I appreciate the praise, but need the criticism

I had a great notes zoom call with a script consultant this week for the animated fantasy comedy spec.

They really enjoyed it, and had a lot of nice things to say – about both the story and the writing. Admittedly, those were all very gratifying to hear.

But I was more interested in what they thought didn’t work, or at least could use some tweaking.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a long list – just a handful of things, really. And even better, just about all of them were easily fixable.

This has been my m.o. since way back when I first started. Yes, it’s great to hear somebody say nice things about your script, but I need to know what doesn’t work. How else can I make the script better?

It also helps that my readers have some strong analytical skills. They won’t hesitate to point out both the strengths and weaknesses in my work, and that’s the sort of thing a writer needs if they want to improve.

Naturally, I don’t agree with every single note and/or suggestion, but I can see where they’re coming from. Looking at your script from somebody else’s perspective can help you see issues you might not have even considered. That’s also helped me a lot as well.

It all comes down to the single most important question when it comes to notes and feedback: will this make the script better?

Based on my recent series of notes and how the subsequent rewrites/polishes turned out, I’d offer up a resounding “absoutely”.

Speaking of which, I went through and made some of the changes suggested by the consultant – which also trimmed it a little more to a pleasantly round 100 pages.

Now it’s out to what is hopefully my last set of readers. Once those notes come in and any appropriate changes are made, the shift into contest-entering mode can begin.

There’s also the soul-sucking process of having to write a synopsis, but I’ll focus on the positive stuff for now.

It’s all about the gradual improvement

Progress has been slow, steady, and in all honesty, somewhat faster than expected regarding the ongoing development of the animated fantasy-comedy spec.

Having learned my lesson from getting too many sets of notes per draft in the past, this time I limited myself to 2-3 writers per draft. All of the notes, as expected, were extremely helpful.

Not at the FINAL final draft yet, but gosh is it a lot closer than it was a few months ago. Pages have been cut, characters and subplots tossed, scenes revised or combined, lots of lines and pages trimmed down to what is hopefully succinct and to-the-point writing.

Currently clocking in at a respectable 102 pages. Nice. Especially considering an earlier draft was 119(!). Better to overwrite and cut than to pad and add.

(Big shoutout to Richard Walter for his invaluable advice of “Write as if ink costs $1000 an ounce.”)

While I did achieve one goal of having a workable rewrite done by the end of 2022 – at 10pm on New Year’s Eve, I was hoping to have it contest-ready soon after that.

Not the case, but that’s okay.

I’ve since received a few more sets of notes, including some helpful and encouraging comments from somebody who does coverage for the studios. Two more rounds of polishing have been completed since then. No major or drastic changes; more like a lot of effective and beneficial editing.

At this point, I’d guess there’s probably one more polish, possibly two, to go before I start warming up the credit card and check out contest deadlines.

Well worth the wait, I’d say.

Despite the still-growing number of drafts, it’s been quite satisfying to see the script slowly come together, and the next (but not the last) finish line is in sight.

Quality first and foremost

I’d finished a draft of the animated fantasy-comedy in late November and thought “Okay! This will definitely be ready for some of the contest early bird deadlines.”

Then I started getting notes on it. Which led to subsequent rewrites.

Then more notes, then another rewrite, followed by even more notes, culminating in an inspired push to complete a significant rewrite before the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve.

I made it with two hours to spare.

Bonus – 8 pages shorter than the previous draft.

I had a new draft of which I was particularly proud, but was it good enough to stand a chance in the big contests?

Kinda-sorta, but a decision had to be made.

On one hand, I could still make the rapidly-approaching early bird deadlines with the script as is, or get some already-scheduled professional notes and make the necessary fixes, thereby sending it regardless of the fee.

You can probably guess which option I chose.

One set of pro notes are coming in next week, and then another set in early February, so the hope is to have a contest-ready draft by the end of February or early March. Whatever the fees are around that time, that is what I will pay.

As I recently wrote to a writing colleague: I’d rather have a quality script that could do well in a high-profile contest than save a couple of bucks.

From the archives: May I be of some assistance?

info booth
“Be with you folks in a minute.”

Seeing as how we’re in the season of giving, I thought this post from July 2019 regarding helping out other writers in multiple capacities was rather appropriate.

Enjoy.

For the most part, working towards making it as a screenwriter is a solitary effort. You’re the one who has to write the script and get it out there. It’s a tough journey, but you don’t have to go it alone.

Hence – networking.

Making that initial contact is great, but you should also strive to make it worth the other person’s while as much as you are for yourself.

Once you start to build up your own personal community of Other Writers, and those relationships gradually develop beyond the “Hi. Nice to meet you” stage, you’ll naturally seek out some help in the form of feedback – your latest draft, a query, a logline, what have you.

And that’s all well and good, but it’s equally important, if not more so, for you to return the favor. Rather than just popping up and saying “Hey, would you read my script?”, try “Hey, we’ve known each other a while, and you seem to know what you’re talking about, so would you be open to reading my script? And I’d be more than happy to reading one of yours.”

Helpful tip #1 – don’t be the person who asks for notes but isn’t willing to give them.

Helpful tip #2 – even if you don’t like what their notes say, you still need to hold up your end of the bargain and give them notes – especially if you’re the one who asked in the first place.

Sometimes the best kind of help is when it’s unexpected – either from you or from somebody you know.

A few years ago, a producer friend of a friend was looking for a certain kind of project. I didn’t have anything that met their criteria, but offered to post the listing on a few social media platforms. At least 20 writers responded. I sent their info to the producer, who then contacted a few of them (as far as I know).

What did I get out of it? Just being happy to help and the appreciation from all the writers – even the ones the producer didn’t follow up with.

I’ve also been fortunate to be on the receiving end, with friends sending me emails and messages about listings seeking scripts like mine.

A little effort really does go a long way – anything from forwarding a script or job listing to a few words of encouragement, or even offering congratulations for somebody achieving some kind of accomplishment. Don’t you like when somebody does that sort of thing for you?

As much as we’re all working towards our own individual success, we’re also part of a community; one where each member should help support the others in whatever way they can.

Questions? I got lots of ’em.

Steadily working my way through an always-growing queue of scripts in the “to read” pile. Most are for pleasure, while the remainder are for notes.

A majority of my notes usually tend to involve asking questions because something might not be clear to me. This is all part of my effort to try to understand what’s going on with what I’m reading, as I try to figure things out and get a better grasp of what information the writer is trying to convey.

If I don’t understand something, I’ll just come out and ask.

It can range from “I’m not sure why this character was doing that. What was their reasoning behind it?” to “What’s this character’s arc? How do they change over the course of the story?”

Having the writer provide the answer helps them figure out the solution, or at least opens the door for them. More so than I ever could, at least. I don’t want to be the type of note-giver who’s all about “This doesn’t work. I think this would work better.”

(I have seen more than my fair share of notes that include that sort of comment, and I don’t particularly care for them.)

The questions usually come about because something wasn’t clear enough to me. And if I don’t pick up on it, chances are the audience won’t either. Everything we need to know should be there on the page, whether written out or as subtext.

If more than a few of your readers ask the same questions or make the comments about something in particular, that’s an issue you’ll definitely need to address.

A reader wants to like the script they’re reading. They make comments and ask questions in order TO HELP MAKE YOUR SCRIPT BETTER. As the writer, it’s up to you how to interpret them. Sure, you don’t have to incorporate everything, but ask yourself “why did they say/ask this?”

It can be tough to read your own script and see what works and/or doesn’t. You’re too familiar with the material. This is why getting notes can be so invaluable. The reader hasn’t seen this AT ALL, so it’s all entirely new. If they come upon something in your script that stops the read because it makes them think “Wait a second. What does that mean?” or “Why did that happen?”, then you’ll need to fix that so it addresses the issue and makes sure it doesn’t happen for whoever reads it next.

Sometimes a writer will respond to my questions saying nobody had mentioned or asked about that before, but they could totally see why I was asking. This in turn helped them figure out a way to make the changes they felt would eliminate the reason for the questions in the first place.

Which is why I asked them.