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Weekend Writing Inspiration: 6 Tips On Navigating Script Feedback

May 2, 2019

One of the most useful methods for elevating the quality of your screenplay is to send it out for feedback. However, too much feedback all at once or at the wrong time can throw a writer off their game.

Here’s how you can go about setting up a feedback plan that works for you:

1. Start by making your script shine

Begin by taking your screenplay as far as you possibly can on your own. Don’t send out a script for feedback that’s full of typos, laden with exposition, or filled with plot holes and inconsistencies. It’s not someone else’s job to fix those things — it’s yours. So even if you’re “just” sending over a script to a beta reader, don’t send sloppy work, or expect them to bear the brunt of sorting out how to fix a convoluted storyline. Burdening readers with doing your work for you won’t make them want to read for you again.

Another consideration is making a good impression, especially in this industry. When you send out a script, you telegraph who you are in terms of your writing, personality, professionalism, and brand. Make sure you’re giving an impression consistent with how you want to be perceived by delivering your best work.

2. Create a critique plan

Who you send your script to depends on where you are in the process. At the early stages, you might send your script out only to beta readers, while later on you might want feedback from contest submissions or industry pros. Ultimately, you’ll want feedback from multiple sources. Make a plan for who you’ll send to first, and so on, remembering to allow time between each critique you get to implement the changes you find valuable.

Here are the different sources of script feedback:

  • Friends and family. While you can start with getting feedback from your non-writer friends and family, keep in mind that if they aren’t screenwriters, they won’t necessarily “get” how a script works, or even be comfortable telling you what they really think. Having said that, it can be useful to get some early reactions to your writing from trusted sources. I consider these my “alpha” readers.
  • Peer “beta” readers. I recommend starting here, with professional friends and colleagues who are screenwriters and will give you honest-but-kind feedback about your script. Usually you’ll do a trade with these readers; you read their script, they read yours. But — and this is important — make sure you’re selecting readers whose quality of work is up to your own standards, if not higher. In other words, your beta readers need to be qualified screenwriters themselves. When you’re starting out, you can meet peer beta readers by participating in high-level screenwriting classes.
  • Contest submissions. Many screenwriting contests offer feedback services as an add-on to a contest entry. For example, the Page Awards offers feedback which can be purchased for an additional fee. This is a valuable way of getting lower cost industry feedback without submitting separately for professional coverage or jumping into production company querying too soon. It could also be a good option if you don’t have peer beta readers.
  • Professional script notes. Professional feedback goes deeper than beta readers typically go. Hiring a professional script notes consultant or story coach for feedback can help you solve deeper structural issues, or face challenges in your script you haven’t yet been able to solve on your own. The biggest downside is the expense, but once your script is approaching the submission stage to production companies, it’s worth getting professional advice about its quality before you make that leap.
  • Industry professional coverage. A later step is to get under-the-table coverage from an actual production company script reader. This is an excellent way to get industry-level feedback without actually submitting to production companies yet. In this case, you’d pay a reader to give you the same coverage they’d be writing up had you submitted your script to their production company, which lets you test how well your script will be received once you’re ready to start querying — and helps you catch issues before you get there.

It’s key to remember that each reader is still just one person, and that you’re the final decision maker about your script. In other words, take all feedback and choose what works best for your story.

3. Get only one critique at a time

When you’re sending out your script, submit it to only one reader at a time. If you get feedback from multiple readers at once, it can become overwhelming and contradictory, which can send writers into a tailspin.

It’s easier and more practical to wait for each set of notes before you send your script out again, so you can address the notes one set at a time.

4. Give yourself time to process

When you get notes back on your script, you may need some time to process and absorb them. Sometimes our dearest darlings aren’t received as well as we would have liked, which can be disappointing and requires recovery time.

Don’t be afraid to read the notes once, walk away for a time, then come back and re-read them again, objectively.

5. Evaluate the feedback objectively

When you’re ready to tackle the critique, objectively evaluate the notes and select the feedback that’s most accurate and useful for your script, and discard the rest. 

Sometimes you’ll receive notes with specific suggestions about changes you don’t agree with. If this happens, make sure you look closely at what your reader is saying. If you study their comments objectively, you may discover there’s a truer note beneath their specific suggestion.

In other words, as Neil Gaiman says, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

6. Elevate your script before sending it to another reader

Once you have a list of changes you agree with, address them right away, even if it takes quite a while if the notes are significant and/or structural. Once you’re done, only then are you ready to send it out to a new reader for additional feedback — and don’t go back to the same reader!

Continue this feedback process, moving up the hierarchy of feedback sources, until your script is ready to be submitted to production companies.

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Your Weekend Writer’s Assignment

This weekend, even if you’re not done with your screenplay yet, think about a plan for getting feedback once you are. This is a great way to create a deadline for yourself when you’re writing on spec, too — you can let your first reader know when you plan to send your script over, which can help you stay motivated to finish the draft.

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Got Questions You Want Answered?

After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your questions to finaldraft@calledtowrite.com or via Jenna’s online form at  https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article. 

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