Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Writing Wrongs

Wyndham: I've just had some feedback from two people but they've given completely contradictory feedback on one aspect of the script. The script is now going into exile in my sock drawer for six weeks or so. What kind of decisions should I be making when I get it out again and start the dreaded process of rewriting?

First, the good news. You’re doing the right thing by putting it in your sock drawer. Taking time-out and gathering perspective is just as important as brainstorming yourself into a quick rewrite. It’s all too easy to take on board everything people say and do another draft but the end result can be messy as the script can lose the focus and intent of the original writer.

The bad news? Only you can decide what’s best for the script. No-one else. There isn’t a simple solution. It comes down to instinct and personal choice. Don’t try to second-guess the audience (or the script reader). Don’t be swayed by feedback that goes against your natural impulses and/or what you always intended for the story.

Use your common sense. If you get three or more people pointing out the same problem in the script, then you should probably listen to what they’re saying (but not necessarily respond to their feedback, if you ultimately disagree with it). If you’ve got two contrasting opinions on only one element of the story, then it’s not a case of who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s a case of what you think is best. Choosing an option, knowing you’re right, that it’s good for the story (not your ego, or your mate or your reader). Then, sticking to your conviction all the way.

Your decision may be the difference between box office gold or failure (hey, it could have been the wrong choice) but you’ve got the be content, in your heart of hearts, that you made the right judgement. Some writers/filmmakers are happy with imperfect stories because they stuck to their conviction about what they wanted to say. It may not have impressed or satisfied the audience in the way that they intended but they made a decision and refused to bend.

Don’t feel tortured by the decisions you have to make. It’s all part of the process. Weigh up the good and the bad but go with your gut. As writers, we need to stand up and be counted; to take more responsibility for our work. We shouldn’t rely on other people’s approval or amend our stories for every bit of feedback that we receive. If it’s a particularly problematic part of the story that’s dividing opinion then, again, only you can decide what needs to be done.

If a basic like or dislike has been expressed about a certain scene or moment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that both responses are correct. But if the part of the story is troubling you, and you value the contrasting views, then dig deeper to find out the core of the problem. Ask yourself some questions. ‘What is the purpose of this scene?’ ‘Is it true to the character?’ ‘Does it really belong in the story?’ ‘Is it out of tone with what’s already happened?’ ‘What would happen if it was removed altogether?’ ‘Is it important to me or important to the plot?’ Answering these questions, or questions like them, should help clarify what you intended rather than bouncing off feedback that might not be entirely relevant.

Alternatively, use index cards or a cork board to lay out the scene, sequence or storyline in front of you. Experiment. Change. Add. Delete. Once you’re happy that something is right, and it works, then dig deep and stand firm. Ten different people might give you ten different opinions but that’s the nature of the beast. Make the right decision for the story, not for anyone else. You can’t rewrite forever.


Near by said...

great post Danny!

Danny Stack said...

Aw, thanks F.A. I believe you were at the screenwriters' festival & around, shame I missed you!

Jason Arnopp said...

Yes, Far Away: when someone told me you'd been at the SWF, I felt considerably cheated! You elusive character, you.

And yes, Lord Stack - that's a great reminder that we shouldn't entirely rely on the validation or otherwise of others to guide our works in progress. Probably best to think of people's opinions as very handy - and often life-saving - litmus tests, rather than convenient tools to sort your script out for you. We shouldn't underestimate the value of printing out our last draft, a week or maybe two after we wrote it, and absorbing it with a fresh perspective, then making our own decisions. It's our script, after all.

Sal said...

I recently had some damning feedback telling me that my script was SO bad, I should regard it as a one night stand 'Nice while it lasted, but it's time to move on.' I felt winded for a week or so. I put it in said sock drawer. Sulked for a bit and then decided that in my heart of hearts, I knew this person was wrong. My script IS worth persevering with. If I feel passionately about it, there must be a way of making others feel the same. So, I am onto draft number eight and feeling much more positive. They kept saying at SWF that 'nobody knows anything' which I think is worth bearing in mind.

Wyndham said...

Thanks, Danny. As usual. I've got a pretty good sense of which information my gut agrees with, and which it doesn't.

My script may be in the sock drawer but I can't stop thinking about it. Roll on the football season.

Near by said...

well next time then, D and Jase - I won't be a stranger!

Anonymous said...

Hi, discovered your blog some time ago, just thought I'd say how much I enjoy it. I particularly found the 'Unsolicited Material Welcome' section highly valuable, especially as so many agencies and companies - even in the Yearbooks - sau no to unsolicited scripts. Great post, keep up with the good work....

Anonymous said...

I just have to share it: for more than six months I've been working on a TV show spec, polishing it for the Red Planet prize the past couple of weeks. Sort of high concept, in fact rarely seen on TV, with a decent, fresh premise.

And last night - "just checking the entertainment news, hun" - I read that this very concept is also the concept of an upcoming, not-yet produced US show. For decades this subject has never been covered on TV, and now - argh!

So, back to work. There MUST be something out there which hasn't been done yet.

Anonymous said...

Last time I cried during a film was watching the Alejandro Amenabar film Mar Adentro. After living in the north of Spain for 5 years the films release coincided with me finally being able to fully understand a film in Spanish, it took my breath away. If you haven't seen it put it on the list.