Screenwriting : Taking Criticism by Jason Levy

Jason Levy

Taking Criticism

I love getting feedback on my scripts. I joined a writer's group and everyone had good things to say about it along with some great notes on what needs fixing. All the people in the group are screenwriters. I also met with a few writer friends who work more in other forms of writing like novels. They had a lot of very critical things to say about it which surprised me. Some of them were very nit-picky, but made sense. It's really bothered me and I feel like my script isn't as good as my group said. Should I not take their criticism as seriously because they don't write screenplays? I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

Nathan Bustillos

Hi Jason, My name is Nathan and I am also a member of a writing group based in Round Rock, Texas. Although I haven't presented any of my screenwriting projects to my group for critique, I have presented several chapters of various novels that I am working on as well as a few short stories. I've gotten a bit of criticism as well on various aspects of the chapters that I presented. One thing that I've noticed in listening to the critiques on my writing is that a lot of the feedback for novels, short stories, etc, can easily be applied to screenplays as well. Ultimately as a novelist, your goal is to have the reader visualize what you are describing and comprehend your writing so that they can follow the story easily. Structure and pacing are also a major consideration as well. I think where feedback tends to differ is with regard to things like structure, perhaps even dialogue and maybe action to a certain degree. Since you're presenting to a slightly different audience, the feedback you get is going to be different, but I don't necessarily think that means your work isn't as good as you thought or as good as the screenwriters say it is. It's just a matter of different audiences looking for different things and focusing in on specific things in your work. So, to answer your question, I would say you shouldn't take their criticism less seriously even if they aren't screenwriters because their feedback can still be invaluable even if it doesn't seem to fit completely. What I would do is sort of analyze what it is that they're critiquing specifically and find a way to incorporate that while keeping with the format and style of screenwriting. In the end it still is a form of writing and any feedback may be applicable. It's just a matter of finding how it fits with the style and structure of your work. I hope this helps you figure out how to go about using their criticism!

Margaret McCarley

In a writers' group, the writers tend to understand that it is a work in progress and will go through many drafts. They want to encourage, not discourage. I've been in groups where the rule was: Don't re-write for the writer...say what you liked or what worked...tell the writer where you got confused or felt it lagged...but don't re-write for him. This rule seems to be kind of standard in these groups. Novelists don't think like screenwriters because they don't write as screenplays must be written. So I can't imagine they would tend to give great notes on a screenplay. And obviously, they didn't hear the rule about being encouraging. That doesn't mean there isn't a nugget or two in what they said. Some people may be blunt or hyper-critical and that makes the note seem harsh. But it may still be valid. In this business, producers can give HORRIBLE notes and be downright mean and nasty. Maybe your novelist friends are doing you a favor by helping to toughen you up for what's to come. Ha! Write down all the notes and put them away. In a week or two, look at them again. Use what you can, drop the rest.

Cherie Grant

I am wary of group feedback because there will always be a mixed bag of nuts responding to your writing and they won't all get it. You have to see where they're coming from and either take it or dismiss it. Part of being a good writer is learning to sort the chaff from the wheat. There's no easy solution. You just keep it up and learn.

Eoin O'Sullivan

It all depends . . . I wouldn't necessarily discount someones feedback, just because they haven't read a screenplay, nor would I automatically assume that someone who has read many, or even written one or more, should be able to provide great feedback. It all comes back to the feedback you got. If the feedback you received from your non screenwriting friends, makes sense in a screenwriting context, it's worth looking at and seeing if changing those things, improves your script.

louis phillips

the worst/best critique belongs [comes from,] to a writer...but we are all so...Twee...If we get an inkling that someone knows the ''smell'' of our underwear...We are difficult...[It's the nature of the beast...] And...why few...''good'' writers crack it ,make it. Enjoys the efloresence of their...output...[She let me fuck her but i didnt know why...covers it...]

Taylor Albertson

Jason, it s life. This happened to me recently and it hurt. I also got great notes from another source with the same script! Readers are different and they will all always have different opinions. A screenwriter reader will have different comments than a studio development reader. They look for different things, You do not give up, you go on. Look at the criticism. Is it right? Part of it? Or is it truly wrong and not worth your time? Keep going bro.

Royce Allen Dudley

My rule is, if you hear something once it's probably nothing, ignore it. If the same thing comes up multiple times, it bears attention. This is true with scripts, your health, relationships....

Brad Brown

Personally, I only share my work with other screenwriters. In the MFA program there are all forms of writing, but we don't intermingle our work. Primarily for the reasons you mention.

Jazmen Darnell Brown

I feel getting criticism is a part of the process. And everyone's feedback should be taken seriously. That being said, that doesn't mean you have to accept their feedback. Think about it and see if it makes sense to you. If you feel their notes will make the script better, than use it. If not, then toss it out. Nit-picky is good, because the industry is tough and that attention to detail makes a difference. It's all about making your script better. Maybe your WG liked it, but your script is only at a 7, and with the other groups notes, it can become an 8.

William T. Fanelli

I just received feedback on a short of mine on another site. It was pretty rough feedback and differed greatly for the most part from the rest of the feedback I'd gotten on the script. I got the impression that the person may have been offended by the material and it played into their feedback of the script. Could I be offended? Sure. But that does me no good. My point is... take it with a grain of salt. Everyone is different. What some may like, others may dislike... to a great degree ;) . Like Royce said above... once is probably nothing... if the same feedback hits you from different people frequently you should probably give it more attention. Keep writing, man!

Jason Levy

Thank you all. Everyone contributed amazing feedback to my question. Too bad we all can't be a writer's group. :)

Geof Spalding

Novel writers and screenwriters are two different beasts. As a novelist I was pleasantly surprised in making the transition to writing for the screen by the supportive nature of screenwriters. Agree totally with Manda's comments above.

Cherie Grant

Yup, agree with manda too. It's really great when you find someone who is really script savvy. Who can tunnel into your vision and get it even if they have a lot of criticism. Those are rare jewels indeed.

Iusti Damian

The first time when I've wrote my first scene, my partner demolished me. I took that personal. But after few hours(long hours) I've realized, that she was right. So since then I'm trusting here common sense, when she had an opinion on my work! It's human to feel upset and hurt when somebody is taking your stuff and is taking to pieces. P.S. my writing it's not so good, so I hope you will give me a chance!

CJ Walley

Criticism is an ugly word. By simply using that term, you can be bestowing an authoritarian role onto the person giving it and belittling your own position. It denotes an air of nit picking and fault finding you may not benefit from. I prefer feedback, and I prefer to align the value in that feedback with the relevant areas of my writing. I feel the value of feedback hinges on three key factors; how aligned the reader is to your targeted audience, how invested the reader is in your writing improving, and how much real work experience that reader is bringing to the table. So the friend who loves your style and genre, her response to your screenplay on an emotional level is highly valuable. The novel writer who genuinely wants to see you succeed should be taken seriously when it comes to their opinion on story and character. The fellow screenwriter who's ability has been validated can offer critical technical advice. Those who get off on picking fault, the audience who are never going to enjoy your style and genre, the creatives who want to paint over you, and those motivated to see you fail may have little to offer you.

Marilyn Du Toit

Jason all criticism must be heard, just for interest sake. Then you keep it in mind when you read over your work. If you still feel it is not so serious then push it one side and concentrate on the criticism that shows up when you reread your work. I think screenwriters can get away with more than novel writers because an actor can still portray the character, where as novels the reader must be able to see the character on paper. I try writing both. And I would love to join a online writer's group to share work. I really don't mind criticism. As lond as it is constructive and not just destructive. Great criticism should be both. And should have solutions with it.

Sabara Lovick

Hi Jason. I was thinking along similar lines to Marilyn before I read her comment. I could be wrong, but some writers may become more critical as soon as they fall in to a different category/style of writing and this may be why criticism comes across more obvious from that group of writers. I dabbled in novel writing prior to scriptwriting but then when I started scriptwriting (about 10yrs ago), never looked back. It's definitely the style/flow of writing that I prefer and to me, is easier on the eye. But to a novelist, perhaps it's the opposite. A screenwriter needs to paint a picture of a person or place in fewer words and requires more imagination. Take their criticism on board but don't change YOU in your writing. Keep up the hard work.

louis phillips

Getting feedback on your scripts is immensely helpful...but...its also a waste of time is you haven't developed...EXPERTISE, in knowing what is bullshit and what is not...There are a 1000 ''trainers'' out there...i would love, to use them...but...a human judgement is felt...not learned...Most writers take up truck driving its a statistical fact...Not.

Toni Favilli

I have taken criticism from non writers, and I listened, sifted, and sorted through it. Decide what is useful to you and what isn't. Use what you can and discard the rest. And don't forget the elements of need for some to feel better about themselves by belittling others, and the rivalry that shows itself because of it. Sit back, relax, let them get on with it... and sift, sort, keep, and discard! There might be something useful in there! LOL I see it like this... the non writers amongst the critics are in fact 'the film-watching audience'. They also have insights to share, and keep us grounded. In some ways they stop writers from getting too clever with a script I think, and they let us know when we would lose an audience. We sometimes forget that not all of 'the film-watching audience' do not see all of the clever intrigue we spend an eternity getting right in our work, nor do they see visual elements that writers, and other industry folk, can see without too much effort. If you can get past the pettiness and the urge to slap the more annoying ones, those critics might have some use. I remember a life time ago sitting in my parents' living room, where a group of us were having movie night. We were watching 'Witness' (Kelly McGillis and Harrison Ford), and I had to point out the similarity between the sets and Dutch paintings and why that had been done, and how she symbolically took off her white hat to go to Harrison Ford's character and, well.... do it. The rest of 'the audience' with me at the time had no idea what I was talking about, and just wanted the action to keep going. They were not in the least mentally deficient or unintelligent, just not used to thinking in a certain way. Enough of my rambling now! Someone else's turn. CUT TO.... the next person.

Jason Levy

Great feedback everyone! Thank you so much!

Alex Winck

Feedback is important, and I´m trying to get some professional one for my work, but it must be kept in mind that it´s still your story, and different people have different opinions, some of which may fit well with what you intend with your story, some may not. A reviewer gave some good feedback to a script of mine, but she dismissed the way I was mixing up genres, and the mix up was a crucial part of the story and character arc.

Ila Weiss

This is an excellent question Jason and many thanks as I wondered about that myself sometimes. The way we take in or do not take in 'criticism' to me says so much about how we handle this in other areas of our lives. But having said this and after reading so many lovely and inspiring contributions I only like to add that the way I handle criticism on my writing (and I am new to this) is that when absorbing it (however nice or blunt it is stated) I clearly have my intentions, goals and vision at hand for that particular script. It will prevent me from swaying by all kinds of well meant but not always helpful comments and focus and zoom in on the actual point made. And I can easier leave the emotions out. But that is just my take. For the rest I totally agree with what is said before. And an online group would be an excellent idea!

Zergog Sebastian Tovar

Every one knows good stories even if they are not screenwriters. but you must take input like a small hole in the bottom of a bag if you where to fill it with sand. some of the sand will fall through the hole and some will stay at the top. the good stuff will stay at the top, let the bad ones fall out. You are the one who will live with the result so use good criticism and shake off the bad. I have had bad comments on my scripts and I think this guy is just trying to sound like he knows everything, no one does. if you are glued to a concept or a section, keep it in, it is yours to keep. but don't be to closed to a good idea even if it is not your own. I always worry about sending in a script for coverage as I think even if you some how wrote the perfect script (there is no perfect script) they still have to pretend like they know it all and if they don't critique it with five pages of worthless crap they didn't earn their money. hope this helped. Good luck to all of us.

Ila Weiss

Thank you Jennifer. I really appreciate this!

Jason Levy

Wonderful feedback. I am already in a writer's group I found on Stage32, but for those of you looking it's easy to find one here.

Ted Gurich

Jason: I might as well get in my 2 cents. Experienced "script analysts" are muy importante. My first script received a pass with hurtful notes. I moped around the house for a day. Next day went back to work. 80% of what the reader said was right on. After the rewrite, the new reader gave it a "consider". Finally after 8 readers over a 3 years period, the script won the 2011 Creative World Awards contest, and the 2012 Reel Authors contest. It garnered top 100 scripts in the 2012 Scriptapalooza contest, and just was listed as First Finalist in the American Movie Awards. So trust me when I say that 80% of what a professional script analyst tells you is "right on". If you receive a negative critique get pissed for a day. On day 2, get busy with the re-write. Feedback (good or bad) is invaluable.

Laurie Ashbourne

Hey Jason - I'm glad you found a writer's group, and on Stage 32 no less! I would just add this to the flurry of helpful comments maybe they will be helpful as you work with the new group: Feedback can fall into a few categories, 1) is it on the craft, (structure, weaving of theme etc.) If so then you certainly want someone familiar with the field you are writing for. 2) is it on the clarity of the plot or character? If a novelist reads a screenplay they should still be able to get the core gist of the story -- I know a lot of novelists who write screenplays as an outline to the novel -- it really helps you hone in on the crux of the story. So there is value if the note is one on clarity of plot and character. 3) if it's something completely subjective like marketability or specifics to genre. Go with your gut. At the end of the day criticism should be constructive with the ultimate aim of helping the story live up to the promise of the premise. Best of luck to you!

Danny Manus

Writers groups can be wonderful resources and keep you writing and give you deadlines and be nurturing. But most of the time they are the blind leading the blind, especially if the group is outside of LA or NY. So, take in their notes and suggestions, but don't take them as gospel ESPECIALLY if it's novel writers talking about screenplays - it's a whole different world and skill and craft. I just got done teaching screenwriting at book conferences, so trust me on this. If you're looking for any real professional feedback, I'd be happy to help. I run No BullScript and have been on both the writing and the executive side of the table.

Marty Wolff

I'd say it depends. The people from your group, if they aren't all completely new at screenwriting, should probably be trusted more on their opinion because they work with the same form as you. However, it can be valuable to get feedback from a person who has a different view on characters, plot etc. But in the end it depends on you and which criticism you feel is valid. Take what you can use from your readers, no matter which background they have.

Alex Winck

Hey Danny Manus, how does Bullscript work? I´m looking for screenwriting feedback as well.

Alex Winck

Besides professional advice, I´d suggest you also show your stuff to a friend, a friend who´s not inside the industry, but is smart and knowledgeable and you trust will give you an honest, not a "buddy" opinion. That will give you the perspective of a regular moviegoer, someone who has no horse in the race and is not so much inside the writing world and concerned with structure and other, say, academic aspects of writing that they´ll lose the perspective of what really interests and excites an audience.

Toni Favilli

Yes Danny Manus... how does No Bullscrptt work? I would be interested in knowing too.

Marilyn Du Toit

I agree with Ted. I got feedback from an analyst on my screenplay and it is right on target, I can see what that person saw when I reread it, once it is fixed I will send it off again. They also said it is a 60 % consider so that means at least I am on the right track and that was my first draft and first screenplay. If I could trust people not to steal my work then I would love to let many read my screenplays and give criticism, because when you start getting similar things said thats when you must take note.

Danny Manus

Hey Alex and Toni, my company works like many other script consulting companies. You submit your script (or TV pilot, etc) and can choose a package of notes that work for you (and for your budget) and I give very comprehensive and constructive notes on all elements of your project. They come with a logline and grading sheet and recommendation, but these are NOTES - not coverage. The difference is that not only was I trained as a writer, but I was also a development executive at a number of production companies. And if your script gets a Recommend and is truly strong enough, I will help get it into the right hands (for free). You can check out my site Happy to answer any questions (but don't want to make this into a total ad, so email me!)

Richard "RB" Botto

I believe, Danny, it's "not for nuthin'" I'm just sayin'

Amanda J Asquith

Hey Jason, it's always worthwhile submitting your work to your peers for feedback. We all get to learn that way. But, as in the case of learning to be a parent, it's up to you what advice and input you take on and what you choose to let go. Everyone will have their own POV too - but you are the architect of your script, so stay true to what your gut tells you, tempered by the advice. You're clearly open to feedback, so I reckon you'll get that script honed and toned! We writers are so subject to the agony of rejection - but write anyway :-)

Danny Manus


Richard "RB" Botto

Throwin' some east coast at ya, Danny ;)

Danny Manus

Oh okay, I thought I said something wrong... or maybe it's sumthin' wrong hehe

Zergog Sebastian Tovar

Oh, Danny. Your so silly. Never change my Brother.

Gordon Olivea

Hey Danny, fugetaboudit

Christopher Binder

Writing a screenplay is a whole nother animal from writing a novel. Trust me, stick to the advice of Screenwriters and not Novelists.

Greg Hickey

Non-screenplay writers might not be the best people to advise you on technical details like formatting, scene direction etc. But anyone has the potential to give good advice about the story of a script. You say some of the critiques made sense, so it's just up to you to decide if they fit the vision you have for your work.

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