The Ever-Dreaded Constructive Criticism
Fellow screenwriters, I get it. Constructive criticism sucks, any way you slice it. Yes, we know it helps, but it almost always hurts in a way. It's a direct blow to the good old ego, which is ever so frail these days. That nice little labor of love you just spent 100+ man hours on has issues with it? How could it possibly after all that time and energy you just devoted to it? Seemingly impossible, right? Believe me, I understand fully. Been there, done that DOZENS of times.
However, we know deep down within our own heart of hearts, it's the only way we're ever gonna get better. It doesn't magically take the sting away though, does it? Nope.
But, here's the deal: constructive criticism is almost always done from a place of love and care. These people who read our scripts and give us feedback want to see us succeed. I'm also aware that this is not always the case. So, when do we heed this advice, and when do we dispose with it?
This one's our favorite, right? Friends and family read our scripts because they love us. And their feedback is pretty much always gonna be positive, because they love us. Seems legit. This is an area where I would be grateful, but aware of the situation. Yes, our families and friends want to shower us with praises because they love us and don't want to hurt our feelings. And who knows? Maybe that deluge of love, kindness and praise it warranted and meritorious! Who am I to say that it's not?
I just say this with a hint of skepticism just because family and friends (typically, not always) are not in the industry and don't exactly know what specifically makes a script good or subpar. Now, if they do, they will likely be honest with you and tell you what's what. This is a definite upside of having friends and family who know their shit and will give it to you straight.
My warning for taking feedback from friends and family who have rarely or never read scripts is that perhaps you take their feedback with a grain of salt. Sure, there could be a piece of advice here and there that works. It's also entirely possible they know A LOT about storytelling and can spot plot holes from a mile away. This is where they can really come in handy.
If they find that your script has structural, logical, and character-related flaws and you were just too blind or biased to see it, then bless that family member or BFF. Maybe take them out for dinner or buy them a drink or something. They earned it. And your story is now better for it.
This one's a tricky one, too. It is true that fellow screenwriters are likely to know a lot about screenwriting, whether it be just as much or even more than you do. And yes, fellow screenwriters will also have your back when you want one read, especially if you agree to read theirs in return. We've all done it, and I'm sure, for the most part, it works out the majority of the time. I know it does for me.
Now, with that said, it's also important to take your fellow screenwriters' feedback with a grain of salt, as well. Here's why: sure, they might know as much as you do about screenwriting (possibly less, possibly more), but they don't always know what's best for your story. Some screenwriters like to project their hopes and wants for what your story is instead of giving hints, tips, and pointers from a legitimate storytelling and screenwriting perspective. I am not saying that this is across the board. I have brilliant screenwriting friends who call me out on my sh*t and have profoundly helped me out with my scripts more than a handful of times - and I am truly grateful and indebted to them for that.
However, some screenwriters may also have a deeply seeded jealousy for what you're doing, what you're writing, and what you've achieved. Perhaps this is a wretched and cynical point of view or thought process to have, but all I am saying is be careful of those who do not genuinely support you and do not have your best interests at heart. There's also the distinct possibility that you have more knowledge and have better control of your craft.
Do not think of yourself as superior to these writers, help guide them! That's your opportunity to pass on the wisdom you have gained over the trying years of toil and struggle. Take the constructive criticism given to you that is going to have significant and meaningful impacts on your plot, your script structure, your characters, and your story's overall industry prospects, etc. Take what is going to improve and make sense to your story. Toss out the rest.
I know what you're thinking: this is where he pushes the paid feedback to swipe a quick buck from me. Not exactly. My suggestion here is to ensure these industry pros are vetted. Review their IMDB page. Search for accomplishments, achievements, legitimate laurels. Look at their track record! Be entirely sure you will be getting your money's worth.
The bang for your buck is everything! Easier said than done, I know. But, here's the deal: it's your money and I fully understand how important your money is to you. It's the exact same for me. So, my ask of you is to protect yourself by doing your research. If the so-called "industry pro" doesn't seem legit, screw it and move on! It's easy to tell what laurels they claim they do or do not have are legitimate or not. If they look fake, they probably are. Plus, anyone can make laurels these days. Do not be easily impressed by the laurels. Make absolutely certain that you are working with someone who knows what they're talking about, the projects they've worked on are quality, and that they are precisely who they say they are (don't get catfished!).
With all that being said, do I recommend Stage 32's script services? Absolutely, I do! If there's anyone who knows how to vet their producers, development executives, managers, script consultants, what have you, it's Stage 32. You get full transparency about who is reading your work, and the type of genres/projects they are looking for with Stage 32 Script Services.
Is this also where I'm going to shamelessly self-plug myself? Well, I'll let you do the math, there. If you check me out and determine I'm not legit, fine. That's on you. But, I'm guessing if you're reading and agreeing with this, I'd also be willing to wager that you trust me. Again, it's entirely up to you. My recommendation is always: protect yourself and your work.
All in all, you are going to get advice from a wide array of people. And it's always going to be up to you what is going to help or hurt your script.
My advice about this advice is to know your sources. If you know exactly who it's from, what their intent is, and how legitimate their background is, then you'll likely know exactly what to do with it. Again, if the feedback you received is going to take your story somewhere you don't want it to go, then do away with it.
If you feel that criticism is something legitimate and comes from a place of love and is well-intentioned, then that seems the perfect bit of help your story needed. Be it a friend, family member, fellow screenwriter, or industry reader/professional, just ensure it's that one thing that you were looking for to set that script apart from the rest.
And remember, YOU can be that guide or mentor to those who need it more than you do.
My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.
Previous Stage 32 blogs by Rob:
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