WHEN IS MY SCRIPT READY TO SEND OUT?
"Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it." - Publilius Syrus
WHY YOU NEED FEEDBACK
Ask any industry professional for the number one mistake writers make and they will almost always agree it’s this -
SENDING OUT WORK BEFORE IT’S READY.
It is almost impossible to see some of the mistakes you have made when you have been working for months on an idea. Even the best screenwriters and authors work with an editor. You need feedback.
Good feedback helps you to fully realise the potential of your story and communicate it clearly. Most importantly you need to get used to the process, as screenwriting is highly collaborative. If you don’t want to change a word go write Haikus.
Remember, industry professionals will not read rewrites so you get one chance to convince them of your talent… or get labelled as an amateur.
So how the hell are you supposed to know when your script is ready? The following is an excellent way of making certain you are giving your script the best chance of achieving its full potential.
WHO TO ASK
You need to be very careful when seeking people to give you feedback on your work. Most people start with their loved ones and family. However, there are a number of crucially important factors to getting the most benefit out of asking non -professionals to critique your work. NEGATIVE PEOPLE DO NOT ask the bitter, twisted and failed wannabe writer that you met at a party, even if they are the closest thing you have to someone with writing experience. Why? Because they hate you!
You have had the audacity to actually write something! You are now their competitor in an already evil and unjust world. They will subtly (or not so subtly) do everything in their power to kill your enthusiasm and your project. Learn to recognise them. They are like urine soaked alleyways at two in the morning, a shortcut that can kill you. The longer route may seem hard work but you will actually reach your goal.
Do not underestimate the power and savvy of the punter. You were one before you became a screenwriting genius! The average TV and film watching public is now pretty sophisticated in their ability to say what they like and what they don’t. Find someone with a positive attitude to life and who likes TV and Film. This could be friends, family or other writers you’ve met through a writers group or forum (but watch out for the negative types). Next you need to do EXACTLY the following in order to make this work to your best advantage.
THE POWER OF 3
This is a great tool and used properly can make a huge difference to the quality of your work. It may seem like I’m asking you to do a lot but by now you should have started to realise how competitive this industry is. If this is too much you shouldn’t even be considering a career as a screenwriter. Remember, every time you start wanting to protest repeat the mantra - “if I keep on doing what I’m doing, I’ll keep on getting what I’m getting.” If you haven’t got your big break yet it’s most likely because you are sending out work before it is ready. Use this technique. It works!
1) Find three positive people. Ask if they would be willing to help you develop your career and give feedback on your script. It doesn’t matter who they are but it is important that you treat them like PROFESSIONALS.
2) Teach them how to give feedback. Ask them to immediately scribble down any questions that jump out after they have read the script. Ask that they always couch their comments as QUESTIONS. Explain that this is the normal way professionals work and that it really helps you to develop the work. Tell them that they don’t have to worry about coming up with comments or critique. All you want is for them to ask any questions that arise from reading it.
3)If possible arrange to meet each of them (separately) somewhere quiet once they have read your script. Offer coffee/beer/food as your treat.
If the other person is also a writer and you are unable to meet, offer to be a Power of 3 reader for them and make sure you give a prompt response to the work they send.
4) When you meet up ask again that they always couch their comments as QUESTIONS instead of telling you what they think is wrong. Be attentive and take notes. During the course of your meeting they will inevitably slip back into wanting to tell you what would work better (especially if they are another aspiring writer.) Each time gently stop them and politely ask that they keep to couching everything as questions. DON’T try and answer the questions or justify what you have written. Just take a note of their question.
Why questions instead of advice? Well, how do you react to the following type of feedback on your script – “I just thought that it was horrible, the way the hero just walked out on his wife and kids." There’s a very good chance that one of your readers is your beloved. We tend to be much less patient with our loved ones and the last thing you need is a domestic argument because you start becoming irritated. Or, remember what I said earlier about “Write what you know.” Perhaps you have drawn on some personal stuff for your script (the break up of your marriage?) It is likely that you are now snarling at your script editor...
Okay, how do you react to this example? - “What was it that made the hero just suddenly walk out on his wife and kids?” Different? Being asked a question feels less critical and forces you to consider whether or not you have explained your characters motivation clearly enough.
This is also why you need 3 feedback readers. If all three ask the same question you clearly have a problem you need to address. If only one comments it may just be that the reader dislikes the character or subject based on their own experience or prejudice. You don’t want to end up re writing for the wrong reasons. Now that you have your notes from 3 sources you cross check them against your script. Plan what you need to rewrite. Do it. Print it out and re-read. Tinker a bit. Now stick the script in a drawer and ignore it for a month. One month later take it out and read it. You will immediately have lots of stuff you want to rewrite. Instead make notes. Now you repeat the whole process again. Find three new people. Teach them how to give feedback. Get notes and rewrite. Print it out. Tinker. Put in the drawer for a month. The whole feedback process involves you doing this three times 3x3. Three lots of feedback three times. The Power Of 3!
Of course in some cases you will be working to a deadline to enter a competition or scheme. If you do a shortened version of this method, such as less time between new drafts, it is vitally important that you do not also cut corners with the number of sources of feedback. Remember 3x3. It works!
WHY “ADVICE” IS BAD
Don’t let your feedback people start telling you HOW to rewrite your script. That’s not what you want out of the process at this stage. What you will end up with is three people’s versions of what THEY would write. This is about you figuring out the story YOU want to write and working to make sure you are telling it the CLEAREST way possible. It also requires much less work to write questions rather than coming up with solutions. As a result you get quick feedback and people don’t feel put off doing it again. The Power 3 method helps you to build up a circle of people you can rely on.
IMPORTANT: DON’T TRY AND ANSWER THE QUESTIONS DURING THE FEEDBACK SESSION, JUST WRITE THEM DOWN.
Use the books and sites I recommend to address any problems you have with structure and character. I am fully aware that this seems like a lot of work but actually it isn’t compared to the results. Using “The Power Of 3” gives -
1. A massive boost to the quality of script that you are going to send out.
2. It actually speeds up the development process because you aren’t struggling on your own, half-tinkering and losing enthusiasm about your work.
3. It teaches you to work with feedback, act professionally in a meeting and handle notes.
I have been amazed how rapidly people’s work and skills have improved when they have employed this process.
Join a writers group, an online forum or contact some screenwriting bloggers. There are lots of them out there employing this method already. Google Adrian Mead Power Of Three and you will find lots of positive folk to swap scripts with.
So after this my script is ready to send out? No. First you need to send some small token of thanks to your long distance feedback people and ensure you give them fast turnaround on their work.
Next you need to do a dummy run and test that your script is watertight. It’s time now to consider using a professional script feedback service.
PROFESSIONAL SCRIPT FEEDBACK SERVICES
These vary widely in price and quality. For a fee someone claiming to be a trained professional script reader or editor will give varying levels of feedback on your script. There are different options to choose. The more in depth and extensive the notes the greater the fee. I use two for each script in order to cross-reference the notes with my own and my business partner. The following organisations and individuals have been widely recommended:
Danny Stack firstname.lastname@example.org
Script Factory www.scriptfactory.co.uk.
I find it useful to get a US take on the script with some film projects that are being aimed at an international market. However, the quality of reports has varied widely and as they are often considerably more expensive than the UK I am loath to recommend any American organisation at this time. There are many more individuals and organisations than the ones I have mentioned that also offer this service. Contact the company or individual direct and get background on the reader’s level of experience. Post some queries on writer’s forums and get recommendations and feedback from other writers about their experiences.
Use professional script-reading services when you have taken the script as far as you can by every other means. Sending in rough or under-developed drafts is just throwing money away. Once you have thoroughly utilised The Power Of Three technique, received a couple of professional reports and done your rewrites your sample scripts should be ready to show the world.