Receiving Critique

Whether they’ve been asked for it or not, most people when confronted with a creative work of obscure origins will give an emphatic opinion about it. I’ve experienced this multiple times, and so have you.

“I thought it would be better.”

“Maybe change the beginning so it takes place in Africa.”

“Make it funny.”

All of which are actual notes that I have received from real people who read my writing.

Thankfully, I’ve also been blessed with readers who give notes that are actually helpful. The thing is, between the helpful stuff and the unhelpful thoughtless stuff and the amazing completed stuff there lies a Great Wasteland of Indecision.

Today I would like to consider some strategies for crossing that wasteland and coming out the other side – as a better writer with a better script. I want to consider these strategies today, because today I am a lonely writer plodding through the parched, pathless sand. And I need to remember what the heck for.

So in no particular order, I give you these…

Possibly Helpful And At The Very Least Completely Innocuous Thoughts:

4 Strategies for Implementing Script Notes | Traveling Screenwriter

1. Be indecisive and okay with it

When I’m fresh off a rough draft high, it’s tough to hear that it’s not good enough. Even though I know this, I’ve been anticipating it even before Fade Out, it’s still a thing to be processed emotionally and intellectually. At first, you will have no idea where to go with these constructively critical responses. You will just have to stare at the wall for awhile and let it sink in.

I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but when I finish a draft or a revision, I honestly feel like it’s the best I can do. So when the inevitable feedback comes, it’s like: I can’t. I can’t make it any better than it is, because this is my best.

But of course you can. I can. It just doesn’t feel that way at first.

2. Try not to listen to the voices of darkness

As if we don’t have enough inner chatter, between characters and plot shenanigans and the angsty inner story every writer is really trying to tell, our doubts and fears want to point out a few things too. It gets super noisy.

So do what you gotta do to boost confidence, quiet unease, and quit comparing yourself to others, but know that the noise will probably never disappear altogether and that’s okay. It’s normal. We all have it.

Of course if you are successful at ditching the voices altogether, then that is really neat.

3. Make two piles

Keep and reject. Of the comments I received on my script, which ones resonated with me (whether I like it or not) and which ones do I completely disagree with?

Some feedback will hit home. I know it’s true, even if I have no clue where to begin implementing it. Other feedback is just not connecting for me, no matter which angle I view it from, and when that happens I think we are totally fine to disregard it.

Or, if you’re like me and just have to believe that everyone in the world sees something useful that you don’t: try to get to the spirit of the critique. If someone feels my protagonist lacks motivation in Act 1, and I can’t seem to add anything that works for me, then maybe something else in Act 1 needs to go.

See, this is why revisions are exhausting. But worth it. Probably.

But whatever changes I make, I know that I as the writer am responsible for them. So I’m not making any changes I don’t feel in my gut are working for me. And I don’t think that’s arrogance, it’s just being real about the story I’m trying to tell. And no one else really knows what I’m shaping in my head – it’s up to me to bring it out and show them.

4. Don’t give up

As I write and rewrite, I have to keep connecting with the core of the story – whatever fascinated me with it in the very beginning. Whether it’s a character flaw or a curious world, I need to keep enthralling myself with that basic element. Otherwise I get lost.

The fun stuff is what keeps me oriented, keeps me telling the story I set out to tell.

And with any luck, after all the critique and deep dark questioning and sweating blood, we end up with an even better, clearer, more compelling version of that idea nugget than we ever thought we could write.

Onward we trudge, faithful screenwriters! For we shall cross the Wasteland of Indecision and reach the Promised Land of a Finished Screenplay. Keep hope alive.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Making Of A Scene

A screenplay is just a bunch of scenes strung together. Anyone who says otherwise has clearly not read this blog post.

To completely oversimplify it, you write some scenes to set up your story, then you write a BUNCH of scenes to complicate your story and make everyone think the lead character is screwed, and finally you put a few more scenes to rescue the lead and end your story satisfyingly. That’s whatcha call a 3-act structure.

Needless to say, your scenes need to be incredible. So incredible that the thought of writing them completely cripples you with fear and self-doubt.

But when you’re taking a class, you got these things called deadlines. So you figure a way to skirt around the inevitable mental obstacles. I’d like to share mine with you, if you don’t mind.

Step 1: Take the “What Do I Care About?” Quiz

Question: What do I care about less, the possibility of writing a crummy scene, or the certainty of falling behind in my work and hating my own guts tomorrow morning?

If you chose ‘writing a crummy scene’ then proceed to Step 2. If you chose ‘hating my own guts’ then go ahead and put on sweatpants because it’s gonna be a Ben&Jerry’s-in-bed kind of day.

Step 2: Do a dance

Seriously. It will help you loosen up and make you feel a little more creative. Music is optional. If you must take six minutes to scoot through your playlist for something suitable, then skip it.

Step 3 (and most important): Think

Do you know what this scene is about? If not, think about it a little. Feel free to let your thoughts come out on the page, so you can read what you’re thinking and save any thoughts that might otherwise get away from you.

Say you need to write something about your lead character, John. John is about to do four hundred hours of community service, but something has to come right before that. Once you have some sort of idea of the transition you want to make, move along to Step 4.

Step 4: Outline

Just three lines: Beginning, Middle, End.

John tells Peggy he is really looking forward to community service. Peggy’s boyfriend Butch appears and gets the wrong idea. John gets a black eye and has an epiphany about the relationship between observational conclusions and underlying realities.

I have to say, employing this step in my writing process has been so freeing. It gives me a bony structure on which to drape the eloquent folds of my action and dialogue.

Step 5: Expand

Put in the stuff people say or do, and tada! You have a scene.

Just add like fifty more, and you’re all done.

The end result might be brilliant, it might be terrible, but that is what editing is all about. At least you have something! And really, I believe the motivational power of ‘something’ is really quite synergistic.

I’ll end with this piece from my new favorite artist, Ceslovas Cesnakevicius, because I think it is cool and adventurous. And I love elephants.

Art by Ceslovas Cesnakevicius

Share my (obviously profound) scene-making tips: Facebook Twitter More...