From the archives: My two cents on giving my two cents

Plus an extra cent to cover expenses

After the whirlwind of the last few weeks organizing the Maximum Z Summer ’22 Script Showcase, putting together Volume 2 of my book series Go Ahead and Ask! (officially published on July 21, and Volume 1 still available here and here), reading for a contest, and working on my own stuff, I think I’ve earned a brief respite.

But never fear. I wouldn’t want you to go without a post for this week.

During the occasional break between all that stuff I just mentioned, I’ve also been able to do enjoy some just-for-the-hell-of-it reading of friends’ scripts. Each one has been a great read, and even better – no notes necessary.

That, of course, reminded me of a post from Jul 26, 2019 that was all about giving and receiving notes.

Enjoy (and happy 4th of July weekend to my American chums).

After a brief hiatus, I’ve started giving notes again. It’s always helpful to step away from your own material and dive into somebody else’s. More often than not, it’s a win-win situation.

Sometimes there are exceptions to that rule, but more on that in a minute.

The quality of the writing has ranged from just-starting-out to seasoned professional, so my notes and comments are provided with the level of feedback most suitable to the writer’s level of expertise. One writer might still be learning about proper formatting, while another might want to consider strengthening up that second subplot.

One of my cardinal rules of giving notes is to not be mean about it. I never talk down to the writer, because I’ve been in their shoes. I do what I can to be supportive and offer some possible solutions, or at least hopefully guide them towards coming up with a new approach to what they’ve already got.

One writer responded by saying they were really upset about what I’d said, but then they went and re-read my notes, and couldn’t argue or disagree with any of them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the expression “This is a reflection on the script, not you (the writer).” In some ways, the script IS a reflection of the writer; it’s their skill, their storytelling, their grasp of what should and shouldn’t be on the page, that are all being analyzed. After spending so much time and effort on a script, of course a writer wants to hear “it’s great!”, but as we all know, that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes I worry my comments are too harsh, but just about every writer has responded with “These are SO helpful!”

About a year ago, a writer I was connected to via social media asked to do a script swap. Some quick research showed they seemed to be experienced with writing and filmmaking, so it seemed like a good idea.

I read their script, and didn’t like it. I said so in my notes, and offered up what I considered valid reasons why, along with questions raised over the course of the story, along with some suggestions for potential fixes.

What I was most surprised about was that this person presented themselves as a professional, and maybe I was naive in taking all of that at face value and believing the quality of their writing would reflect that and meet my expectations.

It didn’t.

It also didn’t help that they opted to not give me any notes on my script. At all. Just some snarky retorts. Guess my lack of effusive gushing hurt their feelings, and this was their method of retribution.

Oh well.

Interesting follow-up to that: I later saw them refer to my notes in a quite negative way, along with “this script has even gotten a few RECOMMENDS”, which is always a great defense.

Follow-up #2: we’re no longer connected on social media.

Could I have phrased my comments in a more supportive way? I suppose, but I figured this person wanted honesty, not praise. And like I said, I assumed they had a thick skin from having done this for a while.

Guess I was mistaken.

And I’ve been on the receiving end of it as well. A filmmaker friend read one of my scripts and started with “Sorry, but I just didn’t like it,” and explained why. Did I pound my fists in rage and curse them for all eternity? Of course not. Their reasons were perfectly valid.

Or the time a writing colleague could barely muster some tepid words of support for one of my comedies. I was a little disappointed, but after having read some of their scripts,  realized that our senses of humor (sense of humors?) were very different, so something I considered funny they probably wouldn’t, and vice versa.

I’ve no intention of changing how I give notes. If I like something, I’ll say so. If I don’t, I’ll say so. You may not like what I have to say, but please understand that it’s all done with the best of intentions. My notes are there for the sole purpose of helping you make your script better.

Isn’t that why we seek out notes in the first place?

From the archives: Lattes, lunches & kindred spirits

coffee
“And then he actually asked, “But what’s your Save the Cat moment?””

Had a really nice in-person get-to-know-you coffee chat with a writer this week, which are always a pleasant experience. I highly recommend doing them, whether you’re the inviter or the invitee. (Iced sugar-free vanilla latte with oat milk for me, please.)

I’ve written about these more than a few times, including this classic post from August 2016.

(And a friendly reminder that my book is now available)

It’s been a busy week around here, and not just in terms of writing.

I’ve had some great in-person meet-ups with three other local writers over the past couple of days. Two were first-timers, the third was someone I’ve known for a couple of years. Each one was great in its own way. This really is one of my favorite parts of networking – actually meeting somebody else and getting to know them.

Because of my work schedule, lunch or early afternoon coffee are ideal. I prefer a nice little cafe because it always makes for a better one-on-one environment: quiet, sociable, pleasant. Larger networking events, usually at bars, tend to be pretty crowded and noisy, which makes it tough to establish a solid rapport. I’m not too keen on having to continuously shout and not be entirely sure either of us can hear the other.

The first meeting usually involves the exchanging of “here’s my story” mini-bios, and then moves on to what’s going on for both parties. Over the course of about an hour, we’ll share and discuss our individual journeys as writers. Everybody’s journey is different, and I always find each one quite fascinating.

We often share many similarities: our constantly working in the hopes of eventually succeeding as a writer (or filmmaker), the noticeable excitement while discussing our latest project(s), wondering how it’ll go and how it’ll be received.

We are also allowed free rein to vent our frustration about whatever’s currently sticking in our respective craws. Bad experiences, lack of funds for a project, feeling stuck with developing a story, dealing with lousy notes, and so on. One of my new connections even stated, “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one this has happened to!”

That may be what’s at the heart of all of this: knowing you’re not the only one trying to do this, and that somebody else totally understands what it is you’re going through. Simply being able to chat about it in a casual social setting can do wonders; one might even call it therapeutic.

I also make a point of offering to help out in any capacity I can, which tends to usually be either giving script notes or suggesting potential contacts and strategies, and just about everybody is more than happy to reciprocate. Who can’t use a little help?

If you haven’t done so already, I heartily recommend reaching out and connecting with somebody in your area, especially if both of you are within close proximity to each other. Chances are they’re seeking to do the exact same thing.

You know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, this not only applies to breaking in, but also to helping you work your way towards that. Building up your personal network of fellow creatives is easy, won’t cost you that much (just what you’d spend on a cup of coffee or a meal), and is a definite plus for all involved.

Learn by doing (apply & repeat)

A few weeks ago, I’d mentioned on social media that part of my plan for this year was to continue doing script notes. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, as well as inspiring a few other writers to do the same thing.

(I’m really cutting back on how many scripts I read. I like the idea of putting more time into my own stuff.)

One writer commented that they’d love to be able to do the same for other writers, but they didn’t have much confidence in their own analytical skills.

We’ve all been there. Giving notes isn’t easy, and some are better at it than others.

Like with everything about screenwriting, there’s no secret formula.

It’s all about taking time and effort to learn how to read a script and be able to recognize what works and what doesn’t. And even that takes time to learn how to do properly, or at least effectively.

I’d suggested to the writer they start by just reading scripts. Could they see what’s good, and what’s not? Opinions vary whether it’s better to work with specs or produced material. I tend to favor the former because that way I’m not influenced by an existing film.

Another option was to get feedback on their own scripts, either from a professional or someone within their personal network whose opinion they trust. Do they understand why the reader made the notes they did?

As cliched as this may sound, when it comes to being able to recognize good writing, you eventually learn to know it when you see it.

I really hope this writer decides to start working on honing their analytical skills. Being a good reader really can help you become a better writer.

Solutions sought (and found)

The past few weeks have been all about working on developing this new script.

After a bit of a rough start, I’d come up with what seemed like a solid storyline. I had my plot points mapped out, and started filling in the blanks between them.

The ideas were coming at a decent pace, but things started to feel…odd.

I got to around the midpoint when things suddenly came to a grinding halt. Something just wasn’t clicking, and it was up to me to figure out what was wrong AND how to fix it.

My mind started racing for potential ideas. But the more I thought about it, the worse the ideas became. It was getting to the point of ridiculousness.

Being so laser-focused on this was severely messing up my creativeness. Since you can’t force inspiration, I took the easier path:

I stepped away.

Like any good writer, I’ve got more than a few projects in various stages of development, so I let this one simmer and turned my attention to something else.

Over the next couple of days, I made some progress plotting out this other project and didn’t even think about the first one.

I’ll also admit to spending some time doing some script notes and indulging in some pulp-y books featuring tales of adventures

And all of it really helped.

Feeling a bit more prepared to face my story problem, I opened the file and looked things over.

Thus did the wheels start turning…

I’d originally thought I’d have to delete a majority of what I’d already come up with, but a lot of it still worked, so I needed to figure out another way to utilize it.

Taking a closer look after a bit of a break helped to shine a spotlight on the problem as well as presenting an effective way to resolve it. Without going into too much detail, it involved expanding on what I already had for the first half of the story (along with a little rearranging of scenes), then expanding on those results, along with some relevant subplot goings-on, for the second half.

I’m sure there are many more bumps in the road ahead for this script, but it’s still great when you make this kind of headway.

Now – back to the story and filling in the rest of the blanks.

Hope your weekend is equally as productive, if not more so.

A gift they’ll love – bow optional

The holiday season is “officially” here, and maybe you’re racking your already-rattled screenwriter’s brain trying to think of gifts you’d like to give, or maybe you’d like to receive.

Sure, there are the usual items, like books, contest fees, or consulting services, and those are all great, but how about the easiest gift of all?

It won’t cost you a cent, and is beneficial to both the giver and the givee.

Time.

Got a little extra on your hands? Offer to read another writer’s script and give notes.

Not sure how to go about it? Never fear. It’s super-easy.

Just go onto the social media platform of your choice, and say something along the lines of “Anybody looking for notes on their script?”.

Then stand back and watch the responses flood in – which they will.

Don’t feel obligated to take all of them on. They can add up fast. As many you feel comfortable with. One, two, five. It’s your choice.

Our schedules are already pretty jam-packed as it is, but try to get them done in a timely fashion.

In theory, the writer will be very appreciative and let you know that, along with an offer to return the favor. Again, your choice if you take them up on it.

Giving notes may not be for everybody, but there’s something to be said for setting aside a part of your day to help out another writer (or writers).

One of the things I always try to promote here is how invaluable it is to network and be part of the online screenwriting community. Doing this can play a significant part in helping with that.

And I hope you enjoy the reads as much as the writers had writing them.