Screenwriting : How much should I trust the audience? by Marcin Klinkosz

Marcin Klinkosz

How much should I trust the audience?

Quick question after the last few feedbacks Ive received on my script – How much should I trust the reader/audience while writing my script? <p><br><p>One of my readers (I assume with a military background) put comment that the machine guns Ive used in my script were produced a few months after the action happens. That was an easy fix – machine guns instead of the exact gun name.

At some point, Ive referred to the historical moment (Kecksburg UFO incident). One of the characters talks about the landing in dialogue and indicates that happened before - 200 years from the action time and points the spot on the map – the reader comment was “Are we supposed to know why the meteor is important or historic for them? If so, I’m not getting it.” </p><p><br></p><p>In another case while introducing character Ive placed a unique bracelet that belonged to the missed daughter. Later on, a character found it on the crash scene, and later again we see it again sticking out of his pocket. In my head character would connect his finding with missing daughter but it wasnt that obvious for the reader - “What makes him think there is a connection at all?” </p><p><br></p><p>You cannot expect that everybody will get everything but you dont want to leave the reader not understanding what is going on.

How do you balance those things while writing?

Pierre Langenegger

If a reader tells me they don't understand some part or element of my script then I've failed to tell the story I'm trying to tell.

The audience in the cinema may not understand everything about your film and that's okay, as you say, "You cannot expect that everybody will get everything", but when you're talking studio readers (ie: the ones who really matter) they should and need to understand everything. Assuming the feedback you've received so far is from peer reviews/competitions then look at the most obvious and most common responses and fix those, and in my opinion, the machine gun statement is neither here nor there. That's a minor detail and a studio is not going to care about that unless your story hinges on a specific timeframe. I once provided notes to a writer whose major character was a member of the CMP. The timeframe of her story was important so I spent a couple of minutes researching that (possibly like your reader) and found in this case the CMP was not formed until 50 years after her storyline. That one was major and important but if it was several months then I wouldn't have cared.

Rosalind Winton

I think you've got think about how something will be perceived, while watching the film so to speak. For instance, do we see the daughter wearing the bracelet before she goes missing? Or, does the character who finds it, see a picture of her wearing it before he discovers it? So there's something there to show the reader that the character makes the connection.

I try to imagine what a scene will look like on screen to an audience, or how something might be perceived on screen, but it's also got to make sense to the reader.

I would definitely trust the reader, I think as writers, sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees and as fresh eyes to our work, the readers see things we don't. I've put my script through the services a few times and when I've read the notes, I've been mortified that I didn't spot that one really obvious thing that just didn't make sense, or wasn't clear.

Marcin Klinkosz

Thanks Pierre Langenegger Pierre . This is what I try to figure out - what is and what isnt the "minor detail". Its hard to imagine that reader is Googling the historical facts included in the script. "What is CMP ?"would be the first question for me.

Rosalind Winton - With the bracelet, it was exactly like you`ve described. With the landing - we see the same craft in the teaser, later the character is talking about the similar incident and later again we see the craft again.

I have ideas how to make it clearer. The question here is how far should I push it to avoid spoon feeding the audience?

+ this is a TV pilot so most of the answers to "hows?" and "whys?" will be the fuel for the next episodes.

Dan Guardino

The bracelet really shouldn't be in a character's description. Show it in action instead. Have her putting it on and taking it off a few times instead.

Marcin Klinkosz

Dan Guardino bracelet wasnt in the descritpion but during the character introduction scene (family picture that character focuses on and takes with him). There were also childs drawings that connect it to the rest of the story (craft shape, black sun).

Marcin Klinkosz

Rosalind Winton Thanks for that. I definately trust the readers - If they dont get it = they dont get it. I`m just trying to find the best way to fix it without pushing too much other way.

Tim Williams

This sounds more like script coverage. If so, they are not your audience. They have not committed their time to be entertained by your story and to grow with your characters. I think it's important to understand they're reading your script for business reasons if this is a script coverage.

It's definitely a smart move to get feedback on your writing as you move along. That said, the interpretation of your story will be different no matter who reads it. Take the machine gun detail for instance. If this was a scene in a movie the chances of someone spotting the specific model is very slim to none. I'm all about being consistent with facts but from a production stand point it would be hard to spot this detail, especially in a dark scene or a scene with movement. This detail stands out because the story is in the form of words.

You should be careful with the power of advice. This should be a moment to gain new ideas and perspectives centered around your writing. The feedback should never skew your creative intuition. This causes a lot of writers to focus on details that don't matter and never finish any scripts. You are the master architect. Be open to the feedback while also keeping your voice in the center of it all.

Pierre Langenegger

Marcin Klinkosz sorry, CMP is the Canadian Mounted Police.

Beverly Gandara

In my opinion, trust your audience. It is they who support your work, become fans and followers. They deserve a well written, thoroughly researched script so that there is authenticity in story. It's been my experience that readers are smart and want to be entertained and challenged. So that even if someone does not appreciate the story, they will respect a well crafted one. As for those who provide coverage, they have the power to move your story forward or pass on it. Again, trust your audience - I believe they want you to succeed.

Marcin Klinkosz

Thank you Beverly Gandara . I trust the reader, thats why Im asking more experienced industry professionals for advice. This script will rarely get produced because of the budget, cast, and complexity of the world. I`m treating it more as a playground on finding the right balance. The question is - How much do you foreshadow to avoid spoon feeding and keep the audience intrigued?

Dan MaxXx

There is plot logic and there is suspension of disbelief. The audience/Reader will believe anything if you set up the rules of your world. That's on you/your skills as a storyteller. For example, "Ex Machina", we begin in a regular office setting and by page 2, we're transported via helicopter over miles of wilderness, arrive at an underground house of a mysterious guy, the two main characters talk about theories, and then we see a female robot! Every scene makes sense logically in that world.

With the bracelet thing, "frame" it on the page so the Reader knows it is a VITAL piece of the plot. CAP bracelet, or a single word sentence. UNDERLINE - whatever you need to do visually on the page to let Readers know "this is a key plot piece!"

Foreshadowing, reversals, metaphors - that's all part of your tool kit as a writer. That's drama. How much or how to use them effectively will separate your script from big piles. Nobody can really answer that. But you know you got a winner when Readers are excited about your concept, don't mind minor facts/errors.

Richard P. Alvarez

I used to host screenwriter's salons with about ten writers in each session. These were all writers who had completed and submitted their scripts for mutual critiques.

Comments come in two flavors - "Housekeeping" and "Story".

Housekeeping - errors in format, spelling etc. Are easy fixes and you should be glad to get them. I also list any factual corrections in housekeeping. "They didn't have that model gun until later' - "They don't run those medical tests any more". Any factual corrections from knowledgeable folks should be more than welcome. (But you should also have done good research before.)

Story notes - are what you're talking about. Here's where having more than one reader really comes in handy. If a note comes up more than twice - listen to it. "I got lost here - Why didn't they call the police at this point - How would they know this?" - If you're hearing that - your structure is flawed. It's not working and needs a fix. Structure/plotting is part of your story. It's as important as formatting/spelling but a bit trickier to fix.

If only ONE person got lost - but others say - "Oh no, I could see that immediately' - then the fault lies with that reader. For whatever reason - they missed the clues. Should you 'fix it'? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Again - weigh your total feedback, not just one person's

The same with story decisions. "I just don't believe a family would act like that when the mother dies." - might say more about the reader, than the story. People bring their own luggage to a story. "I wanted her to dump him..." - "Oh no, it was perfect!" - two conflicting notes from different readers - each bringing their own history to their reading. Listen carefully to such feedback. It's useful even if you don't take it.

And then there are producer's notes once it's under option - that's another thing entirely. Driven by budget and any number of 'needs' that you might not be aware of. But you're being paid to listen for the need behind the note - and to figure out how to use it.

Good luck!

Marcin Klinkosz

Thank you for your valuable insights Dan MaxXx & Richard P. Alvarez . It looks like in that script Ive pushed too much on the exposition/confusion balance. Ive probably complicated my life too much creating such a mix, but you learn more through bigger obstacles, right? :-)

There are of course other important things I need to work on, but I`m just curious about this foreshadowing ratio.

Thanks a lot!

Dash Riprock

There are professional screenwriters who BOLD certain words or phrases because they know from experience that some readers miss these snippets of information.

There are professional screenwriters who even change the color of the font for these key words or phrases.

Do what you have to. Often times it's not the writer, it's the reader.

Ethan Frome

This simplest way to put it, imagine explaining something nuanced and complex to someone who doesn’t know anything about what you’re saying. Only a master can explain complex things in simple terms to everyone at ALL levels of knowledge on the subject. It’s just like that with you’re script. Leave clear breadcrumbs in the same way you’d explain complex things in simple terms. We have to assume they’re smart enough to follow along. And you have to know your script, you’re story. It’s details, for those in the know.

Tennyson Stead

Focusing exclusively on the action of the story, rather than weaving the plot out of expository details, makes the question about "spoon feeding" the audience irrelevant. If a character needs a piece of information to complete their mission in the story, they'll go and find it - and the audience will learn it right along with them. If a character doesn't need to know something, then the audience will understand what the character is doing without that information for context.

Context is only necessary to understand passive storytelling, and we shouldn't be writing passive stories to begin with!

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