Interpreting Feedback

Feedback isn’t a to-do list of fix-its.  You need to interpret feedback and you’re allowed to disagree with some points if they don’t make sense.  Make sure they actually don’t apply and aren’t just a knee-jerk reaction to criticism.

The more experienced the reviewer, the easier it is for you to understand what they’re getting at, but when starting out, chances are we ask inexperienced readers to give us feedback.  When you interpret your feedback to get to the heart of the problem, you spend less time wasted on irrelevant points and start with the bigger issues.  As a result, the smaller problems go away.

Let’s break this down.  Here’s a list of possible comments on a screenplay:

  • Intercut isn’t formatted right
  • There are too many characters
  • I don’t understand why John is introduced in act two because he never returns and his plot isn’t resolved.
  • The relationship between your romantic leads isn’t believable; they don’t seem to know each other
  • Your paragraphs are too long.
  • Think you need a scene on page 30 between the diner scene and the street scene. doesn’t make sense
  • Why is your heroine eating a burger when you set her up in act one as a vegan?

If you look at the notes above, you can group them into categories: formatting, structure, character.

  1. Formatting is something you’ll have to fix but is nothing to stress over, so that’s paragraphs and intercutting done.
  2. Too many characters, John’s character and a missing scene on page 30 all relate to structure.  Why do the two character comments relate to structure? Because they’re essentially the same comment: too many characters is a sign of filling the act II gap.  This means you need to deal with your leads and toss the extras.  The missing scene could be something you deal with directly, but more than likely you haven’t worked out your structure properly, which is why there’s a gap in logic.  Work through your structure and these problems will fall away.
  3. Burger-eating vegan and the unbelievable relationship are character problems.  When you have inconsistencies in character behaviour, either you have made a simple mistake or you haven’t developed your characters.  If you have a romance in your story, you have to make your characters compatible and show that they like each other.  When someone says they don’t seem to know one another, that shows that the writer doesn’t know them.

By grouping these comments, you can get a clearer picture of what is actually off with your script and save yourself valuable time.  If you went back and fixed each item listed above, your structure will still be off, your characters will still be weak and you will not have fixed your script so you’ll end up getting similar comments again and again.  Try not to blame the reader especially if they’re inexperienced because they may not be able to accurately describe the problem.  But the fact that they pointed something out, makes it worth examining.

The more scripts you review yourself, the easier it will be for you to identify the major issues that need resolving and how these minor ones relate to them.  The minor problems are symptoms of a bigger issue; like a sneeze is to a cold.  Don’t cure the sneeze, cure the cold and your script will be healthy again!