviewing your work, then you MUST return the favor. Of course, this leads to the good and bad outcomes, but needless to say: give and receive feedback whenever possible!

Here's a quick and dirty list of the do's and don'ts (apologies in advance for the Christmas colors - I figured the selected color coding was akin to a traffic light):

1. DO: Ask politely and offer to return the favor. Then follow through!
1. DON'T: Agree to read in return, then fall off the face of the Earth. Not a good way to network with other writers. You'll be blacklisted in cyberspace quicker than you can say, "Superkalifrag..."

2. DO: Give fair, constructive criticism when reading a writer's screenplay. Use the feedback form provided in the articles section of this website. It will help you provide a thorough review and focus on the important elements of the script: concept, story, characters, dialogue, and writing style.
2. DON'T: Consider this an opportunity to sabotage another writer's efforts. And don't make the feedback you provide personal. The writer may not know you - all they know is what you've read and, hopefully, understands that it's just one perspective! But if you make personal attacks because you vehemently disagreed with the feedback you received, then you've wasted your time.

3. DO: Know when to parse feedback between those notes that apply and you agree with versus commentary that doesn't resonate with you and your story. Bottom line: you're responsible for your story, not a reader. Therefore, it's up to you to decide what's a valid point and requires further consideration ... and those notes that can be ignored. And invite the reader to continue the discussion, if they wish. This will give you a chance to better understand what worked and didn't work for the reader. If you need to explain to the reader "this and that, this and that" then you haven't hit this in your script. Clearly you need to rework this part if it's essential to your story.
3. DON'T: Accept all notes as the "golden goose" and incorporate them into your script. You'll end up changing the soul of your story ... and lose the very reason that motivated you to write in the first place. And never, EVER spew venom and sound off at the reader because you think they're "stupid", "uneducated", "amateur-ish", or "just not getting it".

4. DO: Say "thank you" even if you don't agree with everything.
4. DON'T: Turn into a ninja, pop some smoke, and disappear after you've received your feedback. This will burn the reader ... and he/she will never forget. Not a smart way to form friendships and network with other aspiring or established professionals in the cutthroat entertainment industry.

Have anything you want to add to this? Then drop a comment in the space below.



  1. These points are good, yet I would add several more:

    5) DO let the reader know if you're looking for specific mistakes, or just an overall response to the story; did it work or not?

    6) DO find out/know the level of "expertise" of the person giving the feedback.
    DON'T use random groups of unknown (dare I say "anonymous") reviewers; it's only asking for trouble.

    7) DO find peers whom are a bit more experienced than yourself.

    8) DO let the reader know at least the GENRE up front. Some people are just not "into" certain genres, and it wouldn't matter HOW good it was, they're probably not going to like it.

    9) DON'T insult "their baby" needlessly.

    10) DO determine if the writer is looking for specifics, and if so, DO suggest corrective actions.
    DON'T just tell them that sluglines are incorrectly formatted. This is NOT constructive feedback.

  2. Excellent points, Geno! Especially your suggestion on genre - i.e., some folks don't like comedies, so steer clear.