I’ve had the experience of working with some writing, both my own and other people’s, that required a second opinion. For some of them, I was the second opinion, while the others involved my work being reviewed.
An experienced professional asked me to take a look at another writer’s script, accompanied with their excitement and enthusiasm about it. Upon reading it, I found it severely lacking in a lot of screenwriting fundamentals (bad structure, shoddy character development, etc.), and said so as part of my notes of what was needed to improve.
I like to read a script twice before giving notes on it, and it took a lot of effort to get through each one – especially the second time. That whole time I was wondering “Where is this enthusiasm coming from?” This person knows what a good script looks like, and this one, to me, didn’t meet any of the necessary criteria. And if they felt this way about this script, could I trust their judgment on others?
Last week I’d been given the offer to have my query letter reviewed. I put it together with the elements I considered vital: quick one-sentence pitch, logline, reputable contest results. As fast a read as possible.
The response read like something churned out by a machine. Their recommendation was to follow “their blueprint”, which involved a lot of fill-in-the-blanks, how it’s similar to successful films (the more recent, the better!), telling the story from only the main character’s point of view, and concluding with “why I think this will be a hit” OR the underlying theme. The end result is several big unappealing blocks of text.
All of this felt totally and absolutely wrong. If I were the intended recipient, I might start reading, but would most likely lost interest very quickly and be very hard-pressed to want to continue, let alone finish it.
(With no intention of ever actually using a letter written following their guidelines, I put one together and submitted it for review, just to see what they would say. Their follow-up comments reinforced my doubts, but that is a topic for another day.)
As you probably guessed, I’ll be sticking with my original format.
The takeaway from both of these experiences is that a writer must not only develop their writing and storytelling skills, but also the ability to trust their instincts. Know what works, not only for you, but in an overall sense.
Don’t always assume the other person is in the right. Sometimes they’re not.
Everybody will have an opinion about something. You might agree wholeheartedly or think the other person has no idea what they’re talking about. It takes time to learn how to determine which is which. You will make mistakes and bad choices along the way, but make the effort to learn from them so you don’t do it again.
Like with writing itself, the more you work at it, the better at it you’ll become.