Time to Submit? Don’t let Fear Keep You From Getting the Script Feedback You Need
I hear it over and over. Writers have a huge fear of feedback, which I completely understand. But when these same people dream of their film being made or winning a contest, they are contradicting themselves. Without feedback you cannot know if your script is ready to be seen by people who could bring it to life. And if you won’t let it be read by someone whose intent is to help you improve the script, then how will you cope with a slush pile reader or an audience?
So how do you overcome the fear enough to get the feedback you need? Here are some tips on how to look at the feedback process and some insight into the reader’s perspective that will hopefully make it easier for you.
Tip #1 Progress not Perfection
You may be tempted to keep rewriting and editing so you can submit a “perfect” script to your reader. The truth is no script is ever perfect. You may get fewer notes on a more polished script, but it’s kind of like Dancing With the Stars. The better the celebrities get ,the pickier the notes they get from the judges. It’s a ‘the better you are, the more is expected of you’ trap.
When I give feedback on a script that is really rough, I focus on one or two things that will make the biggest difference rather than bog the writer down with a long punch list of items. Whereas if a script is in really good shape but needs to get to the next level, I may include more detailed tweaks along with the big picture stuff.
If you are struggling in the early stages, submitting a rough draft for feedback (and let your reader know this is the case) could help you jump ahead faster since you’ll have an outside opinion on what is missing. Similarly, if you have a polished draft, the story is so vibrant in your head that it can be hard to see which vital details aren’t making it on to the page.
Try accepting that your script is a work in progress and that there will always be things to tweak and improve. Recognize that you want to know what those things are in order to make it as good as it can be. That means someone else needs to read it.
Tip #2 Professional Vs. Non-Professional
The first question to ask yourself is, who will it be easier to hear criticism from? If your best friend, writing buddy, or co-worker can be objective enough to give you honest feedback, will you be able to sit across from them and really hear it? Or would it be easier for you to read a coverage report someone you don’t know, in the privacy of your bedroom where you can kick and scream in response? Chances are the feedback will hurt a little more if it comes from a friend, and it’s a rare friend can truly be honest.
The second thing to ask is, what type of feedback will move your script forward the fastest? Getting feedback from non-professionals is great for identifying where the script is stuck. They might tell you they got bored in the middle, or they didn’t understand why the villain did X instead of Y. But what they often can’t do is offer suggestions on how to fix those things, or really pinpoint what is missing. “I didn’t like the ending” isn’t as helpful as “the climax wasn’t as rewarding because we never got to see our hero overcome ABC even though that was set up in Act I”.
Having friends read your script can be useful while you’re writing the first few drafts, but when you’re polishing later drafts or preparing to submit the script to a competition, a round of professional feedback can help you get from good to great when it really counts.
Tip #3 Constructive vs. Critical
Let’s face it, the biggest fear of feedback, especially from a professional, is that they’ll tell you your script sucks, that you’re a horrible writer, and because you paid them, their opinion COUNTS. Let me reassure on all those points. A good script reader will NEVER tell you your script sucks, and they have no right to tell you to stop writing. We all write stuff that isn’t great, it’s part of the process.
The majority of scripts out there are not particularly good (trust me, I read hundreds of them). The job of a reader is not to pronounce judgement but instead to find what does work and highlight it, and then to provide constructive feedback on what needs improvement. It should be done with kind words and as objectively as possible. And at the end of the day professional or not, that reader’s feedback is their opinion. You could get a different opinion from another professional, because what we enjoy is very subjective. I don’t provide feedback on horror scripts because I don’t watch horror films, so I don’t think I’m the right person to give my opinion on that type of work.
Before hiring a script coverage service, ask them how they approach their work and if possible for a sample of their feedback. If you don’t feel comfortable with the way they work, find another reader who wants to nurture your writing not criticize it.
Be Bold, Take Action:
As writers, we always struggle with the fear of putting our new creations out into the world. Getting feedback on your work should be a helpful part of the process. It’s always going to be uncomfortable but if you can sit with that discomfort you’ll see that it’s more of a protective act than a risky one. Risky would be writing a first draft and publishing it online. So I challenge you to pull out that project you’ve been keeping a secret and ask for some feedback on it, this week. Phone a friend, take it to your writer’s group, or submit your first ten pages to the Slush Pile Challenge. Just put it out there!
Getting feedback helps you refine and improve your work so that it will be more ready for a contest or an audience. And once you find a reader you trust, who ‘gets’ your style and provides insightful feedback, you’ve got an ally you can rely on for each new project. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Keep writing and keep sharing!