Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Story Vault: Writing Wrongs

A post from July last year, about conflicting feedback, and how to deal with it. If anyone's got any questions they'd like covered on the blog, now would be a good time to shout (email or leave a comment, thanks!).


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.



Lucy V said...

Does anyone *actually* put their scripts in their sock drawer? I'm curious. All my scripts are strictly virtual, so I suppose they are in the sock drawer OF MY MIND.

Great post as usual Danny, tho natch I recall it from first time around. Lots of Bang2writers totally freak when they get conflicting feedback and email/ring me about it, but what they have to remember is this:

No one will ever feel EXACTLY THE SAME about your script 'cos everyone is different, with different likes and different prejudices. Even if it gets made, some people will still have conflicting opinions. You only need to look at forums like Twelve Point's to see this, so why do writers imagine scripts are different? But of course we all do, but with experience it becomes easier to deal with.

A little bird told me once when I had "feedback fatigue" it's all about trying to hold on to what you were *trying* to do when you originally conceived the story... ; )

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reposting this. I've been dealing with this myself recently, as all my normal readers gave me opposite reactions to what I expected on my last draft (both positive and negative). It was a rather odd experience, to say the least.

Your post is a nice reminder/reinforcement to do my due diligence with the feedback but to ultimately go with my gut on what feels right for the story I'm creating.