By: Sarah Chaisson-Warner
Feedback is one of the most useful tools in a writer’s toolbox for improving their work and becoming stronger at their craft. Feedback can come from a variety of places – everything from table reads to coverage services to notes from producers and agents. Feedback can be about your plot, character arcs, dialogue, and even formatting. But navigating the feedback process can be tricky – how can you most effectively incorporate feedback into your writing to create a stronger, more viable script? Shore Scripts’ team, of talented coverage analysts and readers, offer their best tips and ideas.
Fresh Eyes and Fresh Perspectives
Most writers will tell you – it can be difficult to objectively pinpoint the challenges in your script’s plot or how your dialogue lands. Think about feedback as a set of fresh eyes on your script – the reader has never experienced your story before, and their reaction can provide clarity about how it can be improved. “The reader is your way of getting someone else’s point of view in terms of understanding your script,” says Sarah Johnson. “A reader is a great way of getting an unbiased opinion of your work who will see it from an industry perspective, as well as a subjective perspective of your work.”
Take A Moment
When you get your feedback – whether it is from a fellow writer, a coverage service, or an industry professional – take it in slowly. “I would recommend reading the feedback but not doing anything with it until a few days later,” says Michelle Goode.
Alex Moran agrees. “I think it’s really important to give feedback time to digest. I think a lot of writers read feedback and follow their immediate reaction to it, which I often think is counterproductive. Unless you’re superhuman, you’ll have emotional reactions to the story you’ve become attached to, so let those feelings settle. I remember receiving coverage on a new script and feeling upset and frustrated. I read it again an hour later, and suddenly the feedback felt more reasonable, and made more sense. I read it a day later, then a week later. By that time the feedback looked very different, and I could utilize it properly with an objective eye. So give it time.”
Michelle also suggests writers think about how they will prioritize the various components of feedback.
“It’s wise to identify the parts that need work first. Make an order of importance about what to tackle. Naturally, this would be things like plot and character development rather than style or proofreading, since these are best left until a later draft.” – Michelle Goode.
It Isn’t Personal
Receiving feedback – even when we actively solicit it – can be hard. Remember that any feedback you receive isn’t personal – it is meant to support you and your writing journey. “Don’t take feedback personally. It is always given in the service of the story, with the aim of making it better,” says Kim Parker.
“Script readers read dozens of scripts each month, so they’ve probably got a fair idea of where your script sits in relation to others available in the same genre and in the wider market. Also, because of all the free advice now widely available, including on Shore Scripts’ own website, the standard of scripts has improved markedly, so competition is fierce.”
The Note Behind the Note
Readers often tell writers to “look for the note behind the note.” This means looking at the bigger picture. “If a reader suggests cutting a scene because it seems unnecessary and slows down the pacing, the real solution might be: actually, this scene is really important to the plot and/or character development, but I guess I need to clarify how and why because the reader didn’t get it,” advises Julia Morizawa.
She also suggests, particularly when feedback is extensive, that rather than going back to your script, consider going back to your outline, beat sheet, and character biographies instead. “For example, if you get a note that your characters don’t have distinct voices, rather than editing each line of dialogue one by one, it may be more productive to go back and write extensive character biographies to find their distinct voices before making any changes to actual dialogue.”
The best notes and feedback also likely won’t result in quick fixes or an easy solution. “Try and digest the big picture of the notes. Even though coverage is presented in specific areas of premise, character, and plot, the ‘aha’ moments for the writer will come where these areas intersect,” says Christine Reklaitis.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Receiving feedback is hard, no doubt about it. You poured yourself into this script, and hearing criticism – even constructive criticism – can be difficult to swallow. And it can be tempting to outright dismiss feedback that you don’t like – they just didn’t get it, you might say, as you roll your eyes.
So what do you do if you disagree with the feedback? Tristan Wold advises writers to first ask themselves why. “Did the reader miss the point of your script? If so, that means producers/directors/audiences may also miss the point, so how can you do edits so that they get it.”
You can also consider getting second and third opinions.
“If I don’t like the feedback or disagree with it, I will wait to see how many other readers offer the same feedback. If two or more readers mention the same thing, even if I don’t love it or agree with it, I’ll incorporate it. Sometimes this means getting creative, like, ‘Ok, I don’t want to do that exact thing they’re suggesting, but maybe if I do this then the problem will still be fixed.” – Julia Morizawa.
If possible, be sure to ask clarifying questions of your reader as well. Shore Scripts offers a follow-up service for writers to ask their readers questions about the feedback received. Other services may offer similar options, but be sure to ask in advance if follow-up questions are possible and welcome.
Of course, if the feedback is inappropriate or offensive, that is a different case. “If the feedback was offensive, inappropriate, or biased – especially if, worst case scenario, you believe it to be racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or otherwise bigoted – then you absolutely should contact the coverage service, or reader if you’re working directly with an individual, and say so. And make sure the service follows through with looking into it for you and providing retribution such as a new reader,” Julia advises.
How the Professionals Work with Feedback
Coverage analysts are writers too, and they consistently seek feedback on their own projects to improve their craft. So how do they effectively work with feedback?
Tristan prints out all feedback and highlights and dissects it. “I’ll print out my script and make edits on the page or in a notebook – I’m a little old fashioned, I suppose. I value and appreciate any feedback I receive because it means another human being sat with my script and took the time out of their day to think about it.”
Kim lets the ideas build before she comes back to her script.
“I am now in the habit of reading feedback carefully twice and then setting it aside. Over the next few days, I allow it to percolate, without thinking about it. I know my subconscious will find the answer(s) and push new ideas as to how I can improve the script into my conscious mind. As the ideas build, I become excited about the changes I want to make. That’s when I sit down and do a re-write.” – Kim Parker.
Christine utilizes writer groups and writer friends to make the most out of feedback. “Personally, I need to talk through things. I always find conversations about the material most effective for making me see areas that need improvement or to think of new ideas. I also realize that often times when someone identifies a scene or a particular beat in the script that isn’t working, the area that needs work is usually many pages before, or occasionally after the specific spot that feels off. And I try to remember there isn’t one ‘solution’ to ‘fix’ a script.”
After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing a sci-fi and a family Christmas script. Her script, Serafina Stavinovna, was placed in “The Next 100” in the 2021 Nicholl Fellowship Competition.
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