Even if you have never been to an Adrian Mead class, there's a good chance you will have heard of the famous Power of 3: it's bandied about in The Scribosphere as bloggers appeal for each other to help them with their work. And why not? It's a good way of getting feedback, for free. Whilst I'm never one to do myself out of a job, I do happen to believe that writers should get the best value for their money. Whilst there are always writers who prefer to work with Readers from that very first words-on-paper draft (and why not if they have the spandoolies?), I happen to think it works best for most writers if they work through the more obvious plot-hole/character-motivation stuff before sending to a service like Bang2write that will concentrate on the hardcore, in-depth stuff like problems with Deus Ex Machinas, structural issues, etc - if for no other reason than most people don't have hundreds to spend on a draft, knocking it back and forth between rewrites and a professional Reader.
But anyway. The notion of asking 3 separate people to read your work and give you feedback. Is a simple one. Isn't it?
Well actually, there is a technique to it. That's why I've posted Adrian's handout from his classes today (below this post). The Power of 3 is not about finding 3 people to read your script and them telling you what they think of it. That way trouble can lie, as this email to me demonstrates:
I did that power of 3 thing - I couldn't believe it! She was so rude! She practically told me it had all beeen done before and that I should basically go back to the drawing board or give up!
The notion of asking questions as your feedback is a good one, since it can avoid this kind of confrontation. Now, I intervened between these two ladies and they have since kissed and made up (hence my posting the fragment of that original email, thanks girls), but do remember you could be treading on someone else's dreams: rather than saying you didn't like something in a script, first ask yourself if you would like to hear this. There will always be scripts in the world you don't like. The people behind these scripts are real, they've poured hours into this - and besides, even if you don't like it, who is to say you are the arbiter of good taste and the authority on whether the writer in question should go back to the drawing board? Okay, you might think it sucks worse than a...sucky thing... but how would you like it if someone told you that? And it's no good just saying it's "just your opinion" either: whether something's your opinion or not, careless words can hurt. As writers, we know this.
It's worth remembering too there are cultural differences, even between those who speak the same language. Just as males and females *can* react differently to the same feedback, Americans and Brits can have different ways of saying the same thing. For example, I was interested to learn from one American associate that it's thought in the US qualifying constructive criticism with phrases like "In my opinion..." is redundant, since obviously it's their opinion: they're saying it! However, at school us Brits are taught that we must use these redundant phrases, for fear of being thought unnecessarily direct or rude. Similarly, different countries in Europe have different ideals: from my time as a TEFL teacher I was shocked by some of the Austrians' behaviour in my class, because they would tell their classmates they were "the best" all the time every time they did well in a test. Never having met an Austrian before, I found it confusing that they behaved like this until a more experienced TEFL teacher told me that in Austria self modesty is thought of as absolutely ridiculous and they subscribe very much to the notion of "blow your own trumpet, since no one else will do it for you." Suddenly my students' behaviour became more understandable and less irritating - just like that.
A Power of 3 does not last forever either, as this irate emailer points out:
I read his script and he read mine, fair do's... Difference between us is he keeps sending it back with every rewrite! I told him I didn't have time, then tried ignoring him, but he just keeps emailing and emailing...
I think it's great that writers no longer hold on to their scripts for fear of their ideas being "nicked" like they seemed to when I started as a Reader five years ago, but now the balance seems to have been tipped the other way: I've heard several writers complain of having similar things happen to them. Before sending your script out to people, ask yourself: is it solicited?? For example, I have several e-friends and real-life friends that I know I can always rely on to read my stuff, since I always read theirs. However, I have just as many that I would always ask first, each time I want to do a PO3 - usually people I have never met in real life.
So - the moral of this tale? A little courtesy and a little empathy go a long way.
Sermon over. Now read Adrian's handout below.