Scribosphere Carnival #3 – Criticism

Michael Patrick Sullivan at Red Right Hand is in charge this week, and he’s come up with a very intriguing topic.  In his words:

This week’s Scribosphere topic is how we each take criticism, or how we don’t, who do we seek out to provide it, and what do we do with it once we have it, how we give it, or, you know…whatever.

Let me start with this very important admission: As a kid, I was terrible at taking criticism.  My dad would constantly tell me that I needed to grow a tougher skin because I would inevitably burst into tears at even the smallest bit of criticism, constructive as it might be.  Of course as an adult, I realize that back then I might have also been uncontrollably bursting into tears due to my undiagnosed chemical imbalances, but that’s beside the point.  No, the point is, that over the decades, I have definitely gotten a thicker skin, and now I actually look forward to receiving notes and criticism of my writing.

I think I finally learned how to accept criticism when I realized that I wouldn’t become a better writer without it.  I believe too, that when you begin to critique the work of others, you gain a new appreciation for how difficult it is to be the bearer of criticism.  If you understand the difficulty in taking notes, it makes you more mindful on how to give them.  But, some people do not know how to give a note.

Let’s talk about that…

How To Give Good Notes

It may seem corny or even kabuki, but it does honestly help to soften your criticism with compliments.  Often in my writers groups now, I or others in the group will say ‘skip the compliments’ because we are there to work and we don’t need the platitudes to ease the pain of getting the tough love.  But when you give notes to someone you don’t know as well, and don’t know their level of pain tolerance, it’s a good idea to err on the side of “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  Start with pointing out something good, and make it more than just a surface level platitude — were the characters really interesting? Was the plot intriguing? Did you like the writer’s voice? Was it a quick read? Funny? Exciting? Do more than just say you ‘liked it’ – writers tend to equate that with ‘it sucked’ — specificity of positive attributes will endear the writer to hearing what you have to say, particularly if you can be observant and astute about it.  The less specific you are, the less it feels like you actually read the damn thing.  Note good dialog or a great scene description — give them the page number! Let them know that you read it, you have real notes and you aren’t just placating them with positivity (like, say, your mom or your significant other).

Once you’ve got the sugar down their gullet, it’s time for the medicine.  There’s a way to administer this that causes less pain.  “I hated x” tends to be a bad way to give a note (unless you know the person really, REALLY well). I mean, that’s like stabbing someone in the neck!  Look, you are trying to make this as painless as possible.  We all know there’s some kabuki going on, that we are following a little bit of a script in giving notes, but that’s okay.  It’s what makes it possible for us to really hear the note and digest it.

I tend to start with big, general notes first — structure issues, for example.  Plot. Characters.  Start with the big notes first.  As an inverse to the positive, what gave you trouble? (what did you “bump on” — a common term for something in the script that jolts you out of the reading, making you aware of the mechanics beyond the story; a question, point of confusion, a contradiction)  Once you have your big overall note stated, you can get to specifics — where do the bumps occur?

Now, you may want to give the writer suggestions.  There’s a way to do this, and I’ll address ‘suggestions as notes’ in a few paragraphs.

Sometimes a script is just a train wreck.  It’s not small things, minor fixes — it’s just a hot mess.  Usually the hotter the mess, the nicer you have to be in dishing out the notes.  Because not everyone knows…

How To Take a Note

It’s inevitable.  You’ve read this script for this person, taken the time to read it, digest it, dissect it, figure out what works, what doesn’t, and when you go to tell them the news — they just seem defensive. Oblivious. Angry. In denial.  Any or all of these.

Defensiveness is the worst.  If someone gives you a note, you must fight the instinct to argue it.  Don’t tell your note giver that they are wrong! Wrong! WRONG!! This person has taken precious time to devote to your baby.  You asked them for their feedback.  The proper thing to do is keep your mouth shut, unless the person asks you a question for clarification.  That doesn’t mean you just nod and smile — that’s a sure sign you aren’t listening, another way of being defensive.  It is possible for the note to be wrong.  Very often you’ll get contradicting notes.  The important thing here is to take your emotion out of the process.  Before I go into a meeting or a setting where I am about to receive notes, whether in a professional capacity or in a group of peers, I mentally divorce myself from my project.  I try to imagine that this is someone else’s script, and I am hearing the notes as an impartial bystander.  Sometimes this doesn’t always work (I mean, I’m not made of stone after all!) but it does help.  If the note giver is doing all of the things I suggested above, the process is almost pleasant.  You want to know where the problems are — knowing where you aren’t being clear with story, character, intent will help you make a better script.  Isn’t that what you want? You want these notes! “Give them to me!!”

Okay, sometimes the person giving the notes isn’t very good at expressing themselves.  They say “I hated X.” (and they really don’t know you well enough to get away with that).  They stab you in the jugular.  It’s hard — you weren’t expecting that pain and wow, someone just called your baby ugly.  Take a moment.  Count to three.  Do NOT rebut, argue, cry, laugh or scoff.  Just write the note down.  Here’s the thing — they may not have given you a good note, in fact, it could be really crappy — but generally if someone gives you a note on something, even if the note itself doesn’t make sense, it’s indicative of something.  If you get the note more than once, obviously you need to look at it.

Some people want to give you suggestions.  We can’t help it — we’re writers, we see a problem, we want to help fix it.  Executives love to give you suggestions.  The problem is, their suggestions are usually wrong.  They tend to suggest things that fix the symptom, not the underlying problem.  You have to learn to see the note within the note (yeah, this process gets very Inception-like).  I take all the notes — those I agree with, those I don’t, because hours, days, weeks later, I may read that dumb note and realize it isn’t so dumb.

There’s a way, as the note giver, to provide suggestions, but you can’t just say “you should do Y instead of X.”  That is a sure-fire way to get the receiver of notes to completely shut down and ignore everything you have to say.  You may have the brilliant fix for them, but you know what? It’s their script.  They need to decide what to do.

Instead of “you should have a car chase here” the better way to make a suggestion is “I think your script loses momentum here– perhaps you need some kind of action sequence – maybe a car chase? I don’t know, you decide what it is, but it just feels like nothing is happening.”  Another favorite device is to talk about the “bad version,” a) because it most likely is the ‘bad version’ of something and b) it allows the note receiver to understand you aren’t necessarily prescribing that a solution, just using it as an example to illustrate their point.  There is a rare chance that the “bad version” is actually the right answer, but let the note receiver figure that out.

Wow, I had a lot more to say about criticism than I realized.  I suppose the TL;DR version (too long, didn’t read, for you not into the whole brevity thing) is: Don’t Be Mean. Don’t Be Defensive. Everybody be cool and respect the other party.  It isn’t easy to be on the giving end or the receiving end of notes, but these little tips can help make it just a bit easier for everyone involved.

 

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on October 7, 2013

Tags: , , , ,

Scribosphere Carnival #2 – Submit your topic ideas

In keeping with the rules I posted earlier, I get to pick the topic for next week.  You have until Sunday at 2 PM to submit your topic.  Winner gets to go next and post their topic to their blog next Monday!

Let the games begin.

Posted under blogs

This post was written by Shawna on September 26, 2013

Tags: ,

Scribosphere Carnival #1 – Time Capsule

Welcome to the first Scribosphere Carnival!  Before I get into this week’s topic, a few bits of background, and the posting rules.  I know most of you who decide to participate will want the instructions right up front before I start actually writing on the subject.  Will make life easier if we always post the rules, first, but I don’t expect that to happen every week…

So, first, what is the Scribosphere Carnival?  Simply, it is a way for blogs which are covering the topics of screenwriting for film, tv and the web to join together.  Each week, one blogger will declare the topic of the week.  Those who choose to participate will blog on that topic at some point during the week, and then post a comment on the OP (original poster’s) blog with the link to their post in the carnival.  That’s it! Pretty easy, right?

So there are a few guidelines, which will not only make it easy for people, particularly the OP to find your Carnival entry:

  • Please copy the title of the carnival post for your post on your blog. You should use the title of this post for your own entry.  You should also copy the topic as it is described by the OP and paste it into the top of your post.
  • Once your entry is posted, come back to this blog and link to your post in the comments below.
  • A follow up post by the OP will collect comments from those who have suggestions for the next carnival. The OP of the current carnival gets to pick the topic for next week! [This should be the only time an OP will both originate a topic and pick the following week, which I get to do because this was all my idea. 😉 ]
  • The OP should post on Monday. Everyone who participates has until the following Monday to chime in.
  • The carnival topic can be about anything screenwriting related — craft, business, etc.
  • As the OP, you should continually update your post with links to all of the participating blogs and their entries.  It is recommended that participants also link to each other’s posts throughout the week, but it is not required.
  • Participants are required, however, to post to the OP’s blog post on the topic at the top of the blog, i.e. “Shawna at Shouting into the Wind has posted this week’s Scribosphere Carnival topic which is…[link][topic][/link]
  • It is recommended that you tag or categorize your posts with the following terms: ‘scribosphere’ and ‘carnival’ but not required.  This would be for your own search and organizational purposes.

With those guidelines out of the way, here’s this week’s topic:

TIME CAPSULE — This topic is actually a 3-parter. First, recount your journey in screenwriting up to this point in time.  Second, tell us where you are on your journey now.  Finally, for the really fun, creative part — blog as if it is one year from today.  What has the past year of your journey been like? What has changed? Be as realistic or not as you like — it’s your time capsule! One year from now, we will revisit our time capsules to see how we did with our predictions… Your post can be as long or as short as you like — the most important thing is to have fun with it!

Okay, on to my response to this topic…

I’ve been on my journey for ten years now, going on eleven.  When I started, I had read one book – Syd Field – and was attempting to write rom com features while living in Orlando, Florida.  I had been out of college for seven years, when I decided I needed to radically change my life.  I got myself relocated to L.A. and my sister and I moved in together.  It would be another six years working along side the industry, but not really in it, taking classes at UCLA, really learning the craft, before I was laid off from my job and forced to focus exclusively on writing for awhile.  In 2011 I got a job working as an assistant to a successful tv and feature writer, and my sister and I found an agent who wanted to represent us last year (at Gersh).  Now my sister and I are fully committed to being staffed within the year on a tv show, and we will continue to write pilots so we can pitch them out.

September 23, 2014

Julie and I are on script this week.  The room is breaking the tenth episode of the season, but we are responsible for writing the ninth.  If my blogging is light, it’s because we have to submit our draft by the end of the week.  It’s nerve-wracking — this is our first tv script together.  We’ve each gotten story credits before, and of course, we’ve written that web series, so we are versed in the realities of production, but this is it — our first solo story/script.  I can’t wait for you to see it.  I hope it doesn’t suck.

 

** Sorry for how late this was posted Monday.  I had a surprisingly busy day today, so it took awhile to get this done.  I may expand my entry throughout the week, but I wanted to at least get something out there for people to see what it is we are trying to do…

Participating Blogs:

 

Posted under blogs, writing

This post was written by Shawna on September 23, 2013

Tags: , ,

The Scribosphere Returns

From the ashes of our trashed draft posts, we are coming back, stronger than ever.  Why?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I see that nevermind the podcasts, the twitter feeds, the facebook groups or the multitude of how-to books and messageboards, there is still nothing like the blogosphere for disseminating information and dispelling misconceptions.  In our case, it would be about the craft and business of screenwriting for various media (film, tv, the web…)  There is so much misinformation and uninformed opinion masquerading as fact and authority, that something must be done.  If we have any hope of helping others on their writing journeys, which, I believe we should, then we have to start doing it by writing more.  Also, I got away from what was a great way for me to work out my own thoughts and feelings about this chosen path, and I think I’m worse for it, in some ways.  I’ve had a lot of changes since I was last posting here on a regular basis, new experiences and wisdom to share.  It’s true, there are a lot of details I can’t share because of prudence as my sister and I pitch our projects and take meetings, but I had made the mistake of not talking at all, rather than acknowledging the things I couldn’t say and talking about the more general lessons to be learned.

This weekend at the first official Scribosphere Meetup/Reunion (“meeting again, for the very first time!”) I made this proposal to the bloggers present, that those of us who have been negligent should do what we can to improve our blogging.  That means posting more regularly and linking to each other frequently, so that we can all share audience, share thoughts and opinions.  This is, of course, how we all got to know each other years ago, and I think it’s worth reviving the community we had here, so we can tweet out quick thoughts, but then go into depth on our blogs.  Not every issue is easily summed up in 140 characters.

To aid in our endeavor, I proposed that we kick off a Blog Carnival, described in the Wikipedia Blogging Glossary as: A blog article that contains links to other articles covering a specific topic. Most blog carnivals are hosted by a rotating list of frequent contributors to the carnival, and serve to both generate new posts by contributors and highlight new bloggers posting matter in that subject area.

Each week one of the denizens of the scribosphere will propose the topic of the week.  Those who wish to participate must link to the originator of the topic and as many other blogs who respond (this is best accomplished by the bloggers commenting on the originator’s blog with a link to their article, so they can all be curated).  Since I  was the “genius” with this brainstorm, I was elected to go first.

I’ll be posting my article and topic later today.  I hope many of you will participate, and hopefully in time, we’ll have a very active scribosphere (and maybe some new members!) joining in the fun.  It will at least provide everyone a reason to post at least once every week, and usually once you start blogging, you find more and more reasons to do it, resulting in more posts. More content = more visitors = we all start talking to each other in more than 140 characters again.

As to how we decide who picks the next topic… well, that we will need to sort.  You have a week to think of a topic.  You’ll have this week to post on the one I blog tonight.

The motto of my blog has always been “Post, or you’re toast.” I’m done being toasted.

Posted under blogs

This post was written by Shawna on September 23, 2013

Tags: , ,