Thursday, June 4, 2009
Understanding Script Feedback: How to interpret feedback and get the most out of your rewrite
Though I am not a fan of the show American Idol, one can't help but enjoy the show's auditions episodes simply because they put on display some of the most bizarre aspects of humanity.
The bad auditions are always so amusing not because of how bad the singers are, but rather the fact that these people have somehow convinced themselves that they are GOOD – and then they react with such shock and dismay when they are confronted with the truth. They refuse to believe what these people say- REFUSE! These judges must be morons! They don't know anything about good music! They're probably jealous! They insist that the judges are 100% wrong, while anyone in America with a television set and a working set of eardrums knows that they are 100% right.
So what is wrong with these people? Are they delusional? Insane? Just plain stupid?
The real reason that these people can't seem to come to grips with reality is because their talent, as well as all talent, exists on two separate planes. Two separate realities. First, there is the-
SUBJECTIVE REALITY – what this person THINKS they sound like -how they EXPECT people to react to them, and secondly, an
OBJECTIVE REALITY – what this person actually sounds like to others.
The most brazenly untalented singers who audition for this show have come to believe in their subjective reality so strongly that a million doses of the objective world cannot dissuade them.
We as writers face these same conflicting realities every time we hear what someone else thinks of our scripts. So often, reading feedback is a confusing, disheartening, even infuriating experience.
How can this person really think that? What do they mean this plot point doesn't make sense? It was PERFECTLY set up! What do they mean my main character was flat and uninteresting? That character is great! I worked my ass off developing her! Are they blind? They don't know what they are talking about! Did they even READ the script?
You too, have fallen into trap of dual realities. The SUBJECTIVE REALITY, of what you THINK the script accomplishes, what you think it communicates, and how well you think it does so. And, the OBJECTIVE REALITY, the script as you have physically created it, sitting right there in front of a reader in black and white.
To get the most out of feedback, a writer must learn to reconcile the two realities in order to learn where things went wrong.
RULE #1: THE READER IS NEVER WRONG
That's not to say that the reader is always right. Far from it. This is to say that whatever the reader says, it is a 100% valid reflection of what has been set in front of them, in one way or another.
First off, a writer must realize that the reader does not KNOW their story. They don't know their intentions or purposes. They don't know about the elaborate backstory the writer dreamed up in their head to explain your protagonist's behavior. They don't know how the dialogue seems to sing beautifully in the writer's head. They don't know how the last draft was much longer, so the writer cut some scenes for time, and the stuff that was lost kind of explains certain plot points so they make more sense, but hopefully it won't matter too much and the reader will figure it out. All the reader has is the black type on the white page as the writer has chosen to write it down. That, and that alone, is what a reader will use to judge you.
A script is a tool through which the writer communicates his or her story through words. If there is a shocking difference between what YOU see when you look at your script, and what THEY see when they read it, then there has been a failure in communication. The fault is not with the reader, but with you the writer, because you have in some way FAILED to properly communicate your story in the best way possible.
Let's say for instance, you find this article you are reading right now to be confusing, filled with logical errors, and thus causes you to come to the wrong conclusions, (hopefully it won't). Where does the fault lie? With me, the writer, who failed to get my point across clearly? Or you, the reader, for being unable to understand my poor communication skills? Yes, of course, the fault would be all mine.
Never try to argue with someone who gives you feedback. Never tell them that they are wrong. And please don't start explaining your story to your reader as if they were a child and just too dumb to understand it. Have you ever had someone try to tell you what to think? Or worse, tell you what emotions you should be feeling? It's infuriating. How dare someone do that? How dare anyone suggest that your thoughts and feelings are wrong, that they are any less valid than the thoughts and feelings of anyone else's? Well, this is what you will be doing if you try to argue with your readers.
The people who read your scripts may not all be experts in screencraft, but everyone is an expert in their own thoughts and emotions. Emotions don't lie. If reading your script made them feel one way or another, then that feeling is VALID and TRUE. As true as anything else in the world. Now, their reaction may be far from universal – they might even be the only person in the world who feels that way – but as far as their feedback goes, their thoughts are an accurate reflection of the Objective Reality they experienced while reading your script.
Never discount your readers. There is value hidden in their words. Throwing them away is like throwing away money.
(On to Part II)